DAI, USAID, Montgomery County Innovation Lab, and GAN Launch Innovation into Action Challenge

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DAI and three partners announced the launch of the Innovation into Action Challenge, a new challenge designed to support innovations with the potential to make a difference in the lives of people in emerging and transitioning nations.

The Innovation into Action Challenge is presented by DAI; USAID’s Global Development Lab; the Innovation Program of Montgomery County, Maryland; and the Denver, Colorado-based Global Accelerator .Network (GAN). The partners gathered at a January 28 kickoff event sponsored by Montgomery County and hosted at DAI’s Bethesda headquarters.

“What marks this challenge out from the crowd is its emphasis on moving development innovations and innovators up the ladder that leads from concept or prototype to application in real-world settings,” said DAI President and CEO Jim Boomgard.

Three winners will receive a tailored package of support designed to accelerate their innovation’s deployment in the field:

  • $20,000 in funding
  • Matchmaking with one of DAI’s projects, including a fully-funded visit to the selected project for networking, product testing, market analysis, and more
  • Access to a network of innovation accelerator professionals through the challenge partners
  • Coaching and technical mentoring to refine their pitch, product, or service, with an eye to commercialization and/or contract assignments with development organizations like DAI

“The U.S. Global Development Lab has done a great job sourcing promising innovation and bringing new ideas to light,” said Alexis Bonnell, Chief of Applied Innovation and Acceleration for the Lab. “This Challenge gives us a unique opportunity to put these innovations and ideas into action.”

The Innovation into Action Challenge is open to [small] companies, nonprofit organizations, and entrepreneurs worldwide. Applicants are encouraged to nominate their innovative technologies, approaches, or processes in the following focus areas.

  • Governance and Services: Fostering dialogue between governments and citizens.
  • Workforce Development: Equipping young people with skills and ways to connect to the labor market.
  • Data Analytics: Improving monitoring, service delivery, and impact of projects related to health, education, energy, water, and sanitation.
  • Knowledge Management: Facilitating learning and collaboration among development partners
  • Climate Adaptation: Helping monitor and respond to changes in the environment
  • Agriculture: Improve and secure food production and distribution

“Our business is all about helping other businesses make it to the next level,” said GAN CEO Patrick Riley. “We are delighted to bring our insights to a sector where the potential benefits and social impact of acceleration are so great.”

“The Innovation into Action Challenge underscores the importance of Montgomery County and the Washington metropolitan area as a hub for technology and global thinking. Social entrepreneurs will benefit from this Challenge through access to the impressive array of partners we have assembled,” added Isiah Leggett, County Executive of Montgomery County, Maryland. “We are delighted to be part of it.”

The Challenge is targeted at innovations that have shown some traction in the marketplace and would benefit substantially from engagement with DAI’s portfolio. To nominate your innovation and find out more, complete the brief online application by February 29 at


About the Innovation into Action Partners

DAI is a global development company dedicated to shaping a more livable world. Currently working on some 150 projects in 89 countries, DAI tackles fundamental social and economic development problems caused by inefficient markets, ineffective governance, and instability.

USAID is the U.S. Government’s lead development agency. With the launch of the Global Development Lab in 2014, USAID reaffirmed its commitment to science, technology, innovation, and partnerships as drivers of development.

Montgomery County, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C., is a local jurisdiction with global constituents and global reach. It is committed to nurturing innovation ecosystems in various sectors and to fostering entrepreneurship through strategic public-private partnerships.

The Global Accelerator Network is a network of the world’s most respected accelerators. GAN accelerators provide startups with the resources necessary to create and grow businesses, wherever they are.

Buskers: Changing Nightlife in Montgomery County

The Montgomery County Nighttime Economy Task Force worked to identify opportunities to reinvigorate nightlife in Montgomery County, from livening it up with live music to adding cultural experiences that many can partake in. Their vision is “to develop creative placemaking opportunities and sensible policies that encourage an increased nighttime social life for residents, employees, and visitors of all ages and cultural backgrounds.” They wish to “enhance the sense of community” and provide experiences that an array of people will enjoy. Their four main goals are to enhance the nighttime economy with vibrant new features, provide many options from which residents can choose, attract businesses, employers, families, and individuals to activities, and call forth people from other districts to consider and enjoy all that Montgomery County nightlife has to offer. By stimulating the economy and creating an exciting environment, both the residents of the county and the government will benefit from all that the task force has to offer.

One of the latest additions to nightlife in Silver Spring and Bethesda are buskers: live street performers that provide entertainment for individuals in public spaces for money. The goal in mind is that the buskers will be lively, family-friendly, and supportive of a large audience. In large town centers with restaurants and shops, where many people gather, street performers such as buskers will be a fun addition to nightlife and will provide another option for participation.

Buskers deviate from the normal sounds of sirens, honking horns, and bustling traffic. They are an enjoyable way to bring Montgomery County together. They will attract pedestrians and bystanders from a large space. Buskers are commonly found in cities such as Baltimore, but bringing them to Montgomery County would be a nice change of pace from everyday life. They will raise the mood of the block and kick off nightlife. The Innovation program is currently working on designing a pilot and would like your feedback.

