Designing problem-led funding programmes.
Resources – whether it’s time, money, facilities or skills – are limited. Problems are not. That's why we think it's important that available time and effort goes into solving problems that matter.
A good problem is one that pinpoints a real barrier that is holding back or threatening progress. It can range in ambition and scale, can cut across disciplines, yet each one sets out a clear and measurable goal. Good problems provoke a community of solvers to explore new ideas and collaborations towards developing solutions.
If you are a funding organisation, designing a programme around a good problem can be very rewarding. For one, you’re playing an active role in defining priorities in your field. And you’re not doing this in isolation – you’re engaging with domain experts and potential solvers to understand where your resources and their effort can have the biggest impact.
We start by understanding a funder’s mission and resources. This helps us identify the type of problems they are interested in and able to support.
We conduct high level research to identify broad problem areas that meet these initial criteria. By speaking with domain experts we start honing in on significant problems where the funder could play a particularly relevant role.
We identify key barriers holding back progress, existing solutions and their limitations, as well as opportunities for innovation.
We speak with various stakeholders to understand the skills and collaborations needed to develop impactful solutions.
While some problems will require domain expertise, others will benefit from involving different disciplines and perspectives.
We engage with potential solvers to understand what would motivate them to work on solutions, what is holding them back, what kind of resources they have available, and what additional support they would need to contribute.
We design ways to incentivise problem-solving that are in line with the nature of an identified problem, the needs and motivations of solvers, and the funder's ambitions and resources.
An incentivisation approach can be a challenge prize, a call for proposals, a workshop, a hackathon or something completely different.
We test the approach with potential solvers and domain experts. We then iterate until we have an approach that is engaging and ambitious, and likely to lead to valuable solutions.
Robotics for search and rescue
Next generation computing
Alternative energy sources
Transport and aerospace
Sanitation in humanitarian settings
We worked with Nesta to research and design 10 tech challenge prizes for the EC's Horizon 2020 programme. We engaged with over 100 experts across various domains including online security, analogue computing and robotics. Designed prizes ranged from €250k to €5 million.
As lead research partner for Nesta’s Longitude Prize 2014 we engaged with over 170 global experts to help design the six challenge candidates for the main prize worth £10M. We researched challenges in: Zero-Carbon Flight, Paralysis, Dementia, Food, Water Desalination, and Antimicrobial Resistance.