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Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Challenge Dementia: Transforming the way people live with dementia across the UK

Over the last few years, the Challenge Prize Centre has worked with Essex County Council to explore how the Council can use challenge prizes to deliver its goals. This is part of their wider efforts to embed innovation across their services. Here, Benjamin Mann, one of the team at Essex, tells us about their new £100,000 prize: Challenge Dementia (enter the challenge).

I have just finished a call with our colleagues at the Challenge Prize Centre. We have been planning the second phase of our communications campaign for the Challenge Dementia Prize. These calls are a weekly occurrence and a really valuable opportunity for us to quiz the team and tap into their wealth of experience.

The team here at Essex County Council are delivering a second challenge prize under the nurturing watch of the Challenge Prize Centre and I feel a bit like a child cycling, for the first time, without stabilisers. We are pedalling furiously and, thankfully, we are staying upright. The Centre’s team, having given us an encouraging push, have taken a step back but they’re still there, on the sidelines, ready to help.

Challenge Dementia: call for transformative solutions

Challenge Dementia is a national search for products, technologies and services that could transform the way people live with Dementia across the UK. The second in an ambitious series of challenge prizes, Challenge Dementia is a perfect example of a Local Authority thinking differently and moving away from traditional procurement where we dictate what solutions should look like. Instead, the prize process enables the challenges we face to be shared with an almost limitless audience of innovators, in the hope that we can inspire creative and sustainable solutions.

Challenge Dementia is seeking to engage the ‘unusual suspects’, looking beyond the health and social care sector for entrants from individuals, groups, organisations and businesses. Casting the net across a range of audiences, we are looking for entries from people who can look at the issue through a different lens and disrupt the status quo.

Working in partnership to support innovators

We are working in partnership with a range of sector leading experts including Alzheimer’s Society, PA Consulting, TechUK and University of Essex. During the Challenge, our partners will provide finalists with up to six months of tailored advice and support as they develop, test and iterate their ideas from an initial concept through to a fully-fledged business case submitted with the chance of securing a £100,000 prize.

Challenge Dementia launched to entries on the 19 January 2018 and, after the entry deadline at 12 noon on 13 April 2018, a panel of judges will shortlist up to 10 finalists. Alongside a £5,000 micro-grant to support testing and development costs, each of the finalists will benefit directly from the opportunities on offer from our partners in the prize.

PA Consulting will offer a huge range of support based on the needs of finalists, with an offer that can cover business planning and financial planning, to prototype development and marketing, as well as exposure to the expertise at their Tech Innovation Lab in Cambridge. TechUK will offer each finalist a tech business angel from across their network of members, somebody to act as a sounding board and critical friend for finalists. The University of Essex will provide support to finalists to ensure they can robustly evaluate the impact of their interventions. And last, but by no means least, Alzheimer’s Society will share their insight and provide critical feedback as the finalists ideas develop. By the time our judges select the winner, all of our finalists will have the skills and evidence they’ll need to support their future success.

Beyond the technology debate

As a team, we have spent a lot of time thinking about the types of solutions the Prize will yield. Across the team and our partners there have been heated debates about the benefits of seeking tech based solutions to the problem.

On one side, there is the need to embrace emerging technology, to look for opportunities to transfer learning across sectors and create new tech where nothing currently exists. This side of the argument is looking for the next Paro (the therapeutic seal robot), but is faced with the opposing view that an over-reliance on technology could spell the end of person-centred care and the human-to-human connection that we know is so important to people living with Dementia.

For me, it isn’t a case of either/or. I am reminded of the words of Tom Loosemore who founded the Government Digital Service. Tom once described digital in a tweet as: "Applying the culture, practices, processes and technologies of the Internet-era to respond to people's raised expectations" and the idea that tech or digital isn’t a silver bullet is fundamentally important to me.

That’s why the Challenge Dementia is open to a range of solutions, from tech to physical products and services.

For me, tech is an enabler and the tip of the iceberg. If we are going to fully exploit the potential that technology and a more digitally sophisticated world can bring to the people we are here to support, we need to understand the context, culture and the working practices in which it sits. Rather than encouraging finalists to rush in with something shiny and new, holding it up as the answer, Challenge Dementia will afford each of the (to be) shortlisted finalists six months to learn about the barriers and the appetites of those they are expecting to embrace their ideas.

Benjamin Mann is Senior Strategy Advisor (People) at Essex County Council

We are very excited and genuinely hopeful that by supporting innovation, Essex County Council can help to change the way that people live with Dementia.


Emma Renowden

Emma Renowden

Emma Renowden

Assistant Programme Manager

Emma was an Assistant Programme Manager working in the Challenge Prize Centre, supporting the delivery of a number of prizes, including the Mobility Unlimited Challenge.

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