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Four Years of SAVE Awards
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Four Years of SAVE Awards

Editor's Note: The following guest post comes to us from Jessica Day. She is the Communications Director at IdeaScale, an open innovation company which runs the SAVE Awards, an initiative started in 2009 by the Obama administration. Day writes in to discuss some of the successes that have come from the program and offers suggestions for companies and organizations that are considering turning to crowdsourcing for their idea generation. 

The SAVE Award is a program that debuted in September 2009. It was an initiative launched by President Obama that sought ideas from federal employees about how to make the government not only more effective, but also more efficient when it came to spending (hence its name: “Securing Americans Value and Efficiency”).

Every year, the President puts out an open call out to all federal employees inviting them to publically submit their money-saving ideas online using IdeaScale technology. This call is promoted by various branches, departments and organizations within the government encouraging employees to share whatever thoughts they have on the subject. The ideas are submitted, users vote the ideas up and down and the best ideas usually bubble up to the top. The Office of Management and Budget then narrows down the best ideas to a “final four” which can be viewed and voted on by the American public. The winner is granted the honor of presenting his or her idea to the President in Washington.

The end of July marked the end of the period for idea submissions for this year and we won’t know who the new winner is until September. But after four years of working to create a more efficient government with the help of the crowd, it seems that a lot could be said about the value of crowdsourcing when it comes to the government.

Consider this:

  • Over the past four years, more than 85,000 ideas have been shared.
  • The crowd couldn’t wait to participate. The outpouring of ideas in 2009 after just the first few weeks numbered around 38,000.
  • The first year’s winner, Nancy Fichtner suggested that medications and supplies used to treat VA patients be sent home with the patients rather than destroyed. A simple suggestion, perhaps, but one that will save the American people an easy $14.5 million before 2014.
  • The second year’s winner, Trudy Givens, proposed that the government end mailing physical copies of the Federal Register to employees (and instead opt for emailing it). That’s another $4 million saved every year.
  • Last year, Matthew Ritsko suggested establishing a centralized tool repository, or “lending library,” for NASA employees to use when developing and building space flight projects. His idea alone received nearly 40% of the total online votes.
  • And those are just the winners. Dozens of the most promising ideas have been included in the President’s Budget, specifically in the Terminations, Reductions, and Savings section that are saving taxpayer’s millions of dollars.

And the ideas have come from all over the government. The winners alone have represented the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Bureau of Prisons, and NASA.

Of course, we have to look at some of those savings as rather belated updates and upgrades to services that are simply helping America to keep pace, not to innovate: bringing reports online or working to reduce the amount of paper waste is certainly laudable, but not a slingshot forward, either. I would like to think that as the government catches up with the basics, that they will also begin to allow for more elasticity of suggestions, innovation, maybe even revelation.

But how can the government (or other companies and organizations) encourage innovation and not just keeping pace. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you look to the crowd for innovation.

  • Continuous engagement and research. Organizations that are already in synch with industry best practices and competitor trends will be starting at an advantage. A company’s networks shouldn’t have to tell them to keep up, they should be bringing the conversation in new directions.
  • Make space for off-topic dialogue. Innovation isn’t always a straight line (which is why Google allows employees to dedicate at least one day out of their week for projects that aren’t necessarily in their job description). Allowing people to get off-book or deviate from expectations is often what leads to important insight.
  • And certainly keep the dialogue open – just as the SAVE award does. A chorus of voices is what helps build true innovation. It may start with one suggestion, but we continue to be a conversational species that wants to talk and participate (online and off) as ideas emerge, evolve, and become more complex. Make sure that the conversation can continue.

Where will this year’s SAVE winner spring from? What will they suggest? And how much can it save? In any case, I’m looking forward to finding out.

- Jessica Day is a marketing and technology writer and editor for IdeaScale, a leading innovation software solution for idea management. She received her Masters in Writing from the University of Washington. Day also blogs about crowd-based innovation and idea management solutions at

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