If only we knew … the best practices for designing, funding, incentivizing and implementing Grand Challenges and how to measure their impact

What is the role of government in solving really big problems? Is it the government’s place to set the research agenda for the private and NGO sectors through grand challenges?

How can we facilitate open and transparent sharing of ideas and solutions between the individuals, organizations and broad sectors engaged with grand challenges?

Can we develop a simple test or set of metrics to determine if a given problem would be a strong candidate for a grand challenge?

Design and Metrics

How should government agencies decide whether to use a grand challenge model instead of a more traditional form of R&D?

What unique features differentiate grand challenges from prize-induced contests, hackathons and other forms of citizen engagement?

Grand challenges, by definition, are focused on achieving audacious goals. Could they be more effective if they gave participants more guidance on achieving gradual milestones? Is it practical for agencies to develop a type of timeline to help guide the progress of participants and stakeholders?

How do we create real-time visualizations or iterative metrics to convey the impact of the process to challenge participants (i.e., keeping a two way structure where people who draft challenges can be kept in the loop and know of their progress/ adapt models iteratively)? How can the structure of challenges be more closely aligned to an iterative policy progress, taking into account small, incremental changes?

How much pre-planning and structure should accompany grand challenge initiatives? Considering the likely involvement of government in solving multi-stakeholder challenges—unlike other open-innovation projects—would it be beneficial for partnerships to be made before the official launch—for instance, to attach a well-known, respected private-sector partner’s name to the initiative?

How should government agencies develop the internal teams charged with shepherding grand challenges from launch to completion?

Should grand challenge projects incorporate any best practices from other non-competitive collaborative innovation programs like hackathons and idea “boot camps?”

How do government grand challenge initiatives compare—in terms of success and participant engagement—to similar public-innovation programs in the private and NGO sectors?

What kinds of hybrid activities could be developed combining grand challenges with other types of citizen engagement initiatives? For instance, would it be effective to combine the framing and rhetoric of a grand challenge with the activity of a solver network?


Despite grand challenges’ focus on engaging many organizational stakeholders, are individuals working toward solutions in these areas, either as part of a network or individually?

Prize-induced contests are often associated with small start-ups. Are the businesses engaging with grand challenges similarly small and/or newly created, or are more established businesses and NGOs more likely to be working on the challenges?

Are colleges and universities working to solve grand challenges? If so, are the efforts largely faculty-based or student-based? Have any research centers or courses been launched to work toward solving grand challenges?


What effects have grand challenges had on workforce development? Are individuals learning valuable new job skills through engaging with the challenges? Are new businesses gaining traction following their participation? Are businesses—new or established—gaining consumer goodwill through their participation in programs that benefit the public good?

Are grand challenges being used as a means of government procurement? Do businesses engage with them as a type of audition for government contract work?


Considering the scale of grand challenges, most initiatives are unlikely to yield immediate results. Would the government be better served devoting a small amount of money to traditional R&D instead of largely relying on the private sector to deliver results, without much in the way of gradual, observable progress?


In general, grand challenges do not offer the same type of direct monetary award available in prize-induced contests. Is there enough incentive to draw in private actors considering the scope of the challenges and the financial and time commitments necessary to work on them, let alone complete them? Are audacious goals to benefit the public good enough?

Does the incredible scope of grand challenges’ goals overwhelm potential participants and act as a barrier to participation? That is, are grand challenges too grand?

Can a relatively informal Web-based call to action be effective in inspiring multi-stakeholder collaboration to address grand challenges in the same way that it can be effective in inspiring individuals or small groups to create new solutions to more tractable problems?

Does the multi-stakeholder nature of grand challenges lessen the competitive spirit of those participating or considering participating?

Considering the reputation-building potential of altruistic public-sector innovation efforts for private businesses, can governments spur private engagement with grand challenges through a focus on the potential for positive media attention and consumer goodwill?

Gavin Newsom and Code for America partnered to launch the Citizenville Challenge, “a call for local government leaders to commit to working toward a government for the 21st century.” Can grand challenges—with no concrete prizes or rewards—be effective when exclusively focused on increasing the innovative capacity of government itself?


How should grand challenge submissions be judged? Is the type of relatively straightforward judging panel that is typically used in government contests a practical solution for evaluating submissions and proposals for less-concrete, more audacious grand challenges?

How can the evaluation process be developed to ensure that innovation—rather than ease of deployment, cost and other practical concerns—is the central metric upon which submissions are judged?

If a judging panel is the ideal means of evaluation, who should sit on the panel? Members of relevant government agencies? Influential members of the private sector? NGO workers with a vested interest in the challenge area?

Considering the lack of prizes being awarded for grand challenges, and in the interest of not alienating participants, is there a way to ensure that all relevant stakeholders and collaborators receive recognition and benefits from a successful grand challenge submission?

How can participants whose submissions are not accepted be inspired to remain engaged with the challenge? Can the evaluation process act as an opportunity for feedback, rather than as the final judgment as to whether a proposal is satisfactory or not?

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