How open innovation can create smarter and safer cities

How open innovation can create smarter and safer cities

by Mahala Pagán

If you’ve ever rotated a Scrabble board mid-game, you may know something about the excitement of finding a new opportunity after looking at a problem differently — especially when a few seemingly distant letters work together to make a high-scoring word.

Detecting biothreats is a much more complex problem, but that doesn’t mean it can’t benefit from a similar shift in perspective. Seeking to bring new perspectives to public safety, we worked with the Department of Homeland Security this month to launch the Hidden Signals Challenge, a $300,000 open innovation competition that seeks new ways to spot the real threat signals hiding in the general noise.

Open innovation can be a powerful tool for stripping away assumptions and barriers, targeting outreach across many fields, engaging diverse expertise, and accessing unexpected solutions. More often than not, those who don’t consider themselves to be experts in the specific, niche problem space can contribute surprisingly relevant ideas, and it’s important to create channels for collaboration across different areas of expertise.

By taking a novel approach to existing data, DHS hopes to achieve real-time alerts with the level of confidence needed for a city official to begin intervention. From New Orleans and Chicago, to Louisville and Boston, cities around the country are getting smarter about how they use data to solve problems. This Challenge presents an exciting opportunity to step away from health data and lengthy laboratory testing processes, which have already supported a variety of systems and tools in place today, and instead explore what’s possible thanks to new technologies and data sources.

From data science to civic tech to epidemiology, solvers from many fields will soon discover how their expertise can save lives and improve national security. Learn more about the challenge and find out how to submit a concept.