06/24: Join Us for the 2015 Innovates Awards Ceremony

Please join the Secretary, Deputy Secretary and the HHS IDEA Lab for the 2015 Innovates Awards Ceremony on June 24, 2015 from 11:00 -11:30 am in Room 800, Hubert H. Humphrey Building, Washington, D.C.

There will also be a live webcast (available at the time of the event). Find out who received the Secretary’s Picks and Employees’ Choice designations, or simply join us to celebrate innovation at HHS! Until then, visit the gallery of honorees.

Recap of HHS Innovates Yam Jam

On February 10th, we held a special virtual town hall event on Yammer, or a Yam Jam, during which HHS Innovates Committee Members and past winners answered your questions about the Awards and submission process. Thanks to all who asked questions or watched the dialogue in the HHS IDEA Lab Yammer Group!

If you missed the Yam Jam or want review the questions & answers, you can view the conversation in the HHS IDEA Lab Yammer Group.

Recap of HHS Innovates Webinar

On January 21st, we held a webinar, during which we reviewed the submission process & heard valuable insights from past winners of the Innovates Awards and committee members who review entries. Thanks to all who participated!

Below is a recording of the audio and slides of the webinar in video format.

Download the Webinar Slides (PDF, Updated 2/2/15)

You can go to any specific points in the video by clicking on the linked time. Other links will direct you to the project pages.

0:00: Elizabeth Kittrie – Program Manager of HHS Innovates Awards
15:50: Tim Kropp – Past Innovates Winner, JumpStarting Drug Review Process
22:40: Kathleen Votava – Past Innovates Winner, Suicide Prevention: What’s Your Role?
26:35: Bethany Applebaum & Sabrina Matoff-Stepp – HHS Innovates Committee Members
35:00: Q&A’s

Schedule a time to chat about your submission

Want to discuss your submission with someone?   There are 3 options:

  1. Talk with your agency representative. As HHS Innovates Committee members, they can provide advice on how to further strengthen your submission.  For a list of agency contacts, see the More Information & FAQs tab.
  2. Talk with an HHS Innovates Mentor. These are past HHS Innovates winners who can speak about their HHS Innovates experience and provide you with peer-to-peer advice on developing your submission. For a list of the HHS Innovates Mentors, see the More Information & FAQs tab.
  3. If you have pursued the first two avenues and would like additional input, you can email the IDEA Lab to schedule an office hour and discuss your submission with Elizabeth Kittrie.

Celebrating HHS Trailblazers

The HHS Innovates Awards Program identifies and celebrates innovative solutions developed by our employees.

HHS Innovates is aimed at building a culture of innovation at the Department of Health and Human Services through facilitating the exchange of innovative ideas and showcasing creative approaches developed by our employees to solve tough problems.  This program recognizes and rewards employee-led innovation, and helps to spread promising solutions across the Department and beyond.

How does HHS Innovates recognize and reward employee-led innovation?

  • Annually, HHS employees are encouraged to submit innovative solutions they have developed or nominate the work of their colleagues
  • The top innovative solutions are showcased for employee voting and promoted in the media
  • Meritorious innovators receive recognition
  • Winning innovators are personally recognized by HHS leadership in an awards ceremony

What do employees get for participating in HHS Innovates?

  • Broad exposure for their innovative solutions across HHS and in the media
  • Engagement with a community of innovators across the Department
  • Cash prizes for winning innovators (HHS Employees and Commissioned Corps Officers only)
  • Inclusion of HHS Innovates certificate in winning innovators’ employee performance file

Core Principles of HHS Innovates

As part of the mission of the HHS IDEA Lab to identify, enable and catalyze innovation and experimentation, HHS Innovates celebrates those HHS employees who think differently and take risks. The celebration of those employees who adopt new methodologies, collaborate, and are creative in problem solving is helping to spread culture change and build a network of innovators and experimenters internal to the Department.

