NSF News

Civic Innovation Challenge awards support community-based solutions to mobility and disaster resilience

In partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. National Science Foundation is announcing $15.9 million in awards to teams comprising civic partners such as local, state, and tribal officials and non-profit and community leaders to conduct and evaluate ready-to-implement pilot projects that address community-identified challenges.

Gaps in equality and natural disasters can have a widespread impact, but the effects are seen and felt most sharply at the community level, when neighbors are the ones suffering. The Civic Innovation Challenge is designed to find community-based solutions to these challenges and make them sustainable, scalable and transferrable to other communities – from large to small and from rural to urban – across the US.

Stage 1 of the Civic Innovation Challenge awarded planning grants to 52 teams across 30 states as well as tribal regions, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. to refine concepts for projects designed to address use-inspired issues in their communities.

In Stage 2, 17 of those teams have been selected for awards of up to $1 million to conduct and evaluate ready-to-implement pilot projects in a 12-month timeframe. Teams will also collaborate across the entire program, sharing approaches and positioning projects to have wider impact.

“We applaud the efforts of all the teams who worked tirelessly to build partnerships between researchers and community stakeholders,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “We are excited to see the teams selected for the next phase begin their pilot projects and plant seeds of innovation across the country. This program demonstrates the value of research-community partnerships in rapidly translating cutting-edge science into community-based innovation and we look forward to seeing its positive impact across urban and rural communities.”

The Civic Innovation Challenge is comprised of two tracks. Track A, funded by NSF and DOE, focuses on communities and mobility, specifically offering better mobility options to solve the spatial mismatch between affordable housing and jobs, as well as access to services like food and childcare. Six selected projects will seek to develop community hubs for smart mobility, pilot on-demand multimodal transit, build new platforms to connect youth with employment opportunities, and more.

The awards for Track A and their Stage 2 goals are listed below:

  • Connecting Underrepresented Youths with Employment Opportunities, led by the University of Kansas Center for Research, Inc., will build and test an integrated mobile application to help underrepresented youth find and access out-of-school-time learning opportunities.
  • Piloting On-Demand Multimodal Transit in Atlanta, led by the Georgia Tech Research Corporation, will synchronize on-demand shuttle services with Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority services and real-time feeds, and deploy these services in targeted transit deserts.
  • Co-Creating a Community Hub for Smart Mobility, led by The University of Texas at Austin, will work with the nonprofit Jail to Jobs, local community members and civic partners to create a hub that provides first/last mile mobility options to reduce commute times, decrease costs and understand the social and economic impacts of these disparities.
  • User-Centered Mobility Solutions: A New Vision to Connect Jobs and the Labor Force, led by the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, will test and compare two models – labor force-centered and employer-centered – for overcoming financial and institutional barriers for regional mobility services.
  • Civic Bicycle Commuting, or CiBiC, led by the University of California, Los Angeles Center for Research in Engineering, Media and Performance will launch a unique community-driven mobile app and participatory media cartography to enable and support collective bike commuting involving more than 200 participants from underserved communities in northeast downtown Los Angeles.
  • A community-based framework to develop Shared MicromobIlity for affordabLe-accessIblE housing, or SMILIES, led by the University of Arkansas, will work with the community to design and deploy services in high-priority neighborhoods in Fort Smith, Arkansas. The project will estimate the impact of shared micromobility services on household travel and costs, job access, and more. 

“The teams selected for Stage 2 of the competition have brought forward bold and exciting ideas for the mobility and resilience tracks in this Challenge to help connect local communities to their work, school, healthcare and other public services,” said Acting Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Kelly Speakes-Backman. “The Department of Energy is honored to support these projects that will pilot equitable and accessible mobility solutions to mitigate the impacts of natural disasters and improve the quality of life for our communities.”

Track B, funded by NSF and DHS, focuses on resilience to natural disasters in the context of equipping communities for greater preparedness to and response after disasters such as floods, hurricanes and wildfires. Eleven selected projects will develop artificial intelligence-based decision support tools for food distribution during disasters, improve the post-flood financial resiliency of low-income households, address the resilience divide in rural communities through rural resilience hubs, just to name a few.

