Challenge competitions seek entries that address a previously unsolved problem. The reward is intended to motivate ideation and, in some cases, early-stage prototyping and proof of concept. Done well, a challenge competition generates a diverse set of innovative answers to whatever question the foundation puts forth. The competition format can achieve various outcomes depending on how you engage participants, or how they are supported during the idea development.


Staged Competition
Participants are invited and go through the collaborative research phase together before dividing into teams that develop their own solutions that will be judged in a competition format.

Ex-Post Competition
When you want to surface existing innovations by recognizing and promoting the work that has been successfully introduced and implemented.



Suitable Subject Any subject can be a topic of challenge competition, so long as there are a sizeable number of potential participants that you can engage.
Participants Participants can range from vertical experts to intended beneficiaries, depending on the purpose of the competition and the platform used to collect the entries. The eligibility criteria can be determined by the competition organizer.
Key Roles Participants: Submit ideas based on the criteria voluntarily, expecting to win an award
Administrator: Advertises and promotes competition to potential participants, set up & manage platform for participation
Sponsor: Provide capital for winners’ prize, set criteria for evaluations
Judging panel: Evaluate & select winners
Essential Tools Platform: Means for participants to engage and submit ideas
Award & award ceremony:
Capital grant or other incentive to be awarded to winners
Outputs Early stage concepts & ideas, as per the problem defined in the call for participation. Staged competition approach allows you to have better control over the quality of the outcome by supporting participants along the way.
Cost & Time Cost: Marketing, prizes for winners, practical arrangements for jury members and compensation, managing the competition platform.
Time: Need to consider at least a few weeks to accept entries in order to reach potential participants and allow them to prepare entries.


Problem Framing 

How you frame the problem has a great impact on the submissions you receive: Broader problem framings will typically invite a greater number of ideas from a wider range of innovators; Narrower problem framings will typically invite fewer submissions from innovators with a greater expertise in the area. Then, consider rewards that can best motivate the target audience, which may not be only monetary. Then, clearly lay out the conditions in the document that will be sent out to potential participants, including qualification, rewards for winners, timing, and how to participate.

Competition Platform

Minimally, a competition requires a platform for participants to submit ideas, which can range from online website or a physical booth. The level of support you will provide for participants needs to be also considered. Some competitions can benefit from encouraging collaboration among participants, or running a collaborative research phase at the beginning before participants develop their own solutions.

Promotion for Participation

Consider how to spread the information about the competition in the most effective way, based on characteristics of your target audience. Online website or email may not be the most suitable way to reach participants who do not have regular internet connection. Likewise, consider how to make it easier for submitting ideas. Making a physical booth in a community with helpers may be a way to encourage participation.

Winner Selection & Celebration

Depending on the number of entries and details in each entry, it can take a lot of resources to select the winning entries. Some competitions may benefit from bringing in external reviewers who have different expertise. The review criteria needs to be clearly laid out from the beginning and should be known to participants, in order to maintain fairness to all participants. Competition typically ends with a celebration event to recognize participants and announce winners, particularly if you intend to use the competition to achieve higher awareness of the issue.

Taking Results Forward

The outcome of a challenge competition typically is early stage concepts and ideas, that require further work and planning efforts to utilize. You would need to organize the planning sessions with your broader program teams to ensure the results are taken into considerations in the initiatives. You may need to invest time as internal promoter to find suitable teams to host specific ideas if you believe they bring value.
Make sure that you have a clear plan to share the next steps with winners and participants as well. In some cases, you may want to involve participants in taking the ideas forward.