Types of HHS Innovates Projects

To date, 42 innovations have won HHS Innovates awards, and hundreds more have received exposure across HHS.  These innovations cover a wide spectrum of solutions, and often involve partnerships across the Department or with external organizations.

To be worthy of an HHS Innovates award, the innovation must have been implemented within the last 30 months and needs to be a solution that is scalable and relevant to stakeholders across HHS and beyond.

Eligible innovations must fit into one of following six categories:

Transforming Health

Innovations in this category transform and improve health.  Eligible innovations could address topics such as affordability, access, quality, care delivery, system and organizational enhancements, provider training and coordination, or payment reform; prevention, wellness, and other strategies that focus on the health of communities; or scientific research and discoveries leading to new health care innovations and advances in public health and health care.  Prior winning examples include: Medline Plus Connect or Joining Forces to Fight Childhood Obesity.

Optimizing Human Services

Innovations in this category transform and improve human services.   Eligible innovations could include new types of service offerings, improved methods of service delivery or coordination, or educational offerings that can support the care of these populations.  These innovations could address underserved or disadvantaged communities, vulnerable populations, or those in crisis due to natural or man-made conditions.  A prior winning example includes:  Supporting Tribal Grantees: ACF Makes it Simple

Creating Building Blocks for Success at Every Stage in Life

Innovations in this category help to ensure that the building blocks for success are incorporated at every stage of life.  Eligible innovations could address service offerings, community engagement, or knowledge-sharing and support across one or more stages of the life cycle (e.g. infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood) or key transition points (e.g., from financial dependence to independence, parenthood, home to community living, caregiving).  Prior winning examples include: Text4Baby or Suicide Prevention: What’s Your Role?

Enhancing Operational Effectiveness

Innovations in this category strengthen the Department’s effectiveness in delivering on its mission.  Eligible innovations could address new uses of technology or workflows to enhance operations, risk management, administrative or review processes, sustainability, or customer support, etc.  Prior winning examples include: Revolutionizing Procurement through the Web and Ready, Cert, Go!

Biggest Bang for the Buck

Innovations in this category provide significant savings or return-on-investment for HHS resources expended.  In considering the return-on-investment, applicants can consider the value of non-HHS investments or in-kind contributions from partners that are helping to leverage HHS resources.  Prior winning examples include: NIAID Freestuff: Stretching Tax Dollars or The Zombie Apocalypse Campaign.

Out-of-the-Box Solution

Innovations in this category represent a new methodology, approach or technology for addressing a difficult problem relevant to HHS.  Eligible innovations could also focus on a novel application or new use of an existing methodology, technology or approach from a different field that can solve an HHS problem.  Prior winning examples include: Counterfeit Detection Device or From Outer Space to the Eye Clinic.

You can view all of the past winners of HHS Innovates here.

Phases of HHS Innovates

HHS Innovates involves five major phases, which are designed to identify, share, and highlight innovation occurring at HHS.  These include:

  1. Employee Submission Period

In the first phase of HHS Innovates, all HHS employees are encouraged to submit innovative solutions they have developed, or nominate the work of their colleagues.  For more information about the eligibility criteria and innovation categories, check out the Overview tab.

  1. Agency Review

In the second phase of HHS Innovates, leadership from the HHS operating and staff divisions will be notified of their employees’ submissions of this award program, and they will be granted right of first refusal for any submissions that do not align with the division’s mission, goals, and strategic plans.

  1. Scoring and Review by the HHS Innovates Committee

In the third phase of HHS Innovates, the HHS Innovates Committee reviews and scores the submissions.  The highest scoring innovation in each category will move onto the finals.  Highly meritorious innovations that do not proceed to the finals may be eligible to receive recognition from the Deputy Secretary.  For more information about the scoring criteria, check out the Evaluation and Selection Criteria tab.

  1. Showcasing of Innovations and Employee Voting

In the fourth phase of HHS Innovates, the finalists will be displayed for employee voting.  During this period, HHS employees will have the opportunity to vote for their favorite innovation, which will be considered the “Employee’s Pick.”  In addition, the Secretary will also have the opportunity to review the finalists, and select up to two “Secretary’s Picks” from among them.

