… how government can develop the capacity to make the most of Prize-Induced Contests

Can we develop a simple test or set of metrics to determine if a given problem would be a strong candidate for a prize-induced contest?

Design Best Practices

How can we facilitate open and transparent sharing of ideas and solutions between the individuals, organizations and broad sectors engaged with grand challenges?

How should government agencies decide whether to use a prize-induced model instead of a more traditional form of R&D?

What unique features differentiate prize-induced contests from grand challenges and other forms of citizen engagement?

Do new or overlapping prizes dilute the effectiveness of others?

When is the best time to create or discontinue a prize?

What are appropriate objectives for a prize? And what is it that makes a prize effective at achieving them?

Are there certain types of prize structures that are better able to create a community of problem-solvers—both in the interest of winning the prize and beyond?

Contests often provide large-scale goals, but often lack more gradual milestones. Could they be more effective if they gave participants more guidance on how to progress through the contest?

Should prize-induced projects incorporate any best practices from other non-competitive collaborative innovation programs, like hackathons and idea “boot camps?”

Many prize-induced contests feature both public and private sponsors. How do different types of sponsorship affect results and engagement? Do contests sponsored by both the public and private sector address broader issues like the multi-stakeholder grand challenges?

What design best practices are most effective in eliciting contest submissions with value to consumers?

Participation and Incentives

The stereotypical public participant in prize-induced contests is the retired or under-employed person working in a garage. Is this actually the case? How involved are start-ups and established businesses in contests? Are universities seeking to increase student and faculty engagement in the programs?

Can we determine who does not actually participate in a contest by looking at who enters for the first round and doesn’t advance?

Do prizes create incentive for individual effort rather than teamwork within or across institutions?

How do government prize-induced initiatives compare—in terms of success and participant engagement—to similar public-innovation programs in the private and NGO sectors?

Challenge.gov features many contests that are focused on science and technology, as well as many addressing social and public policy. Are more people getting involved in the technical challenges even though many social and policy issues challenges likely have a lower barrier to entry and require less-advanced knowledge and skills? And if so, why?

Are people involved in lower levels of government engaging with policy issues challenges the way people in tech industries are likely engaging with the technical challenges?

Recently, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s foundation “launched a $9 million contest inviting mayors to come up with the best ideas to tackle urban problems.” Can prize-induced innovation contests be successful when targeted exclusively to people within government?

Public and Private Impact

Is there any guarantee that a prize for new ideas will stimulate commercialization and widespread adoption critical to improving lives on a large scale?

What effects have prize-induced contests had on workforce development? Are individuals learning valuable new job skills through engaging with the contests? Are new businesses gaining traction following their participation? Are participating individuals and companies gaining government employment or contracts following the contests?


While prize-induced projects have clear ties to other forms of crowdsourcing, is there a place for crowdfunding in these projects—both in terms of supplying the prize money and stimulating private engagement on expensive projects?

What makes prize-induced projects preferable to the use of social impact bonds, which have many similarities but rely on private sector financing rather than taxpayer money?

Is the pay-for-performance system currently used by some healthcare providers another possible guide for government agencies to draw on public innovation without upfront costs? Could such a program be instituted without contracting the pool of “unusual suspects” working toward solving problems?


How should grand challenge submissions be judged? Assuming that a panel is used, who should sit on it? Government workers from relevant agencies? Influential members of the private sector? NGO workers with a vested interest in the contest?

How can the evaluation process be developed to ensure that innovation—rather than ease of deployment, cost and other practical concerns—is the central metric upon which submissions are judged?

Assuming a winner is not found, can the evaluation process act as an opportunity for feedback for participants, rather than as the final judgment as to whether a proposal is satisfactory or not?

Post-Contest Concerns

Should contest participants—including individuals and private businesses—or government agencies hold the intellectual property rights to innovations created as part of government contests?

What are the best practices for data sharing, both between participants and after the contest ends?

A common complaint regarding prize-induced contests is the lack of post-contest engagement with developers. How can government agencies ensure that new innovations do not become obsolete due to lack of attention, especially considering one of the central reasons for such contests is lessening the workload of government employees?


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