The awards for Track B are:

  • Artificial-Intelligence-based Decision Support for Equitable and Resilient Food Distribution during Pandemics and Extreme Weather Events, led by the University of Houston, will develop and evaluate solutions such as a predictive tool for infrastructure vulnerability and a decision-making tool for determining food distribution hub locations and food allocations.
  • Community-Centric Pre-Disaster Mitigation with Unmanned Aerial and Marine Systems, led by the Texas A&M University Institute for a Disaster Resilient Texas, will train and mentor at-risk high school students in three urban and rural school districts to collect and analyze aerial and underwater imagery for vulnerable areas identified by emergency management.
  • Hoomalu Halelea - Community-led Innovation for Integrated Flood Resilience, led by the University of Hawai'i, will add weather stations to fill in monitoring gaps and operate workshops, training and field trips to enhance resilience to increased flood risk in coastal watersheds.
  • Unification for Underground Resilience Measures, led by New York University, will work with utility companies, city agencies and consultants to design a roadmap for city-level implementation of a subsurface data model and assemble two pilot data sets to prepare study sites against natural disasters.
  • Visualizing Resilience: BIPOC Youth Advocacy through Mapmaking, led by Georgia Tech, will deliver the Youth Advocacy for Resilience Disasters curriculum with the Map Spot for joint creation of large-format maps to support youth in advocating for infrastructure projects in their communities.
  • Helping Rural Counties to Enhance Flooding and Coastal Disaster Resilience and Adaptation, led by Michigan Technological University, will work with two counties in Upper Michigan to develop methods that use remote sensing data and citizen scientists to address data gaps and improve flood hazard modeling.
  • Low-Cost Efficient Wireless Intelligent Sensors for Greater Preparedness and Resilience to Post-Wildfire Flooding in Native American Communities, led by The University of New Mexico, will deploy more than 100 sensors and make the data available through an online portal, and will incorporate training modules into education curriculums.
  • Rural Resiliency Hubs: An Integrated, Community-Centered Approach to Addressing the Resiliency Divide through Rural Public Libraries, led by a multi-disciplinary Florida State University team, will pilot a community-based design process for tailored resiliency hub sites in rural public libraries and facilitated by rural public librarians. Each hub design will reflect the input and priorities of local citizens, county officials, civic organizations, and additional community stakeholders.
  • CaReDeX: Enabling Disaster Resilience in Aging Communities via a Secure Data Exchange, led by the University of California, Irvine, will aim to enhance the resilience of older adults in disasters through the creation of a pilot edge data exchange platform that allows real-time exchange of critical care information between caregivers at senior housing facilities and authorized responders.
  • Convergence, Inventory, Matching, and Assignment to Optimize Post-event Housing Repair for Displaced Vulnerable Populations, led by Old Dominion University, will field a platform for use by nonprofit organizations. The platform will increase efficiency in matching supply of converging donated material and volunteer labor with the repair needs of displaced households.
  • Inclusive Insurance: Improving the Post-Flood Financial Resiliency of Low- and Moderate-Income Households, led by the Wharton Risk Center at the University of Pennsylvania, will harness innovative insurance pilots to better protect lower-income households from escalating flood risk.

“Teams funded in Stage 2 will play a vital role in developing novel resilience strategies and solutions to the escalating threat of natural disasters facing vulnerable communities across the country,” said David J. Alexander, Senior Science Advisor for Resilience, DHS Science and Technology Directorate. “As climate change accelerates the frequency and intensity of natural disasters, DHS is proud to support the efforts of this program to enhance the nation's resiliency.”

The focus areas of projects in Track A and Track B were developed with input from communities across the country who participated in an Ideas Festival in 2019, together with researchers, federal agencies, and other organizations. Anyone wishing to contribute to idea sourcing for a possible future round of the Civic Innovation Challenge can register at https://nsfcivicinnovation.org/ideas-festival/ to join a two-week Ideas Fest, which begins on October 5, 2021.

To learn more about the CIVIC Innovation Challenge, visit https://nsfcivicinnovation.org/