  1. Recognition Ceremony

All of the finalists will be considered HHS Innovates winners.  A recognition ceremony will be held at HHS headquarters to recognize and celebrate the innovators who contributed to the winning innovations.  Media outreach will be issued for the winning innovations.  Prizes and plaques will be provided to all key contributors on the finalist teams, and supporting contributors will receive individualized certificates signed by the Secretary and Deputy Secretary.

New Features and Enhancements to HHS Innovates

In the spirit of continuous quality improvement, we have made a number of changes to the HHS Innovates Awards program to enhance the way we recognize and share promising innovations.  Here’s a brief overview of the changes and what we hope to accomplish with them:

Focus on High Impact Areas of Relevance Across HHS

This round, HHS employees can submit their innovations in one of six categories (Transforming Health, Optimizing Human Services, Creating Building Blocks for Success at Every Stage in Life, Enhancing Operational Effectiveness, Biggest Band for our Buck, and Out-of-the-Box Solution). These six categories, based on priorities set forth by Secretary Burwell, will not only help us to focus on high-impact areas where innovation matters most, but will also inspire submissions from operating and staff divisions that may not have participated as frequently in the awards program before.

Streamlined the Nomination Process:

The submission form has been updated with improved questions and the opportunity to include collateral material, such as video, images, or weblinks, with your submission. The submission questions can be found on the Eligibility and How to Apply tab.

You can also nominate a colleague who you think should submit their innovation for an award. Check out the Nominate a Colleague tab to access the form.

Improved the Award Selection Process:  

The process of selecting winners has changed to ensure that the most promising innovative solutions are selected for an HHS Innovates Award.  After the submission period closes, the HHS Innovates Committee will review and score the submissions.  The highest-scored innovation in each of the six eligibility categories will be finalists and will receive HHS Innovates Awards.

This round, after finalists are selected, we are opening up employee voting and asking the HHS community to select its favorite (aka “the Employee’s Pick”).  As in previous rounds, the Secretary will also review the winning innovations and select her favorite(s) (aka “the Secretary’s Pick”).  At the awards ceremony, and in the press release, we will celebrate all of the winning innovations.

Enhanced Recognition for HHS Trailblazers:

In years past, on average three teams were recognized for their innovation. This round, more innovations will be identified as awards winners, as we recognize the six category winners for their innovative work.

Among the category winners, all key contributors will now be awarded a cash prize (HHS Employees and Commissioned Corps only), regardless of whether they were chosen as the Employee’s Pick and Secretary’s Pick. Category winners will also receive a certificate signed by the Secretary and Deputy Secretary that will be placed in their employee performance file.

Finally, we will recognize meritorious innovations that were not selected as finalists in an alternative form.  These employees, identified by the HHS Innovates Committee, will receive written recognition from the Deputy Secretary for their efforts.

A Brief History of HHS Innovates

Launched in 2010 by the HHS Innovation Council, HHS Innovates has undergone seven rounds of competition to date.  During this time, HHS employees have nominated over 500 exciting new staff-driven innovations, and over 60,000 votes have been cast by our employees during the voting phase.  As a result of this program, over 200 employee innovators who made innovations happen at HHS have been recognized by the Secretary.

By calling attention to promising solutions, and sharing them widely across HHS and with our stakeholders, we have help to spread and scale promising solutions that are helping HHS to better deliver on its mission of providing health and human services to the American people.   For example, one of the innovations, the NIOSH cap lamp, was picked up for licensing by a foreign company who learned of the innovation through an HHS Innovates press release.  Other innovations, such as the 100K Genome Project and Body Weight Simulator have gained numerous new partners and followers as a result of the media attention.  These competitions and employee prizes have demonstrated how HHS employees have overcome resource constraints, complicated schedules, and complex organizational dynamics to provide creative, replicable and sustainable innovations that demonstrate outstanding leadership and promising results.