Would you be interested in buskers performing in MoCo? Let us know below!

Open Data Town Hall Results

On Thursday, November 21st the Montgomery County Innovation Program hosted the first Open Data Town Hall at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center. The event was organized by the Innovation Program in collaboration with the Department of Technology Services and with the help of many County departments. We are pleased to say that the results are positive and representation from Montgomery County residents like you was impressive. Live-tweeting with the hashtag #opendataMC proved effective as well, and we heard from people all over the county with all different sorts of feedback. This was the first Open Data Town Hall event both in Montgomery County and possibly the first of its kind in the country, demonstrating our commitment to open data.


Dan Hoffman, the Chief Innovation Officer, opened the event by welcoming attendees and first talking about the Innovation Program and what we have accomplished, including projects and a brief website tour. He said that the Innovation Program explored projects that are “testable, experimental, and risky,” reminding us that it is a place to explore new ideas and a safe place to fail. Then he explored what exactly open data is and how it can positively impact Montgomery County. Hoffman said that having an open data policy is the only way to ensure “an open, responsive, and transparent government.”


Sonny Segal, the Chief Information Officer, then took the floor to state how this is the first year anniversary of the Open Data program, and it has already shown great success. It is designed so sectors other than the government can utilize the data, and contribute to the county where the government’s services leave off. He reminded us that the input of residents is vital because then portals such as dataMontgomery would be tailored to what the public wants to see and know about. This way, datasets can be prioritized and the implementation plan can be strategic.


“Montgomery County is one of just 24 U.S. local governments with an open data policy,” said Rebecca Williams, a policy analyst at the Sunlight Foundation. “By engaging with residents and the public while implementing an open data policy, Montgomery County is exceeding the work being done by peers in Chicago and New York City in setting a prioritization schedule for the release of all the datasets maintained by the county.” With portals such as dataMontgomery, Montgomery County is ahead of the game.


After the introductions, Dan Hoffman introduced the activity. Stations were set up around the room with a speaker and a large pad of paper with a different topic written on it. Residents were to move around the room for the next 45 minutes from station to station and discuss each topic and give ideas of datasets they would like to see pertaining to that topic. Meanwhile, interviews with citizens were conducted to get a more personalized view of their Open Data opinions and what they would like to see. Here is breakdown of the different groups and the ideas residents had:


  • County building energy efficiency
  • Recycling rates in buildings
  • Tree canopy law information
  • Locations of resources
  • Invasive Plant Map
  • Green space data


  • Traffic flow information
  • Bus stop locations
  • Real-time service alerts
  • Toll road information

Public Safety:

  • Graphic data/maps
  • Crime incidents
  • Dangerous intersections (collision information)
  • Response times for Police and Fire Departments

Social Services:

  • County facilities located on maps
  • Services offered at facilities
  • Languages offered at facilities
  • Rates, transportation, hours at facilities
  • Mental health facilities mapped

Government Operations:

  • Open checkbook: spending, budget, project bids
  • Where the spending is goes and to whom it goes
  • Council vote tracking
  • Record requests (MPIA, FOIA)


  • School boundaries
  • Election data
  • Machine-readable format for SAT scores, including private schools

Looking towards the future, dataMontgomery is already seeing new requests for datasets the public would like to see. You can contribute there as well. We are already beginning to respond to the requests made by adding new datasets, so it is important that you know your advice will not go unheard. One example stemming directly from the Town Hall are election maps, which the County has begun posting already. Thank you to everyone who helped make this event a success, and we are already planning our second Open Data Town Hall for late January in upcounty.

Also, check out some great video coverage of the event here. There are also some great write-ups from MyMCMedia, BethesdaNow, and the Gazette.

Photos courtesy of Twitter: @MoCoDanHoffman, @CountyCableMoCo, and @ValerieBonk via #opendataMC.

Nightlife in Montgomery County

For the past six months, Montgomery County’s Nighttime Economy Task Force has been holding public meetings and discussions regarding nightlife in Montgomery County and how it can be improved. Residents gave their input on what they would like to see and experience to liven up nightlife and gain more County revenue from it. On October 28th, 2013, these recommendations were sent to the County Executive. The recommendations were categorized by department and improvements that involve each department.

Department of Economic Development:

-Develop a plan for marketing and attracting new companies

-Promote venues that pay musicians to perform

-Promote positive customer service

Department of Environmental Protection

-Establish Urban Noise Areas surrounding town centers to allow musicians to play for a larger audience

Department of Housing and Community Affairs

-More housing options

Department of Liquor Control

-Develop an educational Patron Responsibility Program.

