Grand Challenges in Research
What are Grand Challenges?
“Throughout history, Grand Challenges have sparked innovation through competition to overcome significant technical and economic barriers to technological development” (). A number of disciplines, government agencies and methodologically oriented groups have tried to establish grand challenges to motivate groups of researchers.
A grand challenge is one that requires the following characteristics (adapted from ):
- Clear and compelling solution (demonstrable solution)
- Clear and simple measurement (success is well-defined)
- Decomposable and diagnostic (partial results, failure point to needed improvement)
- Ambitious and visionary, but not unrealistic (faith in success in 10 – 20 years)
- Compelling to the general public
- Motivating for the research community
Some Examples of Grand Challenges?
- Computing Research Association’s grand challenges 
- Grand challenges in global health 
- Medical informatics grand challenges 
- DARPA’s evolving challenges 
- Learning for life 
- Reasoning on the semantic web 
Granted that grand challenges can and should often transcend disciplines. However, their value to a discipline cannot be underestimated. Interestingly, one does not see grand challenges defined for or in a manner that may be operationalized by all disciplines.
- Why not?
- Are there different kinds of disciplines?
- How are they different?
- Are disciplines with a focus on the synthetic more amenable to grand challenges?
- Can disciplines sustain themselves without such grand challenges?
Here is one characterization of differences across disciplines that may contribute to this discussion.
Here are some questions I continue to struggle with:
- Is it possible to articulate similar grand challenges in organizational informatics?
- What may be some constraints that we will face in this endeavor?
- How will these grand challenges be similar to those identified in allied disciplines?
- How will they be different?
- Will it be possible to demonstrate adherence to the principles outlined above and if not, how will these principles need to be adjusted?