- The National Science Foundation (NSF), U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) launched a competition on Wednesday to award research teams with grants that will enable them to develop scalable, sustainable solutions to community-identified challenges.
- The Civic Innovation Challenge will offer grants under two tracks: "communities and mobility" or "resilience to natural disasters." Teams will first compete for planning grants of up to $50,000 over a period of four months. Those who are issued grants — approximately 12 teams per track will be selected by fall 2020 — will move on to a 12-month competition to refine projects until they are ready for implementation. Winning teams will receive $1 million each — about $9 million is expected to be issued over the entire competition.
- Teams should be comprised of civic partners, including government officials, nonprofit or community leaders, working with technical and social science researchers. Applications are due July 1.
While "innovation" challenges seem to be a dime a dozen as of late, this competition offers direct support from the federal level in tackling local-level challenges. Leaders have long urged the federal government to step up in supporting local innovation — especially around climate, which is linked to both of the challenge's tracks.
The development of the Civic Innovation Challenge has been occurring for over a year, according to a blog post. In a statement, organizers of the competition acknowledged it's unfavorable to launch such an intensive program during a global pandemic, but encouraged applicants to "consider how both the current situation and other experiences...uncover new challenges, motivate new questions and highlight the need for new perspectives."
The agencies also partnered with the nonprofit MetroLab Network to help design and support the program, including capacity-building for teams that receive funding through the challenge. This includes accommodating prospective applicants amid stay-at-home orders and other coronavirus-related restrictions that may create obstacles. Among a number of planned activities, MetroLab will host webinars to address best practices in developing research-community partnerships, provide guidance on how teams can get "buy in" from civic leaders amid opposing priorities and hold virtual workshops and events.
The challenge is part of the NSF's larger Smart & Connected Communities (S&CC) domain, which was developed to accelerate support from scientific and engineering communities in building smart cities. S&CC has available grants for both integrative research and planning.