Civic Innovation Challenge | Ideas Competition
innovation, civic, technology, NSF, MetroLab Network, Smart Cities, Academic, Cities, National Science Foundation, Smart Cities Lab
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We are launching an Ideas Competition that asks you to identify challenges and priorities in your cities and communities that can benefit from technical exploration, scientific discovery, and new approaches.


Who do we want to hear from? Everyone. But in particular, we want communities — government employees, non-profits, and residents — to have a hand in defining their challenges. If you are a researcher or civic entrepreneur, we highly recommend you leverage your community partners to jointly scope your ideas. The Civic Innovation Challenge is about harnessing the power of research and discovery to advance civic priorities.


How can you participate? Get inspired by the content included below, form a team, and submit your idea!


Teams that offer the best submissions to the Ideas Competition will be invited to attend an Ideas Festival in early 2019 with the National Science Foundation, MetroLab, and Smart Cities Lab as we explore possible focus areas for the Civic Innovation Challenge.

Focus Areas

We are asking you to submit ideas that reflect challenges in one or more of the following focus areas. The examples are meant to be illustrative and we encourage you to interpret these categories broadly.

Equity & Access

This category includes challenges related to obtaining health and human services, improving food access, educating and training a workforce for the 21st-century economy, and addressing underserved communities.


This category addresses the ability to withstand and recover from deliberate attacks, accidents, or naturally occurring threats or incidents. These issues range from public safety and cybersecurity to sustainability and storm or weather-related events.


This category addresses the challenges related to the movement of goods and people in our communities.

Built Environment

This category includes challenges related to improving the human-made environment supporting human activity. The built environment can include buildings, parks, utilities, infrastructure, energy networks, and spaces created or modified by human behavior.

Examples of possible topics in each area include:


Equity & Access: How can communities provide workforce training using innovative technology and data approaches, like online learning, better data collection, and evidence-based policy interventions?


Resilience: Communities are at a high risk from flooding and erosion. How can we use data and technology tools, like sensing and mapping, to help protect our communities?


Mobility: Communities are searching for innovative ways to link new and incumbent mobility services with other digital services. How can data and technology be used to better enable residents to access a suite of services responsive to diverse needs?


Built Environment: How can we use mapping, sensing, and data-sharing to design and build places where all individuals — including those in strollers and wheelchairs, on bikes and on foot, and with walkers or canes — get around safely and efficiently?

The Civic Innovation Challenge is about harnessing the power of research and discovery to advance civic priorities. Your responses will be used to motivate the topics addressed in the Civic Innovation Challenge. That puts you at the table with communities, researchers, government, philanthropy, and industry as they seek ways to create happier, healthier, more efficient and equitable communities.

Looking for more inspiration?

Fill out a Mad Lib!

If I knew ________ , it would let me _________ , which would allow me to address the needs of ________ , which could be measured by _______.

We’ll share some word clouds here, like this one of the Washington, DC 2018 state of the District. But you can make your own as well! Recent speeches and reports are great starting material. We like this tool.

Other Inspiration

Read your Mayor’s State of the City or Governor’s State of the State. We think it will leave you questioning how new technology and approaches can help our communities address their priorities.

Our next webinar will be Friday, December 7th from 4:00 – 5:00 PM ET.


We will be hosting webinars December 20th from 1:00 –  2:00 PM ET, January 8th from 3:30 – 4:30 PM ET, and January 15th from 2:00 – 3:00 PM ET as well.


Please register below to attend.