January 18, 2021 Open Innovation & Prize Competitions Across Government with the GSA’s Jarah Meador

Every week, thought leaders and disruptive strategists hop onto the Uprisor Podcast to discuss the future of work and share their insights and ideas about on-demand talent, remote work and innovation. In today’s episode, Clinton Bonner (Topcoder’s VP of Marketing) sits down to chat with Jarah Meador. Originally trained as a scientist, Jarah now serves at the Director of Open Innovation Programs for the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). In her current role, Jarah oversees Challenge.gov where she and her team use prize competitions and challenges to engage the general public into solving the government’s most pressing problems.

Jarah shares why the U.S. government is turning to its citizens for cutting edge ideas, and why leaders need to invest in innovation culture within their own organization before seeking solutions from the outside. Enjoy the conversation and top moments below.

How the U.S. Government is Seeking Solutions From Citizen-Solvers 

The two kicked off this episode with Jarah explaining how the GSA is sourcing solutions from Americans through challenges and competitions. Historically, this is nothing new. In fact, the designs for the White House and the U.S. Capitol all initially came from crowdsourcing. In today’s modern era, the GSA is simply taking it a step further, helping the government innovate with advancements like artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. 

The GSA identifies problems that the government is struggling to solve, then posts public challenges to Challenge.gov. Jarah’s department invites anyone, from experts to academic researchers to hobbyists, to submit concepts, ideas and solutions. The first challenge was created in 2010, and since then more than 1,000 challenges have helped solve problems at more than 100 federal agencies.

“We’re introducing [federal agencies] to open innovation…and how to allow folks from outside of government — the customers that we serve — to be able to bring their ideas into government, where there can be a broader impact.” —Jarah Meador

True Innovation Requires Fostering the Right Culture Inside Your Business

Simply seeking new ideas or out-of-the-box thinking from external sources is important. However, Jarah warns that without an internal culture of innovation, your own employees or team leaders can act as gatekeepers that prevent true innovation from taking place. She says she’s encouraged to see more federal agencies fostering an internal innovation culture, which helps with the success of the GSA’s public challenges.

“Put effort and resources behind discovery, problem definition, working with stakeholders and end users to map the needs, so that you create a truly open and fair participation environment.” —Jarah Meador

Bridge the Gap Between Internal and External Innovation

Jarah suggests that one way to ensure your internal culture is ready for true innovation and crowdsourcing solutions is to build teams or hire talent specifically focused on identifying areas where collaborative problem-solving can be helpful.

For example, she points out that the Veterans Health Administration hired an innovation specialist for each of its hospitals. These specialists then work together to share information and data and identify opportunities for collaborating with the public. She notes that this type of hiring or culture-building can be instrumental in creating an internal culture of innovation that’s accepting to external ideas. 

Thanks to Jarah Meador for sharing her experiences with the U.S. government’s crowdsourcing and innovation strategies with the Uprisor audience. 

“If you can bridge these two communities—inside and outside of an organization—your pathway to innovation and scale is more linear.” —Jarah Meador

Annika Nagy


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