Ideas Lab Workshop: Starting a Grand Challenge Initiative & Picking/Proposing a Grand Challenge Topic: Issues & Decisions from the University and the Research Team Perspectives (Part 1)
- Eva Allen, Indiana University
- Sarah Archibald, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Jennifer Lyon Gardner, The University of Texas at Austin
- Michelle Popowitz, UCLA
- Sarah Rovito, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities
- Amy Spellacy, The Ohio State University
Thanks to our session scribe, Linda Vigdor, City University of New York!
Key points from the session. We learned:
This session was designed to be highly interactive with the audience. A broad overview of key factors to consider when initiating a grand challenge include:
- What are the drivers for starting a program – how might these influence the design of the program?
- Grand Challenge Goals vs. Themes – it is helpful to differentiate between these.
- Theme: (-) not that easy to measure outcomes and hard to set up requirements to meet but (+) good for generating interest and engaging participants; “no failure” with a theme; themes persist beyond the goals and offer potential of culture change
- Goal: (+) easier to communicate objectives but (-) narrower focus than a theme; “failure” is a possibility – thus, harder to sell to researchers or executives
- One strategy is to start with a theme (for ideation phase) then narrow the theme to focused goals
- Management of theme-driven and goal-driven challenges require different strategies.
- Theme-driven: open-ended management
- Goal-driven: defined approach
- Get creative with funding approaches, for example:
- Sell institutional assets (e.g., parking)
- Generate philanthropic gifts
- Provide campus-based funding
- Ideation approaches:
- Pre-define a broad topic – bring people together to brainstorm ideas to further refine/define the topic
- Run open calls – ask for concept papers and/or offer seed funding grants to explore viability of ideas
- Organize topics around specific person with core expertise or draw
- Top down – topic defined by high level administration or by external partner to achieve specified goals
What did you hear at this presentation that surprised you?
I was surprised by the difference in focusing on goals vs. themes as an organizing structure when designing a grand challenge. Both have their merits.
- Advantages of organizing around Smart Goals:
- (a) unified vision;
- (b) easier to communicate societal impact;
- (c) promise of defined impact for participants;
- (d) measurable;
- (e) time-limited;
- (f) roles more easily defined; and
- (g) better positioned for partnerships
- Advantages of organizing around Themes:
- (a) flexibility;
- (b) campus able to define or declare success at any point;
- (c) inclusivity;
- (d) scope can be variable;
- (e) may generate more excitement due to fewer restrictions; and
- (f) no predefined timeline or endpoint
What resources did you discover at this presentation?
- This is a great resource on Grand Challenges: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/46f121cr
- There is a community of practice that you can join: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/universitygcs
What was the most interesting question asked by an audience member, and what was the presenters(s)’ response?
An interesting question focused on best strategies for picking teams.
- Identify people known to be team players
- Identify people who have the requisite experience, and/or reputation relevant to the proposed theme
- Noted: themes proposed at general meetings can be hard to manage in terms of selection, focus, etc.
- It’s also important to have a strategy to keep faculty engaged once they sign on to a grand challenge
What else from this session should NORDP members know?
The interactive format kept the session lively and produced thoughtful ideas.