There’s a nice interactive piece from the Knight Foundation explaining why contests like its News Challenge are a great way for philanthropic organisations to meet new people and find projects they would never have thought of themselves.

The piece notes some of the world’s most useful discoveries arose through contests – determining longitude of a ship at sea (marine chronomoter), 1714; best way of preserving food (airtight jars), 1795; replacing ivory in billiard balls (plastic), 1863.

It goes on to outline six lessons the foundation has learned from running open contests since 2007, during which time it’s selected 400 winners from almost 25,000 entries and granted more than $75 million to individuals, businesses, schools and nonprofits.

  1. Bring new blood and ideas
  2. Create value beyond the winners
  3. Spot emerging trends
  4. Change your routine
  5. Go hand-in-glove with existing strategies
  6. Thoughtfully engage the community

The foundation’s Chris Sopher adds three more:

  1. People are the only constant on a project. If you support  people who are agile and observant, you’ll get good stuff. Most contests focus almost exclusively on the project idea. We’ve repeatedly adjusted ours to focus more on the people.
  2. Being surprised is (almost always) awesome. Every time we pick a theme for the contest (“mobile,” “open government,” etc.) we get at least a dozen excellent submissions that don’t fit the concept we started with in our heads.
  3. Contests are drivers of conversation. The potential of winning lots of money has, surprisingly, a tendency to get people’s attention. We’re trying to use each contest as an opportunity to get people talking—or continue a conversation that’s already started.