Sustainability challenges are many and their number continues growing, but solutions to them do not multiply at the same speed. A new study by SITRA, a Finnish innovation fund, provides an answer to this dilemma. They call it challenge prizes. Although the idea has been around for some time, the study is unique in its focus on the process of developing solutions and the importance of spillover effects they produce, rather than simply on actual solutions as such.
The study is based on the Ratkaisu 100 challenge prize competition, focusing on the sustainability challenges Finland faces and the ways to overcome them. The formula is simple: frame the challenge, offer incentives for the best solutions, outreach innovators and help people implement their solutions in competitive settings supportive to learning and growth.
The research team notes that challenge prizes can be an amazingly powerful tool for implementing sustainable and impactful solutions, but careful design and adaptive approach are needed to help them grow to their fullest potential. The solutions that won the challenge included an innovative AI-based platform supporting effective company development through comparisons with top market competences, and Positive CV, focusing on how children can be motivated to make a positive societal impact through the highlighting of their strengths to peers and mentors from different societal contexts.
Meanwhile, prizes are as much about the journey as about the final results, as teams develop at different speeds and often need different kinds of support. The report highlights elements that are “especially useful when societally meaningful solutions are developed”, focusing on “the underlying creative processes rather than on the details of the solutions that emerged as a result”.
For example, the effective application of the challenge prices requires a combination of both established expertise and fresh thinking. It is good when participants can interact between each other, both by cooperating and competing, which promotes the emergence of new ideas. No less important are the impacts of challenge prizes on society at large since they foster debates on relevant issues, help to break complex problems down to size, thereby making them easier to solve, as well as bring less noticed challenges to the attention of a global community of innovators.
Researchers hope that such highlighted attention to the process of social innovation can help us all become more effective problem-solvers and learn to better collaborate on the grand sustainability challenges our society faces. And if you’d like to deal with a sustainability dilemma on your own, it is worth taking inspiration from the winners of challenges like the Plastics Economy Innovation Prize and CITEO circular challenge.