This competition has been widely highlighted in innovation circles.  The competition, and the winning innovations highlighted through this contest have been highlighted in national newspapers, on the radio, and by the White House.  Many federal agencies have requested briefings on this competition, and have sought to model their innovation efforts after this program.  If you are interested in a briefing, please contact Elizabeth.Kittrie@hhs.gov

Submission Period

Submissions for the HHS Innovates Awards closed on February 27, 2015 at 11:59 PM EST.

Submission Questions

Want to preview the questions? Here are the questions we ask:

  • Who is entering the submission?
  • Which HHS OPDIV is considered lead for this submission?
  • What is the title of your innovation: 50 characters
  • Which category best describes your solution’s impact to the overall HHS mission? (Categories for 2015 are: Transforming Health, Optimizing Human Services, Creating Building Blocks for Success at Every Stage in Life, Enhancing Operational Effectiveness, Biggest Bang for Our Buck, and Out-of-the Box Solution)
  • Has this innovation been submitted in a prior round of HHS Innovates?
  • Which “key contributors” have contributed to the conception, development or execution of the innovation solution in a substantive, measurable way?
  • Which “supporting contributors” have made a meaningful contribution to the innovative solution?
  • What problem or issue are you addressing? (max: 100 words)
  • How does your innovative solution address that problem? (max: 300 words)
  • How does your innovative solution benefit HHS? (max: 200 words)
  • What has been the impact/result? (max: 300 words)
  • Why is your solution an innovative, novel and creative approach to the problem it addresses? (max: 200 words)
  • What are the key milestones and dates? (up to 10 fields available)
  • Who else can endorse your submission?
  • Submission summary – will be used for employee voting (max: 100 words)
  • Are you submitting supplemental material with your submission?  (video and transcript, websites, image, etc)
  • Certification that applicant has supervisory and contributor concurrence

Eligibility Requirements

How is innovation defined for the purpose of this program?

For this awards program, an innovation is defined as the introduction of something entirely new (e.g., a product, process, system, service, or business model) or an unusual application of an existing product, process, system or service in a manner that improves an operating division’s or HHS’s ability to accomplish its mission.  The innovation can be executed within the United States, or abroad, provided it is relevant to the mission of HHS or an operating division.

What categories of innovation are eligible for an HHS Innovates award?

Eligible innovation solutions must fit into one of following six categories, and must be scalable and relevant to stakeholders across HHS and beyond:

  1. Transforming Health
  2. Optimizing Human Services
  3. Creating Building Blocks for Success at Every Stage in Life
  4. Enhancing Operational Effectiveness
  5. Biggest Bang for the Buck
  6. Out-of-the-Box Solution

For full descriptions of these categories, please visit the Overview tab.

Can an innovation be submitted to more than one category?

An innovative solution may only be submitted once per round of HHS Innovates (e.g.,
applicants cannot submit the same solution to multiple categories within a given round of HHS Innovates). While an innovative solution may fit into more than one category, applicants are asked to select the category that best represents the solution’s impact.

Who is eligible to apply to HHS Innovates?

All HHS employees and members of the Commissioned Corps are invited to submit submissions for work they have done, or nominate innovations developed by their colleagues.

To be eligible for an HHS Innovates award, the individual submitting must be an HHS employee or member of the Commissioned Corps.  The team, however, can include non-HHS employees, such as contractors, grantees, and individuals working for partnering organizations from the private and non-profit sectors. Teams may also include individuals from other HHS operating or staff divisions, or other government agencies.

While it is possible for individuals to apply as a single innovator applicant, most of the applicants involve teams.  Teams may include up to seven “key” contributors in their submission. In addition, they may list up to ten “supporting” contributors.  Team innovator applicants must decide amongst themselves which individuals are key contributors versus supporting contributors to the innovation. The below definitions may assist teams in making this distinction:

  • Key Contributor: Individual(s) who contribute to the conception, development or execution of the innovation in a substantive, measurable way. A key contributor is someone without whom the innovation would not have been attempted, applied, or improved. The contributor’s rank or pay grade should not affect one’s eligibility to be deemed a “key” contributor.  HHS grantees, contractors or partners may be considered key contributors to the innovation if they meet this definition. The “key contributors” are eligible for a cash prize (HHS employees and Commissioned Corps only).
  • Supporting Contributor:  Individual(s) who make a meaningful contribution to the innovation but do not meet the definition above.  The “supporting contributors” are not eligible for cash prizes, but will receive other types of recognition.

