How Open Innovation Challenges Can Support Digital Transformation in the UK


February 5, 2024

Open innovation challenges represent a huge opportunity for organisations to extend beyond their internal boundaries to tap into a wider pool of knowledge, ideas, and expertise. This model thrives on the premise that no matter how large or skilled an organisation’s workforce is, there’s always someone outside who can offer fresh perspectives and potentially groundbreaking solutions. 

In the UK, open innovation challenges are a relatively new concept but something that has been commonplace in the US for a number of years. Many large organisations even have dedicated open innovation teams to run challenges regularly.

What is an Open Innovation Challenge

An open innovation challenge is a collaborative and inclusive approach to problem-solving where organisations invite external individuals, teams, or entities to contribute ideas, solutions, and expertise towards addressing specific challenges or objectives. This model leverages the collective intelligence and creativity of a diverse crowd, often from various disciplines and backgrounds, to foster innovation and find solutions that might not emerge from within an organisation.

The essence of open innovation challenges lies in their ability to break down the barriers of conventional innovation by opening up the organisation to a broader ecosystem of knowledge. These challenges can be structured in various ways, including competitions, hackathons, crowdsourcing platforms, or collaborative projects, and often come with incentives for participants, such as prizes, recognition, or potential commercial opportunities.

Open innovation challenges are designed with clear goals and criteria, ensuring participants understand the problem at hand and the parameters within which solutions should be developed. This clarity helps in attracting relevant and high-quality contributions. Such challenges not only accelerate the innovation process but also democratise it, allowing anyone from students and hobbyists to startups and established experts to contribute, thereby enriching the solution space with a multitude of perspectives and ideas.

Types of Open Innovation Challenges

Harvard Business School released the book Open Talent in January 2024 by John Winsor and Jin Paik. In the book they share that there are three main types of innovation challenge:

Idea Generation Challenges

Idea Generation challenges are the brainstorming phase of open innovation, where the goal is to gather a wide range of ideas, concepts, and potential approaches to address a specific problem or opportunity. These challenges are typically more open-ended, inviting participants to think creatively and propose innovative concepts without the necessity for detailed plans or prototypes.

The emphasis here is on diversity and quantity of ideas, fostering a creative environment where participants feel free to suggest novel approaches, regardless of their feasibility. This stage is crucial for uncovering unexpected insights and perspectives that could lead to breakthrough innovations. Organisations might use these challenges to explore new markets, technologies, or to identify emerging trends that could impact future strategic directions.

Solution Generation Challenges

Solution Generation challenges are more focused than their Idea Generation counterparts, aiming to develop workable solutions or prototypes that address specific problems. These challenges are more detailed and technical, requiring participants to not only propose ideas but also to outline how these ideas can be realistically implemented.

Participants might be asked to provide detailed plans, designs, prototypes, or even working models of their solutions. This type of challenge is often used when an organisation has a clear understanding of the problem but seeks innovative approaches or technologies to solve it. Solution Generation challenges can lead to the development of new products, services, or improvements in processes and efficiencies.

Grand Challenges

Grand Challenges are large-scale, ambitious problems that are often complex, multifaceted, and require significant innovation to solve. These challenges are usually global in scope and aim to address critical societal, environmental, or technological issues that require collaboration across disciplines, industries, and borders.

Grand Challenges are characterised by their long-term focus, often seeking solutions that can have a transformative impact on society. Examples include challenges to find a cure for a disease, mitigate climate change impacts, or revolutionise sustainable energy sources. These challenges require substantial investment in time, resources, and collaborative efforts, often involving partnerships between public and private sectors, academia, and non-governmental organisations.

The highest profile example of this approach in action is NASA’s open innovation challenges which are a combination of ideas, solution and grand challenges.


NASA’s Open Innovation Journey

NASA has long recognised the value of leveraging collective intelligence to overcome complex challenges. Through its open innovation initiatives, such as the Centennial Challenges and NASA Solve platform, NASA has effectively crowd-sourced solutions to enhance space exploration and related technologies. These challenges are meticulously designed to address specific problems that require innovative solutions, ranging from advanced robotics to the development of sustainable human habitats in space.

One notable challenge was the Lunar Loo Challenge, where NASA sought innovative designs for a space toilet that could function in both the microgravity of space and the lunar gravity of the Moon. This challenge not only highlighted NASA’s commitment to solving practical issues through open innovation but also demonstrated how diverse global participation could lead to viable solutions for intricate problems​​.

The success of NASA’s open innovation challenges lies in their ability to articulate clear, compelling problems that inspire a broad spectrum of innovators to contribute. By setting specific criteria and offering incentives, NASA has managed to attract participation from individuals, academic institutions, and other organisations, thereby enriching the solution space with a multitude of creative ideas.

Embracing Open Innovation in the UK with Gigged.AI

In the UK, organisations are wrestling with hiring freezes, layoffs and an uncertain economic landscape. However, according to EY 58% of CEO’s are planning on ramping up business transformation in 2024. This will result in the need for new ideas and solutions. Mostly this means new digital products.

When organisations need new solutions quickly they can turn to Gigged.AI. Gigged.AI provides a solution where businesses can post their own open innovation challenges, much like NASA’s model but tailored to a wide range of technical challenges that can tap into world class data scientists, software developers, enterprise architects, product designs and cyber security experts.

Here is how to define a open innovation challenge on Gigged.AI: 

  1. Define the Challenge: Our technology will help you clearly articulate a specific challenge or problem that needs solving, ensuring it is compelling enough to attract the right talent and expertise. Our Customer Success team can help you define a budget for your challenge. Most range between £5,000-£50,000.
  2. Engage a Global Talent Pool: Once your challenge is posted you will start to receive proposals
  3. Leverage your Solution: Pick one or even multiple proposals for your challenge.
  4. Reward Innovation: Each successful proposal is paid via the platform for successful delivery of a solution.

For UK companies venturing into open innovation, the key is to approach these challenges with a clear objective and openness to external ideas. By effectively communicating the problem and engaging with the Gigged.AI community, businesses can unlock a wealth of innovative solutions, driving forward their projects and objectives. Our customer Success team will partner with the organisation to help make these challenges valuable.

In conclusion, open innovation challenges, exemplified by NASA’s initiatives, offer a blueprint for harnessing external expertise and creativity. For UK organisations, platforms like Gigged.AI provide the perfect arena to tap into this vast potential, fostering an environment where challenges are not just obstacles but opportunities for innovation and collaboration. By embracing this model, organisations can accelerate their innovation processes, solve complex problems, and achieve significant advancements in their respective fields.

It's time to meet your match

Join 20,000 businesses, contractors and freelancers accelerating digital projects on Gigged.AI.