Answering your Questions about Challenge Juries

Julie Greene, Senior Lead, Capacity and Partnerships

This is a blog I have been meaning to write for a while. But, you know…a lot has changed in the last 12 months, and we have been focused on key COVID-19 priorities in the Impact and Innovation Unit.

Now, as we move into the second half of this exceptional year, our Impact Canada partners have also begun to explore how we can advance work on important Government priorities, like increasing housing supply and preventing and diverting food waste, through the Challenge mechanism. Questions about juries come up repeatedly in the challenge planning process, and always so much earlier than I expect. Many questions are about why we use juries, who the jurors are, and how the process is different from how we make other types of funding decisions in the Government.

Why a Jury?

Impact Canada challenges, and in fact, all challenges generally, use juries or judges to assess and adjudicate applications submitted to the challenge, to determine who moves on and who wins. In future stages, juries then assess the progress of innovators’ solutions against challenge goals and assessment criteria in order to determine winners and award prizes.

Jurors ensure impartiality and maintain a high level of credibility for the challenge, bring specific expertise, and are vetted in a recruitment process for potential or real conflicts of interest. Most jurors are external to government and present independent assessments and views based on their respective knowledge and experience. Jurors also help to bring attention to your challenge and the problem you are trying to solve, and can access levers and networks that governments often cannot do on its own. Jurors who bring ‘star power’ or a significant emotional impact can add to a challenge’s profile, and credibility — for example, Margaret Atwood on the Natural Resources Canada Women in Cleantech Challenge jury or Steve Cody on Health Canada’s Drug Checking Technology Challenge jury.

Margaret Atwood and Steve Cody

Who are the Jurors?

Most juries are made up of people external to government, who have credibility and expertise in three ways. First, as someone who is a subject matter expert, they have an understanding of the problem, barriers, solutions or market, which can help the challenge achieve its objective. Second, a juror may be an end user or beneficiary of solutions developed, or is someone who can link solutions to end users. The ability to make these connections is critical to ensure the winning solution has the best opportunity for uptake at the conclusion of the challenge.

Another way to understand who would make a strong juror is to look at the assessment criteria for the challenge. These criteria are published at the launch of the challenge and remain consistent throughout. Each juror must be able to respond, with credibility and expertise, to the various assessment criteria; however, none are expected to be experts on all criteria. Taken together, the collective experiences and acumen of the jury should allow for a fulsome review of all solutions that are submitted, an understanding of how those solutions can impact the end user, and ultimately provide the best opportunity to for these solutions to address the problem underpinning the challenge.

Think about the different perspectives around the challenge and the target population the challenge is addressing. Take a look at how we incorporated perspectives and specific expertise to develop the Drug Checking Technology Challenge jury.

How are Juries Different?

The Government employs different methods to assess ideas/proposals and award funding, whether in the form of scientific and research grants, community-based grants and contributions, or awarding contracts. In the case of challenges, juries are a unique adjudication vehicle that differs considerably compared to traditional government program or procurement review approaches.

Here are some examples of how the use of a jury is different:

  • Juries are generally made up of people outside of the government with specific skill sets that are aligned with the objectives of the challenge;
  • Juries can include the perspectives of end users or those with unique experiences (e.g., those with lived and living experience) to ensure a diversity of views are considered in the decision-making process;
  • Jury profiles and expertise are generally made public, so the applicant knows who will be assessing their ideas;
  • Juries assess how well the concept or prototype meets the defined, pre-published and objective assessment criteria, thereby ensuring the solutions with the best chance for impact are advanced (i.e., the focus remains on progress, rather than the process, toward the desired outcome of the challenge)

Indigenous Initiatives may uniquely adapt challenge methods (e.g. challenge prizes, grand challenges) to better engage and meet the needs of Indigenous Canadians, within a challenge approach. For example, an Indigenous Steering Committee leads the Indigenous Homes Innovation Initiative , with the support of the Government of Canada. The Steering Committee is involved in both Initiative design and also act as the jury, reviewing and evaluating all ideas. The Committee is composed of prominent Indigenous individuals from across Canada.

Juries play a key role in bringing visibility, credibility and required expertise to assess proposed solutions for a challenge. Sometimes thinking about who could be on the jury early in the design process can help engage leaders, Ministers and key stakeholders because in our experience, it will always be an early point of discussion! Other questions about juries — like how many jurors we usually have, whether they are paid, how they make decisions and what authority they have, will be addressed in future blogs.

Thanks for reading!

Special acknowledgement to Hope McDonald, former Impact and Innovation Unit co-op student, for her assistance with compiling the blog background.

Learn more about Impact Canada Challenges.

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