Grand Challenges Research Process

The development of Grand Challenges research and curriculum is a key component of the Strategic Plan for the Twin Cities campus, which envisions—as part of a larger project of institutional reinvigoration—that we will harness our research breadth and depth more powerfully to address some of society’s most complex and consequential problems. 

The Provost's Grand Challenges Research Initiative is one important campus-wide process moving forward to advance the strategic research goals. It builds on the work of the Grand Challenges Research Strategies Team that was convened by Provost Hanson in early 2015. This faculty-led group was charged with advancing a multifaceted process to identify areas of exceptional crossdisciplinary strength where the Twin Cities campus might stake out special claims as a research university. Following broad consultation with the campus community, the committee submitted recommendations to the provost for a set of potential Grand Challenges the campus might fruitfully embrace (five Grand Challenges of special focus), as well as steps to strengthen interdisciplinary research opportunities more broadly. 

With ongoing guidance from deans and strong engagement by faculty, Provost Hanson subsequently announced faculty research opportunities and next steps—including a multi-tiered research grants process—to begin to implement the recommendations in the report. Phase 1 of the Provost's Grand Challenges Research Initiative led to $3.6 million in University investments in high-potential faculty research in fall 2016. Phase 2 of the initiative, launched in January 2017, culminated in a new round of awards announced in fall 2017. Click here to learn about Phase 3

GC Research Initiative: Feature Story: Finding New Ways to Collaborate Across Disciplines (INQUIRY, OVPR 1/18/2018)

The GC Research Process

The GC Research Process was launched to advance Strategic Plan recommendations to seed and support interdisciplinary research addressing Grand Challenges through a bottom-up, inclusive process that builds on existing faculty strengths and leadership. As a basis for broader deliberation and discussion by the campus community, the Strategies Team invited faculty to respond during summer 2015 to a "Call for Ideas" (encompassing a cover message and submission guidelines. The Call for Ideas incorporated criteria for Grand Challenges defined in the Strategic Plan. (A full discussion of the criteria may be found in the Strategic Plan report, pages 28-30.) The goal of the Call, which was announced by Provost Hanson in a campuswide email,  was to engage faculty in taking full account of the many strengths and innovative ideas that underpin the scholarly future of the University as a research campus—and in turn to help identify a set of Grand Challenges where the University was singularly well-positioned to lead. 

About 130 ideas from faculty were submitted over two deadlines spanning June and August 2015 (a handful were revised submissions). The submissions proposed an impressive range of topics, with 350+ faculty named as leads and many more identified as potential contributors. The Grand Challenges Team reviewed submissions to identify potential Grand Challenge topics, with due consideration to the criteria in the Call for Ideas. 

Prospective Grand Challenges topics were explored and developed further in five campuswide forums attended by faculty, staff, and students. The fall 2015 forums were organized around general themes that overached clusters of broadly related submissions. The forums also were intended to be the start of a conversation that will broaden and deepen beyond the fall, both to advance the research of faculty who submitted ideas and to advance integrative research goals across the campus.  View summaries of faculty-submitted ideas  |  View information about Campus Forums (fall 2015) 

The campuswide process and additional consultations informed the team's development of recommendations to the provost for a set of research priorities that will leverage the breadth of the University of Minnesota's research power for expanded impact on the grand challenges of the state and world.

The Grand Challenges areas of focus will be in addition to the robust interdisciplinary work already under way on campus congruent with grand challenges ambitions. As examples and models, the Strategic Plan mentioned collaborations focused on food, environment, and vibrant communities. The challenges identified through the campus process may expand upon these established areas in new ways, or importantly, identify potential in other areas that can address the critical problems of society.

The Strategic Plan also makes clear that alongside boundary-breaking Grand Challenges research, the campus will continue to nourish and celebrate basic research and focused disciplinary scholarship and creative activity.

Criteria for Grand Challenges outlined in the Strategic Plan:

  • Global impact and local relevance
  • Extent of existing faculty strength and leadership
  • Disciplinary diversity
  • Impact on the University and its reputation
  • Suitability for a land-grant research university
  • Interconnection with education
  • Engagement of external constituencies
  • Sustainability over ten years

More information on these criteria is here.