“Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” The well-known phrase is commonly attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, but it turns out that no one can find proof that these are his actual words. It seems appropriate that the phrase many have come to associate with innovation is itself an example of innovation. Some anonymous man or woman saw a better way to make Mr. Emerson’s point, and the rest is history. Regardless of who said it, the phrase rings true more than 100 years later. The world wants to know if you have an invention or improvement that makes life easier, increases productivity, or saves money.
The LTAP Build a Better Mousetrap (BABM) program seeks out practical, proven, and cost-effective innovations from transportation agencies across the country. Since 2009, LTAP/TTAP centers and FHWA have collaborated to locate and document the best local practices of local road agency ingenuity, recognize the individuals and organizations that found a better way to conduct day-to-day business, and share their improvements with their peers across the nation. These ideas come from a wide variety of agencies and organizations that share responsibility for our nation’s local roadways. These stakeholders include local governments (counties, cities, towns, townships, villages, boroughs, and parishes), tribal governments, state departments of transportation, regional planning organizations, federal agencies (including the US Forest Service), and private-sector organizations (including contractors, developers, and homeowners’ associations).
What Innovations are Eligible for BABM?
BABM encompasses a wide range of ideas and inventions. Program submissions can focus on new or modified tools and equipment. Entries can also feature streamlined processes and unique roadway designs. All submissions feature innovations that help local road agency personnel increase safety, reduce initial or life-cycle costs, improve efficiency, or improve the quality of transportation in their community. All BABM submissions must feature non-proprietary designs and processes that may be used freely by any agency or individual.
Judging criteria and competition guidelines vary widely at the state and regional level. Competition at these levels reflects the agencies, roadways, terrain, climate, and political structure of the area. At the national level, BABM submissions are currently judged in one of four categories.
- Innovative Project Award. This category celebrates a local road agency or tribe that implemented a new technology or design in construction. The innovation enhances the quality, timeliness, cost effectiveness, safety, environmental benefit and/or efficiency of the highway project.
- Bold Steps Award. This category recognizes a local or tribal road agency that embraced forward thinking in the development and implementation of an innovative practice that improves or streamlines transportation related processes. The innovative change should show improvement in performance, management and efficiency. This award could include advancements in areas of program and project management, finance, safety, mobility, sustainability, and maintenance.
- Smart Transformation Award. This category celebrates development and deployment of solutions that improve field data capture, data analysis, automation and real-time collection, and/or implementation of smart infrastructure. This award category is not intended for the implementation of “off the shelf” products or customizable solutions that are available in the market and/or provided by a specific vendor.
- Pioneer Award. This category recognizes agency inventors that develop new tools and equipment that provide a better way to do a job or advance road maintenance and construction. Implemented tools and methods should be an original design or creative adaptation that results in significant advancement, rather than the result of natural evolution of existing methods, common sense or good practice. Entries should demonstrate genuine change and innovation that can impact the wider transportation community.
How Does BABM Work?
Each year the BABM competition goes through four (4) primary steps:
- BABM begins at the state level when individual centers follow five (5) general tasks:
- Develop state-level BABM marketing plans,
- Share contest information with local road agencies,
- Solicit innovations,
- Work with individual agencies to document those innovations, and
- Send the innovations with the most impact and relevance to the national competition.
NOTE: Some centers may partner with their peers in neighboring states to conduct regional competitions.
- State and regional winners are submitted to FHWA for consideration in the National BABM competition. At this level, projects are judged based on four criteria:
- Cost savings/benefits to the community,
- Ease of transference to others, and
- National winners are announced at the annual National LTAP/TTAP conference. An annual BABM Submission Booklet Recognizes national, regional, and state winners and documents their achievements.
- Centers share BABM Submission Booklets and the innovations they contain with their local road agencies. Some of these innovations will strike a chord with a group or individual, and the innovation process takes another step forward.
Why should LTAP centers consider participating in BABM?
Who doesn’t love a new and improved way to take care of business? We’ve all felt the thrill of victory from something as simple as placing a folded piece of paper under the leg of a wobbly table or chair. We’ve also experienced the wow factor associated with a coworker or friend’s new gadget, but there are specific reasons to support BABM beyond a general appreciation for invention.
- BABM Benefits to Local and Tribal Road Agencies:
- Provides recognition for local and tribal road agencies and their employees, shows them that their ideas have value, and recognizes them on a national stage. This recognition can benefit them locally as well. Example: Arapahoe County, CO won 1st place in the 2018 BABM Asset Management category. Colorado LTAP Director Renée Railsback presented their award at a County Commissioner meeting after the National LTAP/TTAP conference. Two weeks later, their Public Works Director was excited to tell her that the County Commission approved all their budget requests for the new fiscal year.
- Shows respect for the individuals and teams that do more than put in their 8 hours each day, no matter how significant an improvement seems in a national context. These innovations
- move the needle a little bit in the right direction, producing small, but important, savings in cost and time, increased safety, increased durability, greater reliability, and less downtime,
- made someone’s job easier, stretched dollars further, or resulted in better roads for their community, and
- allowed someone to do more with less.
- BABM Benefits to LTAP Centers:
- Facilitate the sharing of ideas and gets more individuals involved in their activities.
- Promote innovation implementation in a manner that is relevant and useful to local and rural agencies.
- Promote a safety culture and motivate innovation.
- Encourage locals to “think outside the box”, even when there is great stuff in the box.
- Provide inspiration to future innovators by:
- recognizing successes by their peers and documenting the value that these innovations bring to their communities,
- tackling a problem with energy and creativity, and
- sharing an existing solution that potential innovators did not think would be of interest to others.
National Entry Booklets
The National Entry Booklet is a compilation of all entries submitted for the Build a Better Mousetrap National Competition, representing LTAP/TTAP Centers from around the country.
A Celebration of Local Innovations
The Build a Better Mousetrap competition celebrates innovative solutions for challenges that local and tribal transportation workers encounter. Check out the booklet materials from the 2020 competition on the Center for Local Aid Support Website.
Additionally, check out this link to the 2020 winners discussing their innovations here.