Today’s grand challenges are exactly that. They are multi-dimensional, complex and far reaching issues that do not necessarily have a clear solution in sight. Louis Branscomb suggests many of these technically complex societal problems that have stubbornly defied solution should be addressed with a series of improvements or by making processes more effective. Often times the emphasis is put on defining a solution to the grand challenges without necessarily giving credit to the discoveries, innovations or improvements that come out of the crucial brainstorming process.
Branscomb illustrated the importance of process rather than outcome in the context of solving the cancer problem. He explained that in the long-term process of diagnosing this grand challenge of finding a cure for cancer, the biomedical research community made discoveries in fields of immunology, cellular biology, genetics, yielding new ways of diagnosing and treating cancer that would never have followed from focusing on a more short-term, clinical research approach. There are benefits to looking at these grand challenges more as frameworks to be implemented and tested over time, rather than issues that need resolving before an expiration date. Branscomb recognized the potential of an this kind of intellectual environment that allows for curiosity to light new ideas for making the grand challenge easier and quicker to master.
It is important to remember this approach to grand challenges when we look at recent world development agendas such as the MDGs and the SDGs. Although much progress has been made leading up to 2015, the MDGs were not achieved in their deadline. Millions continue to be affected by grand challenges such as hunger, aids, and lack of access to education after this 15-year development agenda. With the conclusion of the MDGs in 2015 we saw the expansion of the SDGs from eight goals to seventeen goals.The expansion and specification of the new development agendas goals could be seen as a result of the increased knowledge gained in the successes and failures of the MDGs. With the incompletion of the initial eight goals, and processes of trial and error, people were able to better understand the complexity of these grand challenges facing our world today. They gained valuable insight into what strategies for evaluation and implementation worked and didn’t work, and recognized the need for a longer timeline. Although we did not complete the MDGs, the implementation process allowed for informed revisions to the way these grand challenges are approached in the SDG framework.