The Global CoLab

Designing challenges to initiate international collaboration

The Global CoLab set out to build innovation partnerships between businesses in the UK, and in Egypt and Indonesia. But with up to 7000 miles between collaborators, it needed a focus that would assemble and activate the right community. We provided that starting point.


  • 100% Open
  • Innovate UK
  • Newton Fund


  • Food and agriculture
  • Healthcare
  • Renewable energy
  • Waste management


  • Challenge design
  • Expert consultation
  • Rapid research

How can we enable international collaboration?

The Newton Fund and Innovate UK were looking for new approaches to foster international business partnerships between the UK and two of its partner countries, Egypt and Indonesia. The ultimate goal was to promote economic development and social welfare in these countries, and to strengthen their capacity for science and innovation.

100% Open proposed the Global CoLab, a new model for building these collaborative relationships through open innovation. To launch it, they needed to rapidly identify development challenges in Egypt and Indonesia that would benefit from from a programme like this.

Our job was to help identify these challenges. In doing so, we also created a framework for gathering communities and setting a direction for collaboration.

Building shared understanding through shared challenges

To make sure we were identifying the right challenges, we started by clarifying a set of criteria for ourselves. We had to find problems that addressed real socio-economic needs of the partner countries, and that held potential for local and UK innovators to together create impactful solutions.

Not being local to Egypt or Indonesia ourselves, we had to find a way of confirming that our research was on the right track. We did this by connecting with experts who could assess the challenges we’d put together in ways we couldn’t. We realised that we’d have to speak with three different types of experts.

  • Development experts helped us assess the relevance of challenges to partner country development needs.
  • Innovation ecosystem experts helped us identify people and organisations who might have the skills and interest to address these needs in the partner countries and in the UK.
  • Domain experts helped us figure out what interventions were needed to solve the challenges we’d identified.

Testing the challenges we’d prototyped with experts helped us make them more robust. The process allowed us to consider and incorporate insights from a range of perspectives closer to the subject matter than we were. As a result of the conversations we had, the final challenges we arrived at were more attuned to societal needs, collaborator interest, innovation potential, and business viability.

Leading with challenges to rally a community

Speaking with experts had another benefit: it built us a network. And because the challenges we ended up with had already been vetted by this network, they could also be used to grow a community beyond the experts we’d interviewed.

This meant that 100% Open, working with local delivery partners and Centre for Innovation Policy and Governance (CIPG), could use the challenges we had identified to connect with potential sponsors – organisations in the partner countries that could take an interest in a challenge, and commit to fostering its solution. Once sponsors were selected, individual challenges also set a direction for designing open calls for innovators. In the Global CoLab model, these open calls were the starting points for setting up the international collaborations the Newton Fund aimed to establish.

A new way for communities to access innovation

On this project, we found that identifying and articulating a challenge can be an effective way to bring together very diverse stakeholders, across borders. Defining this focus up front can help increase the impact of a programme by generating alignment, direction, and enthusiasm.

The Global CoLab model, including 100% Open’s open innovation framework and our challenge identification process, can be applied again. The Newton Fund and Innovate UK can use it to identify other under-addressed socio-economic problems that might benefit from international collaboration. And partner organisations within Egypt and Indonesia, including challenge sponsors, can use the methodology to more effectively target local problems and take advantage of innovation potential within their organisations and beyond.

Challenges provide more than just succinct statements of a problem. They provide a base on which communities can build networks and programmes that enable them to access innovation.

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