How can we strengthen the network of Challenge Prize practitioners?
As Challenge Prizes experience a renaissance, how can we build a more formal network of practitioners?
In late April, the Centre for Challenge Prizes at Nesta brought together active and aspiring prize practitioners for an interactive workshop - a first step towards re-establishing a Community of Practice, sharing resources and spotlighting additional support needs.
We shared updates on current and planned prize activity and reflected on collective practice and approaches to running prizes. From this came a sense of peoples’ strengths and support needs in prize design, using the methodology developed by Nesta in the Challenge Prize Practice Guide (available here) as a starting point. Finally, we gauged appetite for a formal community of challenge prize practitioners.
Giving a prize the green light
There was lots of excitement around expanding the use of prizes as a tool for stimulating innovation. With this inevitably came the question ‘How do you know if a Challenge Prize is the right tool to use?’ Nesta’s five ‘Green Light’ criteria designed to help us make exactly that judgement resonated strongly as a tool for continual, iterative sense checking.
We also surfaced another critical consideration that can be overlooked: the strategic role a challenge prize may (or may not) play within an organisation and among partners - essential for understanding a prize’s relative importance on the agenda and how difficult it might be to secure buy-in.
What challenges are we facing?
Designing and running a successful prize is difficult: the streamlined model developed by Nesta in the Challenge Prize Guide belies the complexity of each stage and what is required to get things right.
There was animated discussion around the tensions practitioners are facing with energy focused on two key areas: the need for flexibility and what happens post-prize.
Greater room for flexibility, openness and risk
A clear, defined and measurable goal is the cornerstone of a well-designed challenge prize, but can this be too constraining? Many participants spoke of the need to balance well defined goals with a flexibility that allowed greater openness to risk – for users, prize participants, partners, funders and prize designers.
Life beyond the prize
What happens at the end of a prize? All too often, it seems we’re not clear about longer term impacts. There was a feeling that prize practitioners could do more to ensure great ideas (from both winners and ‘losers’) have a life beyond a prize. To make this happen we need to keep supporting access to the skills, capabilities and networks people might need to scale sustainably.
Building a community of Prize Practitioners
Establishing a community of practice is a key aspiration of the Centre for Challenge Prize. As prizes experience a renaissance, there is growing appetite for a more formal community where practitioners can share experience, expertise, knowledge and resources.
Different models for a community were put forward, from a quarterly Challenge prize ‘Hackathon’ for short bursts of collaboration to a curated Twitter feed of inspiring content to dip into on demand with less engagement.
Any formal community of Practitioners must have a powerful draw, offering a clear and compelling reason for people to engage.
There is clearly a need here and the Centre will continue to consult with the broader practitioner network to better understand what people are looking to get from a community of practice –with the ultimate goal of strengthening international Challenge Prize practice in the long term.
This workshop was the first in a number of sessions being planned by the Nesta Challenge Prize team so make sure you look out for more information on future events.
If you would like more information on how to run successful Challenge Prizes, please download the Nesta Practice Guide, available here.