Idea Lab returns with challenges addressing community, diversity, and sustainability

Johns Hopkins is calling on its big thinkers and problem solvers to pitch their bright ideas when the Idea Lab returns this spring.

Students, faculty, and staff are invited to submit proposals in response to three challenges related to community, diversity, and sustainability when the second round of online crowdsourcing begins on March 21. The Idea Lab site will accept proposals until April 8. Then the Johns Hopkins community will be able to vote online for their favorites from April 18 through 28.

Each challenge offers financial awards for the top vote getters as well as funding for additional projects selected by a committee. Participants will sign on with their JHED ID to submit ideas, comment, and vote when the challenges go live. Additional parameters specific to each of the challenges are outlined on the website.

Supporting ingenuity, building community

President Ronald J. Daniels launched the Idea Lab last spring, describing it to the Johns Hopkins community as a tool to "harness your remarkable talent and collaboration to strengthen our university and our impact in the world." The Idea Lab was inspired by the Applied Physics Laboratory's Ignition Grants, which have used crowdsourcing to promote the exploration of more than 70 innovative ideas over five years.

During the Idea Lab's inaugural cycle, individuals from every part of the university cast about 4,400 votes for more than 30 ideas. These ideas responded to two challenges: the Diversity Innovation Grants and the inaugural Ten by Twenty Challenge, which was developed to continue the conversation about President Daniels' vision for 10 goals to be achieved by 2020 and promote the "One University" goal in particular.

"The creativity and community spirit demonstrated during the first Idea Lab cycle were inspiring," says Stephen Ruckman, a senior adviser to President Daniels who is co-leading the 2016 Ten by Twenty Challenge. "This year, we are seeking to build on that spirit by expanding the challenges offered and by focusing more explicitly on community, looking to the Ten by Twenty's goal of 'commitment to our communities.'"

"This year's Ten by Twenty Challenge focuses on an often marginalized part of our wider community: citizens returning from incarceration," adds Darius Graham, director of the Social Innovation Lab and another co-leader of the challenge. "We are inviting all members of the Johns Hopkins community to come together to propose tools and programs to help these citizens get the education, training, and social supports they need to reintegrate into society.

"Baltimore is fortunate to have several outstanding community organizations that work to address the needs of returning citizens," Graham says. Winning ideas for this challenge will be implemented in partnership with one of those organizations.

Past Idea Lab winners making an impact

The group that won the first Ten by Twenty Challenge has used its funding to solicit stories about health-related challenges from community members. It is in the process of identifying the top five issues from 51 submissions and then will help teams formulate and promote their ideas for addressing those issues.

Other 2015 winners have begun building a Web portal to help people learn to use lab equipment that is common throughout the university; started organizing a one-day lecture on business essentials for graduate students, postdocs, and staff to prepare for nonacademic jobs; and welcomed 400 participants to the 48-hour MedHacks hackathon to dream up solutions to some of today's most pressing medical challenges.

Continuing to spark ideas for diversity

The Diversity Innovation Grants, which have been awarded by the Diversity Leadership Council since 2012, will again be open for submissions through the Idea Lab. The grants provide funding for programming ideas that promote civility and respect at Johns Hopkins and support diversity and inclusion. This challenge is open to both university and health system employees.

In 2015, the top-voted idea involved organizing reading groups, interdepartmental workshops, and a panel discussion related to gender equity in science technology, engineering, and math disciplines. Grants also were awarded for creation of a human library of people who can speak about diverse life experiences; a website and events to encourage and cultivate mentor relationships; a handbook of resources for prospective and current underrepresented minorities and LGBTQ individuals at the Homewood campus; and training to ensure physicians are knowledgeable in the care of LGBT patients.

"Last spring, the Idea Lab offered an exciting opportunity to involve the community not only in applying for grants but also in discussing the ideas and supporting the ones that were most resonant," says Ashley Llorens, chair of the Diversity Leadership Council. "We look forward to the new Idea Lab round as a way to continue the campus conversation about diversity and inclusion and to empower members of the Johns Hopkins family to take real steps for change."

A new challenge to protect our community's future

The Office of Sustainability is new to the Idea Lab this year and is calling for "small-scale, big-impact ideas for improving the operational or cultural sustainability of our institution and broadening the community of climate change agents and advocates," according to the challenge description. Proposals may pertain to waste reduction or diversion, energy efficiency, or resource conservation, to name a few examples.

"Making progress toward a healthier environment relies on our entire community to be engaged and take action," says Ashley Pennington, program manager for the Office of Sustainability. "We are excited that the Idea Lab will be a place to deepen the dialogue on sustainability and encourage creativity and concrete action from across our divisions."

The organizers of all three challenges say they are looking forward to lively discussions and friendly competition among the proposals.

"It promises to be exciting as our participants vie for the most votes," Ruckman says. "We hope everyone in the community will get involved, if not with a proposal of their own then in support of the best ideas that can make a difference at our university and in the wider community."

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