HHS employees and members of the Commissioned Corps who have applied for, or won, innovation awards at the division level are eligible to apply for HHS Innovates, provided their innovation satisfies these eligibility criteria.

What is the time requirement for eligible innovations?

Eligible innovations must have been implemented within 30 months of the submission date.  While an aspect of the innovation (e.g., conceptual design, early research, prototype) may have commenced earlier than 30 month period, the innovation nominated for this round of HHS Innovates must have developed and/or piloted within 30 months of the date of submission.

Applicants may resubmit an entry that was submitted in a previous cycle but not chosen as “Secretary’s Picks” or the “People’s Choice”.  Resubmissions must fall within the eligible time period and the resubmitted application must contain updated information about the innovation (such as new direction or project, new results or demonstration of additional impact/scalability, or new partners).

Nominate a Colleague to Submit an Entry

Would you like to nominate a colleague to submit an entry for an HHS Innovates Award?

Simply fill out this this form, and we’ll send your colleague an email inviting his/her submission for an Award.

HHS Innovates Round 8 Key Dates

  • January 8, 2015 – Submissions Open
  • January 21, 2015 – Webinar
  • February 27, 2015 – Submissions Due
  • March 2 – March 20, 2015 – Agency Review of Employee Submissions
  • March 23, 2015 – Award Committee Begins Reviewing Employee Submissions
  • May 1, 2014 – Award Committee Announces Finalists
  • May 4, 2015  – Employee Voting Opens
  • May 15, 2015 – Employee Voting Ends
  • TBD – Awards Ceremony

Stay up-to-date

Stay up-to-date on HHS Innovates by entering your email address below and subscribing to our mailing list.

Evaluation Process and Selection of Winners

The evaluation and selection process involves three basic steps:

  1. Agency review of Employee Submissions
  2. HHS Innovates Committee Review and Scoring of Submissions
  3. Selection of the “Employee Pick” and “Secretary’s Picks”

Step 1: Agency Review of Employee Submissions

At the close of the submission period, leadership from the HHS operating and staff divisions will be notified of their employees’ submissions, and they will be granted right of first refusal for any submissions that do not align with the division’s mission, goals, and strategic plans.  Agency leadership will not be able to alter the submission (except by written permission), but they are able to remove a submission.

Step 2:  HHS Innovates Committee Scoring and Selection of Finalists

Proposals that are cleared by agency leadership will be evaluated by the HHS Innovates Committee based on the following criteria:

  1. Significance to the HHS/OPDIV Mission or to Operational Efficiency [25 points]
  2.  Novelty of the Innovation [25 points]
  3. Impact/Return-on-Investment [25 points]
  4. Potential for and Scalability and Transferability across HHS [25 points]

The top scoring innovation in each category (Transforming Health, Optimizing Human Services, Creating Building Blocks for Success at Every Stage in Life, Enhancing Operational Effectiveness, Biggest Bang for Our Buck, and Out-of-the Box Solution) will move onto the finals.  In cases where there is a tie within a category, the Awards Committee may select multiple innovations to move onto the finals.  Those selected as finalists will be asked to participate in a brief interview with members of the HHS Innovates Committee.

Highly meritorious innovations that do not proceed to the finals will be eligible to receive written recognition from the Deputy Secretary.

Step 3:  Selection of “Employee’s Pick” and “Secretary’s Picks”

The finalists, as chosen by the HHS Innovates Committee, will have the opportunity to win two additional awards: the “Employee’s Pick” and the “Secretary’s Pick.”

