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” ([1]). 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 [2]):

  • 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 [3]
  • Grand challenges in global health [4]
  • Medical informatics grand challenges [5]
  • DARPA’s evolving challenges [6]
  • Learning for life [7]
  • Reasoning on the semantic web [8]

Disciplinary Concerns
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.

Some Questions
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?

Here is one response by CRA in 2002 that gets us closer.
Here is one effort at positioning design as an enduring concern (if not the grand challenge) across disciplines.