Public Prize Competitions Spur Innovation in Government
We're excited to announce we've selected fifteen teams to be a part of our March Competes Bootcamp, a two-week virtual program through HHS Competes that provides employees at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with structured mentorship as they work to develop a prize or competition. Prize competitions are increasingly finding a home in government as a tool used to encourage the development of creative and innovative solutions around a given problem or desired outcome, in a way that is not possible through more traditional grants or contracts. By opening a problem up to a larger, extended audience outside of government, prize competitions:
- Increase transparency;
- Organize new combinations of talent around a problem;
- Open doors for collaboration between government and external organizations and companies;
- Reduce costs and time for solutions; and
- Harvest solutions from unexpected communities.
At HHS Competes, part of the HHS IDEA Lab, we help identify opportunities for prize competitions, educate Federal agencies on these potential benefits, and support the design and execution of these competitions. For example, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) used incentivized competition to break down barriers between health IT companies and the healthcare community, fostering partnerships that allow for a more seamless integration of technology into healthcare spaces. The use of innovative technology in hospital and clinical settings can help improve both patient and clinician experiences. However, implementing technological changes can be difficult-clinicians may not want to disrupt workflows with new technologies, they may have had a bad past experience, or they might feel it's too expensive and time consuming to make a change. ONC identified these problems and created a Market R&D challenge to publicly search for solutions and to help health IT companies work collaboratively with the healthcare community. The challenge was designed to bring together health care organizations and innovative companies through pilot funding awards and facilitated matchmaking. Six winners were chosen with each of the teams awarded $50,000 to fund their pilot programs. Prize challenges provide opportunities that may not have otherwise existed. The ONC challenge gives health IT companies access to real clinical locations as they pilot test their programs hand-in-hand with health care providers and patients. These programs range from platforms offering patients the ability to receive information in their native languages to a platform that can provide hypertensive patients with real time blood pressure results and personalized medical recommendations. The challenge also provided ONC-the government agency tasked with promotion of nationwide health information exchange to improve healthcare-with a new perspective into this emerging industry. As part of our annual report to the White House on HHS's use of the prize authority at the end of 2015, we highlighted this and other great stories. We also identified barriers that prevented people from using a prize or competition system and our response to reduce them. Out of one of these barriers-which identified that the offices that would most benefit from this program were least likely to have the resources to pursue a competition-grew the Competes Bootcamp. The first Bootcamp launched as a pilot program in July 2015. This week we began an expanded program with our newly selected teams on March 8 and the program will run through March 24. These individuals will participate in a series of customized short courses on prize design and procedures led by experts across the Federal government. The courses are designed to be 'hands-on,' providing a space for participants to develop their concept, engage experts, and get peer feedback. This year, our participants will develop concepts around a variety of topics, including:
- 3D tissue engineering;
- Counterfeit drug detection;
- Measuring background noise to understand hearing loss;
- Opioid overdose recovery; and
- Food allergies.
Last year we saw considerable interest in the use of prizes and challenges as a tool for innovation with more complex concepts, larger cash incentives, and stronger partnerships across government and with private sector organizations. Each of these elements have provided the opportunity to tackle more ambitious and complicated problems. We look to 2016 as a continued year of opportunity for growth in the number of competitions, their sophistication, the partnerships we forge, and their positive impact on the public.