The Challenge-Driven Innovation programme

Challenge-Driven Innovation is a pioneering R&I funding programme in Europe due to its multidisciplinary, intersectoral and challenge-oriented approach, which has served as a model and inspiration for subsequent initiatives launched by other funding bodies and by the European Union itself.


1. Context

An ambitious, cross-sectoral research and innovation policy strategy is essential to future-oriented change. And innovation arises through creativity, dialogue, and diversity of perspectives. So, there is a need for funding instruments that help mobilise new actors and establish long-term interdisciplinary collaborations, enhancing the ability to tackle the societal challenges in the 2030 Agenda.

2. Debat

Challenge-Driven Innovation is an R&I funding programme developed by Sweden’s innovation agency, Vinnova, to fund collaborative projects that work long-term to solve societal challenges. 

To be funded, projects need to fulfil certain characteristics. The idea needs to meet societal challenges with a systems perspective, be innovative and needs-driven, have the potential to create sustainable growth and societal benefits by contributing to the sustainability goals in Agenda 2030, and be designed with a gender perspective. Project consortia must take a problem-oriented approach that involves different disciplines and sectors. The project has to be based on active collaboration between different types of actors and involve those organizations that need to participate in order for it to be successful. These include academia, industry, the public sector, as well as end users, who are the main focus of the programme. Issues such as gender balance in the consortia are also considered by the evaluators.

The programme consists of a three-stage process. Projects are rigorously evaluated between each step and a declining number of projects are selected to receive funding for each subsequent stage. In the first stage, funding is given for the initiation and development of the innovative idea and for planning how it will be developed and used. After evaluation, selected consortia receive funding for a second stage to support collaboration. Participants begin to develop and test the innovative solutions. Finally, some projects are selected for a final third stage that supports implementation, full-scale tests in real environments and demonstrations. This funding model in three stages has several advantages: it gives a larger number of projects the opportunity to secure funding – in the first stage – to develop their ideas, and it makes it easier to bring new stakeholders who had previously not been reached into the collaborations. Many more risks can be taken in the first stage, and as the projects progress to the next stages, they can be further developed and focus on higher quality.

The programme was launched in 2011, and continuous evaluation has led to its refinement and development. The good results produced over time have transformed it from an experimental activity to an established programme, and it has been allocated greater resources. 

3. Conclusions

Vinnova as a whole has changed, largely as a result of the introduction of this programme. The cross-disciplinary, cross-sectoral, and challenge-oriented model introduced by the programme has resulted in new working methods across the agency. A challenge perspective has been embraced throughout the organisation. The range of stakeholders receiving funding from Vinnova has widened from being mainly from industry and research to increasingly including other actors, such as the public sector and civil society organisations. Furthermore, there has been a move from an unspoken focus on technical innovation to a much broader concept of innovation.