How Universities Are Tackling Society’s Grand Challenges

Michelle Popowitz and Cristin Dorgelo in Scientific American: “…Universities embarking on Grand Challenge efforts are traversing new terrain—they are making commitments about research deliverables rather than simply committing to invest in efforts related to a particular subject. To mitigate risk, the universities that have entered this space are informally consulting with others regarding effective strategies, but the entire community would benefit from a more formal structure for identifying and sharing “what works.” To address this need, the new Community of Practice for University-Led Grand Challenges—launched at the October 2017 workshop—aims to provide peer support to leaders of university Grand Challenge programs, and to accelerate the adoption of Grand Challenge approaches at more universities supported by cross-sector partnerships.

The university community has identified extensive opportunities for collaboration on these Grand Challenge programs with other sectors:

  • Philanthropy can support the development of new Grand Challenge programs at more universities by establishing planning and administration grant programs, convening experts, and providing funding support for documenting these models through white papers and other publications and for evaluation of these programs over time.
  • Relevant associations and professional development organizations can host learning sessions about Grand Challenges for university leaders and professionals.
  • Companies can collaborate with universities on Grand Challenges research, act as sponsors and hosts for university-led programs and activities, and offer leaders, experts, and other personnel for volunteer advisory roles and tours of duties at universities.
  • Federal, State, and local governments and elected officials can provide support for collaboration among government agencies and offices and the research community on Grand Challenges.

Today’s global society faces pressing, complex challenges across many domains—including health, environment, and social justice. Science (including social sciences), technology, the arts, and humanities have critical roles to play in addressing these challenges and building a bright and prosperous future. Universities are hubs for discovery, building new knowledge, and changing understanding of the world. The public values the role universities play in education; yet as a sector, universities are less effective at highlighting their roles as the catalysts of new industries, homes for the fundamental science that leads to new treatments and products, or sources of the evidence on which policy decisions should be made.

By coming together as universities, collaborating with partners, and aiming for ambitious goals to address problems that might seem unsolvable, universities can show commitment to their communities and become beacons of hope….(More)”.