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  • Writer's pictureKristin Cooper

Civic Innovation Challenge

Full Proposal Deadline Date     July 1, 2020

        Stage 1

    March 31, 2021

        Stage 2


The Civic Innovation Challenge (CIVIC) is a research and action competition in the Smart and Connected Communities (S&CC) domain designed to build a more cohesive research-to-innovation pipeline and foster a collaborative spirit. Building on the NSF S&CC program and the extensive S&CC ecosystem, CIVIC aims to accelerate the impact of S&CC research, and deepen cooperation and information sharing across sectors and regions. CIVIC will lay a foundation for a broader and more fluid exchange of research interests and civic priorities that will create new instances of collaboration and introduce new areas of technical and social scientific discovery. CIVIC will fund projects that can produce significant community impact within 12 months (following a four-month planning phase) — in contrast to many community-university partnerships that take years to provide tangible benefits to communities — and have the potential for lasting impact beyond the period of the CIVIC award.

CIVIC introduces several unique features that differentiate it from the NSF S&CC program: (1) CIVIC flips the community-university dynamic, asking communities to identify civic priorities ripe for innovation and then to partner with researchers to address those priorities; (2) CIVIC focuses on research that is ready for piloting in and with communities on a short timescale, where real-world impact can be evaluated within 12 months; (3) CIVIC requires the inclusion of civic partners in the core project team, to emphasize civic engagement; and (4) CIVIC organizes and fosters “communities of practice” around high-need problem areas that allow for meaningful knowledge sharing and cross-site collaboration during both pre-development and piloting. For purposes of clarity, civic partners may include local, state, or tribal government officials; non-profit representatives; community organizers or advocates; community service providers; and/or others working to improve their communities.

CIVIC is organized as a two-stage competition with two tracks centered around the following topic areas:

  • Track A. Communities and Mobility: Offering Better Mobility Options to Solve the Spatial Mismatch Between Housing Affordability and Jobs; and

  • Track B. Resilience to Natural Disasters: Equipping Communities for Greater Preparedness and Resilience to Natural Disasters.

In the first stage (Stage 1), up to 12 awards per track will be made for Planning Grants – each with a budget of up to $50,000 for four months to undertake pre-development activities, including solidifying the team, maturing the project plans, and preparing to submit a well-developed full proposal for Stage 2. Only awardees of Stage 1 will be eligible to submit proposals for Stage 2.

In the second stage (Stage 2), up to four teams per track will be selected from Stage 1 award recipients to receive a full award — each with a budget of up to $1,000,000 for up to 12 months to execute and evaluate their research-centered pilot projects.

Throughout both stages, NSF grantee (NSF award 1931690) MetroLab Network ( will foster “communities of practice” through in-person and web-based activities, aimed at enhancing the teams’ capacity-building, networking, impact, and ability to create methods and solutions transferable to other communities.

This research and action competition is jointly supported by NSF’s Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) and Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Track A is supported by NSF and DOE. Track B is supported by NSF/CISE and DHS. Additional support for CIVIC activities may be available from a set of philanthropic organizations working together with MetroLab Network. NSF will not share proposals or reviews with philanthropic organizations.

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