The highest scoring innovation in each category (i.e, “the finalists”) will be displayed for employee voting.  The voting will provide HHS employees with the opportunity to select their favorite innovation from the finalists.  The innovation receiving the highest number of employee votes will be considered the “Employee’s Pick.”

In addition, the Secretary will provide the opportunity to select up to two of her favorite innovations.  These innovations will be considered the “Secretary’s Picks.”

All of the finalists will be considered HHS Innovates winners.  The key contributors to these innovations will be invited to attend the recognition ceremony and will receive prizes as well as plaques and certificates.

Contact Information

For general information about HHS Innovates, contact us at idealab@hhs.gov.


For more information, please visit our FAQs page.

HHS Innovates Resources

There are three sets of additional resources that may be useful for potential HHS Innovates applicants. These include “HHS Innovates Mentors” and “Agency Points of Contact,” both of which are members of the HHS Innovates Committee. In addition, applicants may schedule an Office Hour to discuss their submission with IDEA Lab staff.

Agency Points of Content

The HHS Innovates Committee is comprised of HHS employees from across the Department. A number of these individuals have agreed to serve as Agency Points of Contact who are willing to interact with employees regarding their submissions. HHS employees can find their full contact information in the HHS Outlook mail system. HHS operating and staff divisions that do not have representation on the list below, and wish to participate in the HHS Innovates Committee should contact us at idealab@hhs.gov

  • Administration for Children and Families

Carolyn Meier

  • Administration on Community Living

Alice Kelsey

  • Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

Harriett Bennett

  • Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation

Teresa Manocchio

  • Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response

CDR Stephanie Bardack

  • Assistant Secretary for Financial Resources

Valerie Cook

  • Assistant Secretary for Health and Commissioned Corps

CAPT Jose Belardo

  • Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs

Nicholas Garlow

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Juliana Cyril

  • Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Leilani Liggins

  • Food and Drug Administration

L’ Tonya Davis

  • Indian Health Service

Ramsey Hawasly

  • Health Resources and Services Administration

Sabrina Matoff-Stepp – also Past Winner [Text4Baby]

  • National Institutes of Health

Allison Lea

  • Office of Global Affairs

Erika Elvander

  • Office of Intergovernmental Affairs

Nikki Bratcher-Bowman

  • Office of Inspector General

Dawn Wathen

  • Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT

Adam Wong

  • Office of the Secretary

Elizabeth Kittrie

Will Yang

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Stephanie Zidek-Chandler

HHS Innovates Mentors

The following individuals, all of whom are past winners of an HHS Innovates award, have agreed to serve as innovation mentors for the purposes of this program. In this capacity they have agreed to provide informal peer counseling to employee innovators wishing to apply to HHS Innovates. These individuals have first-hand experience in what it takes to put together a winning submission. Because these individuals have full-time day jobs in addition to their participation on this committee, the extent of their interactions will need to be negotiated between the applicant and mentor. HHS employees can find their full contact information in the HHS outlook system.

  • Miguel Reyes, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

Past winner – Lighting the Way: NIOSH Cap Lamp

  • Timothy Kropp, Food and Drug Administration

Past Winner – Jumpstarting Drug Review

  • Peter Gerner-Smidt, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Past Winner – Whole Genome Sequencing: Future of Food Safety

  • Kathleen Votava, Administration on Community Living

Past Winner – Suicide Prevention: What’s Your Role?

  • Michelle Hoersch, Office on Women’s Health

Past Winner – Suicide Prevention: What’s Your Role?

IDEA Lab Office Hours

Want to discuss your submission with a member of the IDEA Lab Team?  You can email us at the IDEA Lab to schedule a 30-min office hour.

More Information

Interested in seeing what the awards ceremony entails?  You can view the 2014 HHS Innovates ceremony.

Interested in learning more about the past winners of this contest, or contacting the members of the winning teams?  You can view all of the projects.

Interested in hearing a past winner’s story?  Learn more here.

HHS Innovates Projects