How to demonstrate the impact of your grand challenge initiative

Expert Insight

How to demonstrate the impact of your grand challenge initiative

Last year we published a research brief on the six imperatives for embarking on grand challenges, which looks at how institutions select, equip, and launch grand challenge initiatives. Since then we’ve received the same two questions from multiple schools:

To show their commitment to achieving the grand challenge goal, institutions should lay out a proposed road map to measure incremental progress. The road map should offer key specific sub-challenges and defined near-term goals, as well as develop a plan to regularly update stakeholders on progress.

More on this topic

This resource is part of the Launch Grand Challenge Initiatives to Attract Large-Scale Research Investments Roadmap. Access the Roadmap for stepwise guidance with additional tools and research.

From our examination of existing grand challenges, our team identified three broad categories of metrics:

  • Expenditures and sources
    • Total expenditures
    • Fundraising initiatives and progress
  • Financial impacts
    • Economic development
  • Commercialization
    • Start-ups created
    • Patent applications
  • University
    • Number of faculty involved in project
    • Number of student involved in project
  • Participants
    • Engagement activities
    • Number of participants engaged in related studies
  • Scholarly
    • Related publications and citations
    • New faculty hires
    • Ranking increase
  • Societal
    • Scale of impact on population
    • Progress on initial benchmarks

The first includes financial metrics, such as the amount of external funding that has been secured in support of the project and commercialization activity. The second category looks at metrics directly related to stakeholders and participants, such as the number of faculty involved and engagement metrics. The last category focuses on broader impacts like publications and societal outcomes, which can often be shown through a before and after comparison.

What does this look like in practice?

In addition to the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge profiled in 6 imperatives for embarking on grand challenges, UCLA also has launched their Depression Grand Challenge to focus on “understanding, preventing, and treating the world’s greatest health problem.”

The university is conducting a 100,000 person study to create new treatments and increase understanding about this disease. One year after the launch of this initiative, this press release noted areas where they have made progress. Specifically, it discusses:

  • External grant dollars received
  • Number of study participants
  • Number of people who received treatment
  • Undergraduate and graduate student participation

In addition to frequently publishing updates and news stories related to their grand challenges, UCLA has also recently published their Report on University-Led Grand Challenges as a resource for other institutions interested in pursuing these types of initiatives.

Special thanks to Michelle Popowitz, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research and Executive Director of UCLA Grand Challenges.

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