While prizes for breakthroughs in science and technology have a long history, they have seen a resurgence in recent years. Most of the attention in this area has focused on private-sector sponsored prizes like those sponsored by the X Prize Foundation.
However, many government agencies have been encouraged to pursue prizes as a means of encouraging innovation connected to their missions. They don’t necessarily have the multi-million dollar awards connected to them, but they may have some impact. As part of the legislation that encouraged this activity, the Office of Science and Technology Policy released a report in March outlining government-sponsored prize activity in Fiscal Year 2011 (October 2010-September 2011).
Due to the timing of the implementation of the legislation and authority for agencies to conduct the prizes, most activity didn’t start until the beginning of calendar year 2011. Based on Appendix 1 of the report, there were all of seven competitions that took place during FY 2011 under the new competitions authority. That may also explain the emphasis on telling success stories, and an emphasis on competitions for Internet or other ‘apps’. Hopefully there can be a more quantitative analysis come next March when a subsequent report may appear. As for broadening the kind of competitions, I’m not sure where the thinking needs to be shaken up to accomplish that.