Good Problems

Designing problem-led funding programmes.

Why start with a good problem?

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 offer support with...

Identifying a good problem

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.

Understanding a community of solvers

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.

Designing an approach for incentivisation

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.

Problem areas explored so far...

Antimicrobial resistance


Food sustainability

Water desalination

Robotics for search and rescue

Online security

Next generation computing

Alternative energy sources

Marine sustainability

Transport and aerospace

Sanitation in humanitarian settings


Our Work

Gender-Based Violence in Humanitarian Emergencies

We prioritised and designed innovation challenges to address gender-based violence in humanitarian settings for the Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF).

See project page; and blog post

WASH Challenges

We helped the HIF identify good problems and design innovation challenges in five Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) areas. We also supported them with the launch of four challenges, including the Surface Water Drainage Challenge and the Water Filter Challenge.

See project page

Tech Prizes for Horizon 2020

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.

See project page; and blog post


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.

See project page; and blog series

Blog Posts

We are hiring a Design Researcher
We are looking for an aerospace engineer for an exciting research & innovation project
Designing a Challenge on User-Centred Sanitation Design in Emergencies
Speaking at Ada’s List Conference about cognitive diversity
Collaborating with Deep Science Ventures to launch The Frontier
Good Problems and Sustainable Development
Design for science policy-makers
Designing an Incentivisation Approach
Understanding a Community of Solvers
Identifying a Good Problem
Speaking of Challenges and Innovation
What could science research funding learn from social innovation funding?
Launching the HIF’s Surface Water Drainage Challenge
Working with the Humanitarian Innovation Fund
Good Problems for Tech Prizes
Challenge Reporting: Experts as Reviewers
Challenge Prototyping: Experts as Competitors
Challenge Mapping: Experts as Explorers
The Challenge of Designing Challenge Prizes
Challenges of Our Era Summit

Members exploring this team