Editor’s note: Government Product News asked Innocentive’s Alph Bingham and Jon Fredrickson about innovations in products and processes in the public sector. Bingham is founder of InnoCentive and Fredrickson is vice president of government.

Innocentive crowdsources innovation solutions from its global network of millions of problem solvers. Members of the Innocentive network compete to provide ideas and solutions to important business, social, policy, scientific, and technical challenges. The company has a cloud-based innovation management platform. For more than a decade, the Waltham, Mass.-based firm has helped governments and other organizations develop sustainable open innovation programs.

The Department of Defense, NASA and several government agencies in the U.S. and Europe have partnered with InnoCentive to quickly generate new ideas and solve problems. Innocentive has worked with these and other non-government entities in innovation challenges: Astra Zeneca, Booz Allen Hamilton, Cleveland Clinic, Eli Lilly & Company, Nature Publishing Group, Procter & Gamble, Scientific American, Syngenta, The Economist and Thomson Reuters.

This Q&A is part of GPN’s series on paths to innovation in government products and processes. Here are the views of Innocentive’s Alph Bingham (photo at right) and Jon Fredrickson.

GPN: Is product innovation taking place in the government market?

Alph Bingham and Jon Fredrickson: Certainly. And we would say that innovation is taking place to a greater degree in recent years as personnel learn to better interact with others outside their organization. But that isn't to say that they can't "up their game." There are plenty of additional opportunities and needs.

With the federal government having access to award monies from the America COMPETES Act, the use of crowdsourcing has seen incredible growth and use because of its economic efficiency and ease of use. Apps have been created, tools and products have been found and innovated on, and all done based on Success, not trial and error funded solely by the government and taxpayers.

GPN: Is innovation occurring in public sector products? Some examples of public sector products: Everything from pavement patch to software that manages customer lines at the DMV/Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and other products that governments buy and use.

AB and JF: Yes, though they aren't always subject to the degree of advertising and awareness-raising that many commercial products are. So it's possible that folks become aware only through personal experience, and we can't always appreciate the greater longevity of that highway patch we just bumped over.

We have seen apps created for citizens’ use, tools and products have been found and innovated on for government programs. All of this was done based on finding a Successful Solution defined in a challenge, not trial and error funded solely by the government and taxpayers.

GPN: Do government buying and contracting practices stifle innovation?

AB and JF: The government (federal, state or local) typically has and must adhere to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) or other procurement rules to protect citizen taxpayers from poor practices in awarding contracts. That protection and method for fair and open procurement has requirements and thus is normal “behavior” for procuring goods and services.

Crowdsourcing meets all of these procurement protections and requirements with some significant benefits to the agency/department and to us as taxpayers. InnoCentive “asks the world” for solutions in an open and global competition (fair and open requirements are met).  InnoCentive Solvers only get paid for Success; they give the government what they specifically asked for in the challenge without the government funding trial and error and potentially no solution (best fiscal management practice for lowest cost and best performance against criteria).

The big question for government is, can government change its beliefs and behaviors for procurement fast enough to address real-time needs (i.e., how to combat terrorist threats or other emergency needs) using this method? This can give government innovation at the “speed of today” instead of at the speed of a normal procurement cycle. A Yes to this question can accelerate innovation. Agencies like the DoD or FEMA need these types of capabilities for speed for critical missions!

GPN: What can governments do to stimulate innovation?

AB and JF: Recognize that good ideas come from many different sources, not just your immediate lab, team or agency. Collaborate across agencies and share not only problems to be solved, but also solutions that some other agency or person inside already has created to address the problem. We call it crowdsourced solutions inside the "fence-line." Make citizens aware of your goals and objectives and invite them to engage. Your mission is often one of public service, and citizens are easily motivated to join in the cause. Use professional intermediary services (not just group-sharing software) that can create innovation leverage for tapping a much broader creative potential.

GPN: Thank you, Alph Bingham and Jon Fredrickson, for your views.

The city of Boston partnered with InnoCentive on a research challenge to predict pothole locations using data collected from a smartphone application called Street Bump. This video shows how the app was developed and some of its benefits.  

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