Grand Challenges

To build upon what other classmates have pointed out, when we talk about Grand Challenges we are referring to goals that are ambitious to say the least. Louis Branscomb defines them as “technically complex societal problems that have stubbornly defied solution” (Branscomb). Multidimensional, complex, and cross-cutting are all accurate ways in which other classmates have defined these challenges. Moreover, when we hear the word “challenge” in our academic setting, our automatic response is to focus on solutions. In the case of the global Grand Challenges, the innovations that result from brainstorming possible solutions also deserve recognition – even if the concrete answers haven’t been discovered. The White House highlights on their “21st Century Grand Challenges” webpage the caliber of science, technology, and innovation that are required to brainstorm solutions and “capture the public’s imagination.” This is one example of how Grand Challenges have acted as a catalyst for innovative ideas.

In an effort to overcome the challenges that face the globe, humanity has expanded our frontiers of knowledge. We have also been forced to collaborate with sectors of the population that do not always see eye-to-eye. Branscomb emphasizes the importance of intellectual curiosity in developing new ideas – and the Grand Challenges are often discussed as a framework to inspire innovation rather than issues to be resolved by a specific date. The MDGs and SDGs provide a perfect example of how the international community approaches Grand Challenges. The MDGs were the first step towards goals such as eradicating poverty and promoting environmental sustainability. However, there were details lacking in this framework. The SDGs serve as the replacement and have included a wealth of information that was lacking in the MDGs. This demonstrates how the development literature adapts over time in order to become more inclusive and to overcome some of the issues brought up within the Grand Challenges discourse. The intellectual environment that is created by the Grand Challenges allows for quicker, more effective ideas to develop over time.

The cornerstone of developing ideas that will help us overcome Grand Challenges is the marriage of science and policy. Public policies that steers scientific innovation in the direction of helping society overcome certain challenges is crucial to making progress overcoming any of the Grand Challenges. What is more, there are stakeholders beyond the government and the scientists that can benefit from the conversation in overcoming grand challenges. Therefore, both international multistakeholder cooperation and technological innovation are both necessary if the global society is to overcome the Grand Challenges.