Index: Prizes and Challenges

The Living Library Index – inspired by the Harper’s Index – provides important statistics and highlights global trends in governance innovation. This installment focuses on prizes and challenges and was originally published in 2015.

This index highlights recent findings about two key techniques in shifting innovation from institutions to the general public:

  • Prize-Induced Contests – using monetary rewards to incentivize individuals and other entities to develop solutions to public problems; and
  • Grand Challenges – posing large, audacious goals to the public to spur collaborative, non-governmental efforts to solve them.

You can read more about Governing through Prizes and Challenges here. You can also watch Alph Bingham, co-founder of Innocentive, answer the GovLab’s questions about challenge authoring and defining the problem here.

Previous installments of the Index include Measuring Impact with Evidence, The Data Universe, Participation and Civic Engagement and Trust in Institutions. Please share any additional statistics and research findings on the intersection of technology in governance with us by emailing shruti at

Prize-Induced Contests

  • Year the British Government introduced the Longitude Prize, one of the first instances of prizes by government to spur innovation: 1714
  • President Obama calls on “all agencies to increase their use of prizes to address some of our Nation’s most pressing challenges” in his Strategy for American Innovation: September 2009
  • The US Office of Management and Budget issues “a policy framework to guide agencies in using prizes to mobilize American ingenuity and advance their respective core missions”:  March 2010
  • Launch of, “a one-stop shop where entrepreneurs and citizen solvers can find public-sector prize competitions”: September 2010
    • Number of competitions currently live on in February 2015: 22 of 399 total
    • How many competitions on are for $1 million or above: 23
  • The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act is introduced, which grants “all Federal agencies authority to conduct prize competitions to spur innovation, solve tough problems, and advance their core missions”: 2010
  • Value of prizes authorized by COMPETES: prizes up to $50 million
  • Fact Sheet and Frequently Asked Questions memorandum issued by the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of Management and Budget to aid agencies to take advantage of authorities in COMPETES: August 2011
  • Number of prize competitions run by the Federal government from 2010 to April 2012: 150
  • How many Federal agencies have run prize competitions by 2012: 40
  • Prior to 1991, the percentage of prize money that recognized prior achievements according to an analysis by McKinsey and Company: 97%
    • Since 1991, percentage of new prize money that “has been dedicated to inducement-style prizes that focus on achieving a specific, future goal”: 78%
  • Value of the prize sector as estimated by McKinsey in 2009: $1-2 billion
  • Growth rate of the total value of new prizes: 18% annually
  • Growth rate in charitable giving in the US: 2.5% annually
  • Value of the first Horizon Prize awarded in 2014 by the European Commission to German biopharmaceutical company CureVac GmbH “for progress towards a novel technology to bring life-saving vaccines to people across the planet in safe and affordable ways”: €2 million
  • Number of solvers registered on InnoCentive, a crowdsourcing company: 355,000+ from nearly 200 countries
    • Total Challenges Posted: 2,000+ External Challenges
    • Total Solution Submissions: 40,000+
    • Value of the awards: $5,000 to $1+ million
    • Success Rate for premium challenges: 85%

Grand Challenges

  • Value of the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize, sponsored in part by DOE to develop production-capable super fuel-efficient vehicles: $10 million
    • Number of teams around the world who took part in the challenge “to develop a new generation of technologies” for production-capable super fuel-efficient vehicles: 111 teams
  • Time it took for the Air Force Research Laboratory to receive a workable solution on “a problem that had vexed military security forces and civilian police for years” by opening the challenge to the world: 60 days
  • Value of the HHS Investing in Innovation initiative to spur innovation in Health IT, launched under the new COMPETES act: $5 million program
  • Number of responses received by NASA for its Asteroid Grand Challenge RFI which seeks to identify and address all asteroid threats to the human population: over 400
  • The decreased cost of sequencing a single human genome as a result of the Human Genome Project Grand Challenge: $7000 from $100 million
  • Amount the Human Genome Project Grand Challenge has contributed to the US economy for every $1 invested by the US federal government: $141 for every $1 invested
  • The amount of funding for research available for the “Brain Initiative,” a collaboration between the National Institute of Health, DARPA and the National Science Foundation, which seeks to uncover new prevention and treatment methods for brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, autism and schizophrenia: $100 million
  • Total amount offered in cash awards by the Department of Energy’s “SunShot Grand Challenge,” which seeks to eliminate the cost disparity between solar energy and coal by the end of the decade: $10 million