Below, Case Foundation Senior Fellow Sonal Shah and Mayur Patel, Knight Foundation’s Vice President for Strategy and Assessment write about the importance of challenges and prizes as a tool for social change. This post originally appeared on the Knight Foundation blog.
In a world where technology has opened up access to a vast pool of talent and constant change has become the norm, contests offer a path to new ideas, new players and new ways of solving problems. We have seen a revival in contests as a way to discover new solutions and bold ideas across industries and sectors.
Leading companies, including Netflix, Google and Cisco, have tapped into challenges and prizes as a way to stimulate new business and technology innovations. Public agencies have also joined in, using contests as a way to make progress on a range of social issues, from reducing obesity to conserving household energy use. Last month, the U.K. government announced in grand fashion a new £1 million “Longitudinal Prize” committee to design competitions with the aim of tackling societies’ complex problems. The U.S. federal government continues to invest in its challenges and prizes platform, Challenge.gov. The platform provides opportunities for government agencies to tap into the potential of their citizens through prizes such as the NASA Centennial Challenges and public/private challenges such as Mozilla Ignite.
Despite this growing trend, many foundations have yet to use contests as a tool to advance their work and support innovation. Apprehension and uncertainty affect the willingness of many to adopt this tool. Additionally, it is not always clear where to start and how to design effective contests. Good design is key for successful contests, prizes and challenges. Sometimes even the failures can teach a lot about the effectiveness of the challenge or provide a better understanding about behaviors.
That’s why Knight and the Case Foundation, early adopters in this space, have teamed up to share experiences on contests, prizes and challenges and offer some valuable lessons learned along the way. On Aug. 8, we’re hosting a joint webinar, “Designing Contests for Impact.” The webinar, which begins at 1 p.m. EDT, will be geared towards foundations and other organizations interested in launching their own contests. We’ll share tips and practical advice on designing, setting up and running contests.
Knight and Case have been engaged in using contests to advance our missions for more than five years. These have ranged from the Knight News Challenge to Case’s America’s Giving Challenge. We’ve used contests to tap into fresh thinking, providing simple opportunities for new people to engage in problem-solving, and to generate widespread interest and attention on social causes and challenges.
The Knight Foundation has used contests across its program areas, and recently shared their experiences in a new report, “Why Contests Improve Philanthropy: Six Lessons on Designing Prizes for Public Impact”). Knight has granted more than $75 million to individuals, nonprofits and commercial enterprises through prizes and contests. They’ve supported experimental arts projects, resident-led neighborhood improvements, tech startups and data applications.
At the Case Foundation we have made similar progress in developing contests as a tool for our philanthropy. That work also led to a report for the industry on how contests can impact our work: “How Giving Contests Can Strengthen Nonprofits and Communities.” In addition, the Case Foundation has co-hosted several cross-sector gatherings with the White House, bringing together experts in prizes and challenges from the corporate, public and foundation/nonprofit sectors to share knowledge and explore new opportunities for collaborating.
At both Knight and Case, we believe that prizes and challenges provide an opportunity to democratize ideas and are tied to a growing movement in open innovation. The social web provides unprecedented opportunities for collaboration on a mass scale. We have been experimenting and testing ways to run effective challenges for many years—but we’re not the only ones. Other foundations and organizations have been doing great work in leveraging prizes, including the X-Prize Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. We believe that the potential is significant and look forward to the webinar on Aug 8. We hope you will join the conversation.