Presidential Innovation Fellows: Co-innovating with (We) the People

BY Fernando L. Mompó on 28 / 05 / 2015

As shown last week, some governments are trying to lessen political apathy by engaging citizens in crowdsourcing initiatives for a most varied areas of innovation and decision taking on public affairs. But besides the attempt to prevent further public institutions disaffection, those governments tapping into the knowledge and abilities of citizens are also discovering the benefits to reach beyond the usual experts to expand and diversify the talent pool tackling a problem.

U.S Government and more specifically Obama administration has been especially active in government-driven crowdsourcing competitions and collaborations. Across government, all sorts of agencies are implementing hundreds of crowdsourcing approaches, citizen science programs, and other efforts that have brought the best ideas and talent together to solve mission-centric problems. Last year alone, Federal agencies ran over 85 prize competitions, from small-dollar prizes to winnings of $100,000 or more.

The Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program is an initiative to particularly pay attention to. This program asks original thinkers, gifted designers, tech-savvy strategists, inventors, entrepreneurs, and developers and engineers to offer up their skills and expertise to help lead crowdsourcing projects to create huge value for the public. As stated in its website, PIF offers to talented individuals from diverse backgrounds “the unique opportunity to work on truly awesome projects with the potential to make a positive impact, with a user base of more than 300 million Americans.”

The Presidential Innovation Fellows program is a competitive fellowship program pairing talented, diverse technologists and innovators with top civil-servants and change-makers both in public and private sector to collaborate on solutions that aim to deliver significant results in six months. These teams of government experts and private-sector doers take a user-centric approach to issues at the intersection of people, processes, products, and policy to achieve lasting impact, rapidly delivering new functioning systems, processes, and software applications using principles derived from Lean Startup methodology.

Created in 2012, opportunities for Fellows participating in the program have already include creating new crowdsourcing tools to empower survivors and first responders during natural disasters, significantly improving the quality of US patent system, or even addressing asteroid threats to human populations. Fellows have also unleashed the power of open government data to spur the creation of new products and jobs; designed pilot projects that make it easier for new economy companies to do business with the Federal Government; and much more. These are some of many other resultant projects:

openFDA: U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) datasets available to the public for the first time, via application programming interfaces (APIs) and raw structured files.

GI Bill: an online comparison tool that makes it easier for Veterans, Service members, and dependents to calculate their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and learn about VA’s approved colleges, universities, and available education and training programs across the country.

RFP-EZ: online platform that makes it easier for innovative small tech businesses to bid on government contracts

FBOpen: platform to open the catalog of Federal opportunities to a larger audience—by providing more relevant search results of Federal opportunities.

Prices Paid Portal: database of actual prices paid by the Federal Government for various services, enabling agencies to be more informed shoppers when seeking to procure services.

Lantern Live: a mobile app that allows users in disaster-affected areas to report on the status of local gas stations, find fuel, and easily look up power outage maps from local utilities.

GeoQ: a tool that crowdsources geo-tagged photos of disaster-affected areas to assess damage over large regions.

Presidential Innovation Fellows

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