About Open Innovation

Problems We are Solving

Traditional government sourcing and funding (e.g. grants and contracts), while generally effective, have many limitations, specifically:

  • Traditional ways of government sourcing intentionally and unintentionally limit the pool of innovators brought on to solve a problem,
  • Traditional ways of government sourcing can be slow and overly complicated,
  • Traditional ways of government sourcing usually reward those who understand contracting best, not necessarily the most talented or qualified,
  • Many of today’s innovators do not seek contracts with or grants from the U.S. government,
  • Traditional ways of government sourcing often require choosing winners before any results are achieved

The IDEA Lab’s Open Innovation service provides the Department with expert knowledge of alternative tools available to bring opportunities to problem solvers everywhere. These tools include:

  • Prizes (e.g. powered by the America COMPETES Act)
  • Hackathons
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Citizen Science
  • Accelerators

Specifically, we provide value by:

  1. Shortening the time between problem identification and solution development,
  2. Posing problems and opportunities to all available pools of talent,
  3. Increasing the number of people, organizations and companies working on a problem and stimulating markets to develop a robust eco-system of approaches,
  4. Rewarding outputs and outcomes rather than activities, and
  5. Engaging communities to create networks of current and future problem solvers

How we work with the Department

We work with HHS directly to:

  • Help brainstorm problems appropriate for a challenge
  • Make connections within HHS, the federal government, or beyond for help
  • Provide expedited access to a set of challenge vendors and platforms
  • Co-design challenges
  • Broker partnerships with other federal Agencies and private entities
  • Promote and market the challenge

The development of open innovation concepts should be guided by your OpDiv’s or StaffDiv’s internal policies and priorities.

If you are interested in hosting a prize competition or other open innovation projects at your agency, please email: [email protected]


On January 4, 2011, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 was signed into law, providing clear legal guidance for Federal agencies to use appropriated funds towards the use of challenges and prize competitions as a tool for innovation.

Soon after, the HHS Open Innovation Program was established out of the HHS Office of Assistant Secretary for Administration (ASA) and Office of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO), providing guidance to HHS Agencies on use of the authority.

Since 2011, over 170 challenges, $35 million in cash prizes and over 9,000 innovators have participated in prize and challenge competitions across the U.S. Current and past challenges can be found on Challenge.gov

Open Innovation at HHS has helped to:

Accelerate the pace of research

  • By age four, children from low-income families have heard 30 million fewer words than those from higher-income families. This affects how young children develop language skills, their performance in school, and eventually their success in life. The Health Resources and Services Administration’s Word Gap Challenge encouraged a broad set of innovators to develop and pilot early education products assisting parents and caregivers to read to children 0-3 in underserved populations. Several solutions have already become commercially available. Other winners have since teamed up to continue development of their products.

Help more efficiently build IT products

  • The Office of the Inspector General’s Simple and Extensible Sampling Tool Challenge crowdsourced statistical sampling software used to evaluate fraud for all Medicaid claims for 10x less money than through typical contracting.

Equip the next generation of innovators

  • The National Institutes of Health’s annual Design by Biomedical Undergraduate Teams (DEBUT) brings real-world biomedical engineering problems to students. The competition now has active participation from classes at 30 universities in 17 states and D.C., with many team projects spinning off into startups after college. One notable example, SparoLabs, has an FDA-cleared device to measure lung function.

Each year, HHS and the White House publish a report on its use of challenges. These reports offer insights on what open innovation challenges have achieved.

Recent reports:

Fiscal Year 2015 White House Report
Fiscal Year 2014 White House Report

Content created by Office of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO)
Content last reviewed on September 27, 2018