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DOE, NSF, DHS partner on a research and action competition for smarter communities: Civic Innovation Challenge (CIVIC)

The National Science Foundation (NSF), in partnership with the US Department of Energy (DOE) and US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), launched the Civic Innovation Challenge, a national research and action competition in the smart and connected communities domain.

Teams will compete for awards of up to $1 million to support ready-to-implement, research-based pilot projects that have the potential for scalable, sustainable, and transferable impact on community-identified priorities. Teams will include civic partners—such as local, state, and tribal government officials, and non-profit and community leaders—working together with technical and social science researchers. The Civic Innovation Challenge is funded with an anticipated $9 million in funding from NSF, DOE, and DHS.

Development of the Civic Innovation Challenge has been ongoing for more than a year. The release of the Challenge comes as the world faces unprecedented obstacles in response to the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, which is impacting healthcare, economic, and social systems. Although the collective energy and effort of communities must focus on the crisis at hand, community members, researchers, and leaders will soon also be considering how civic services and systems should be rebuilt to be stronger and more resilient once communities emerge from this crisis.

As teams reflect on the focus areas of the Civic Innovation Challenge, they are encouraged to consider how both the current situation and other experiences in their communities uncover new challenges, motivate new questions, and highlight the need for new perspectives.

The Civic Innovation Challenge comprises two tracks, shaped by input from cities and communities from across the country at an Ideas Festival held in early 2019:

  • Communities and Mobility: Offering Better Mobility Options to Solve the Spatial Mismatch Between Housing Affordability and Jobs; and

  • Resilience to Natural Disasters: Equipping Communities for Greater Preparedness and Resilience to Natural Disasters.

The Challenge is organized in two stages. In the first stage, teams will compete for planning grants of up to $50,000 per team over a period of four months. Awards will be offered to approximately 12 teams per track and are expected to be made in Fall 2020. Planning grant applications are due on 1 July 2020.

With the support of the planning grant, the selected teams will then refine their projects and compete for second-stage grants of up to $1 million per team over a period of 12 months; these awards will support ready-to-implement, research-based pilot projects and will be offered to a cohort of awardees in each track. Only awardees of Stage 1 will be eligible to submit proposals for Stage 2.

NSF has a cooperative agreement with MetroLab Network, a non-profit organization that will support the Civic Innovation Challenge through organizing outreach to prospective communities and teams in preparing for Stage 1 and Stage 2, as well as cultivating communities of practice among awardees to help teams develop methods and solutions transferable to communities across the US. MetroLab contributed to the design of the Civic Innovation Challenge, supported by a grant from NSF.

Because of competing priorities and schedule disruptions due to the COVID-19 crisis and response, several measures will be taken to accommodate those responding to the Civic Innovation Challenge:

  • MetroLab will host webinars to share guidance on best practices in crafting research-community partnerships amid the current organizational responsibilities of civic leaders.

  • In preparing the planning grant proposals, partnerships with civic leaders may be not be as developed as they would have been under typical circumstances; MetroLab will provide general guidance on how teams can ensure sufficient “buy-in” from civic leaders and enlist additional partners that will strengthen their planning grant efforts.

  • All workshops and events associated with the Civic Innovation Challenge will be held virtually until public health guidance changes.


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