-Extend hours alcohol sellers on Fridays and Saturdays to 3AM, and 2AM on Sunday-Thursday

-Modify the alcohol to food ratio under Class B licenses from 50/50 to 60/40

-Create a study with the Office of Legislative Oversight to improve the Department of Liquor Control’s services

Department of Permitting Services

-Make it easier to create an arts/entertainment venue or production

Department of Transportation

-Food trucks can operate after 10PM

-More taxis and parking

-Better late-night transit services

-Pedestrian and bicycle access

Office of Management and Budget

-Better public safety resources

Parks Department

-Allow public space to have multiple uses and attract people with design elements

Planning Department

-Incentives for allowing open space for arts groups or performers

-New zoning standards so public/open space requirements are easier to meet

-More density of people in popular nighttime areas

Police Department

-Decrease crime by using Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) techniques.

-Decrease drunk driving by extending “Safe Ride” all weekend long

Urban Districts

-Increase funding

-Maintain public spaces

-Dedicated revenue to events

The task force was made up of residents and business leaders and was staffed by representatives from the Department of Liqour Control, the Mid-County Regional Services Center, the Department of Recreation and the Chief Innovation Officer. Now that the recommendations are finalized, the task force will disband and the focus will be on implementing the recommendations. For more information on the task force and more detail on the recommendations, click here.

What are interactive touchscreen kiosks?

You have seen them in museums, train stations, and even malls: interactive touchscreen kiosks are popping up everywhere. That being noted, not everyone has access to a smartphone and internet connection is not always available. Besides, how could information be tailored to a specific location? With improved interactive touchscreen kiosk technology, all of this is possible. Montgomery County has several bustling town centers, filled with unique eateries and shopping experiences. The Innovation Program wrote about the potential for these kiosks in a previous post and progress has been made as we determine what our procurement content management strategy will be. The kiosks would provide restaurant and store information, public transportation information, and even things such as weather and data from our open data portal. Several potential pilot sites have been identified in Silver Spring and Bethesda. The information they provide would be beneficial to the shoppers and visitors.

Basically, these innovative devices will provide data and local information almost instantly. They could range from airport check-in areas to online shopping catalogs to a map of the region. These different applications show the versatility of this idea; this is where Montgomery County Innovation comes into play. We will decide what the most necessary and convenient features are, and then we will apply them to the kiosks.

The hardware of the kiosk is like a computer with a PC screen, encased so it cannot be harmed by the weather. They are touchscreen, making them interactive like the smartphone technologies many of us are accustomed to today.

Innovation fellow Andrew Rauch, who is working on the project with fellow Ann Bevans, provided a list of possible functions for the kiosks:

-Way finding
-Transit information
-Payphone service
-Cell phone charging stations
-Emergency notifications
-Social Media integration 
-Business Rating system
-Built-In Camera
Some aspects still being discussed include generating revenue and providing advertising on the kiosks. Updates on the status of this project will be posted next month, and we hope to launch the kiosks in 2014.

Project Update: Interactive Touchscreen Kiosks

Instant neighborhood information is increasingly demanded by visitors, residents, and travelers in the changing local community. Visitors want to discover top-rated restaurants and attractions; residents need to learn about local programs and services and receive safety alerts; travelers expect to save time by accessing real-time data about public transit and roads. All of that information requires public information communication. Diverse methods have been used to deliver public communication, including interactive touch-screen kiosks.  Montgomery County wants to pilot the use of these kiosks to deliver better public communication for pedestrians, improve way finding, help local business, and keep the community safe.

Kiosk specs

Although the specific functions and specifications are still to be determined, some features are known, which include:

  • The touchscreens will be approximately 47”, High Definition, LCD, LED backlit, and use the latest in green technology to reduce power consumption.
  • Each kiosk has two exterior grade speakers and one exterior grade microphone for public announcements and individual communication.
  • Wireless hot spots are also a planned function to provide pedestrians convenience for urgent information searching with their own portable devices (mobile phones, tablets, etc.).
  • Each enclosure will contain an environmental control system rated for outdoor installation.

Experiences from other jurisdictions

Montgomery County is not the only jurisdiction that sees the benefits of these types of kiosks as a tool used for public communication. Recently, New York City installed touchscreen maps in subways, and replaced payphones with interactive kiosks. Rochester, NY leveraged such kiosks as a way finding facility for visitors. Our project, though similar, is a little different from both New York City and the City of Rochester. The locations selected for New York City are mainly for subway stations and select business areas. Our pilot will focus initially on Silver Spring and Bethesda but not in areas controlled by WMATA.

Current site selection and partnerships

As this project is only a pilot program, a small number of locations are being sought as we collect lessons learned and operational experience. With help from the Silver Spring Regional Center, Bethesda Regional Center, and Bethesda Urban Partnership, we have tentatively identified some candidate locations that you can see on the Google maps below (you may need to zoom out once the map loads to see all the sites at once):

Those locations include traffic centers, downtown centers, colleges, and Regional Centers.

Next steps

We welcome your feedback on these locations and other potential locations. It is important to stress that all of this is TENTATIVE and pending approval. We are currently finalizing our fiscal analysis of pilot. The intent is to create a revenue neutral or very low cost pilot. Moving forward on this pilot is still subject to approval by the appropriate authorities.