A Taxonomy of Prize Contests
Before examining the roles inducement prize contests might play in the federal science and technology policy portfolio, it is useful to distinguish clearly between two major types of prize contest, i.e., the recognition prize contest, which recognizes past achievement, and the inducement prize contest, which induces additional effort by contestants related to specific objectives.
The world's most prestigious prizes in engineering and science—including the Nobel Prizes, the Charles Stark Draper Prize in engineering, and the Albert Lasker Medical Research Awards in medicine7—are prizes that are given in recognition of past achievement. Contestants for recognition prizes are usually nominated by others. Winners of these prizes are generally designated in private by criteria that may or may not be announced publicly. In general, recognition prizes do not provide incentives for contestants to invest additional scientific or technical effort or change the focus of their work in order to effect their likelihood of winning the prize.8
By contrast, inducement prize contests—the focus of the NAE workshop and this report—require additional effort by contestants, directly related to the achievement of a clearly specified objective, if they hope to win the prize. Notable prize contests of this type have included privately sponsored prizes such as the Orteig Prize won in 1927 by Charles Lindbergh for being the first to fly nonstop from New York to Paris, or the recent contest to circle the world in a balloon sponsored by Anheuser-Busch.9 Government-sponsored prize contests of this type include the well-chronicled prize offered by the British Parliament in 1714 for the first to invent an instrument for accurately measuring longitude at sea,10 as well as the aforementioned Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Awards.
Contestants for inducement prizes must actively compete for the prize by investing additional time and resources to meet the objectives of the contest. To attract contestants, inducement prize contests must offer a prize or reward valuable enough, as well as a probability of winning high enough, for contestants to risk the costs of participating in the contest. Such contests may be designed to seek out the best entry within a given period, or the entry that first meets a specific goal. They are generally public and open, and decided on the basis of clearly announced criteria. And as the discussion of prize objectives below makes clear, inducement prize contests can be designed to stimulate innovation across the entire spectrum of research and innovation efforts, including basic research, technology development, and deployment. They can also be set up to serve a diverse range of policy and societal objectives.
Though not discussed in detail in this report, there are also hybrid recognition/inducement prize contests that recognize and reward past achievement yet are also designed to induce additional effort of prizewinners consistent with the prize's objectives after they have won the prize. Examples of this type of prize contest include MacArthur Fellowships, Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, and the National Science Foundation's Alan T. Waterman Award.11 These contests do not require contestants (who are usually nominated by their peers) to invest additional effort in pursuit of a specified objective to