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What are Europe’s most pressing problems?

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How can we more accurately prescribe antibiotics to treat bacterial pneumonia in the upper respiratory tract?


What novel ways of reducing particulate emissions can be developed to create clean engines?

Design-Driven Material Innovation

How can we encourage designers and material scientists to work together to enable an increase in sustainable living?


What innovations in the food system can lead towards zero food waste in Europe?


How can we accelerate the development of artificial photosynthesis and community energy across Europe?

About the Project

The European Commission plans to launch a small number of inducement prizes from 2015, as part of Horizon 2020, the EU's biggest ever research and innovation framework programme.

Inducement prizes, also called challenge prizes, offer a reward to whoever can first, or most effectively, meet a defined challenge. The aim is to spur interest in a particular issue attract new dynamic innovators to the area, mobilise additional private investment for research, and stimulate interest among the general public.

As part of this European Commission initiative, Nesta, together with partners University College London, Burson-Marsteller and Ashoka Changemakers are working on the development of the prizes.

The thematic prize areas being considered by the European Commission are:

  • Transport
  • Health
  • Bio-economy
  • Creative materials
  • Energy

What we are doing

The first step is a design exercise exploring where the grand challenges lie. Tapping into European networks, we will conduct an in-depth research exercise focusing on the need and the potential for breakthrough innovation which could be achieved in the next 5 years.

Over the life of the project, we’ll commission expert research papers, hold workshops with experts, provocators and thought leaders to refine our understanding of the potential challenges and explore issues on a granular level to inform the design and structure of the prizes.

And we will actively consider the contributions gathered via this platform.

How You Can Get Involved

We are seeking your input into the development of the new prizes.

Although we'll be working with experts across the topic areas to develop the prizes, we realise that we may still miss out on valuable insights - and that’s why we’re asking you to add your views. Your practical work or research might relate directly or indirectly to one or more of the topics, or perhaps you have had experience as a consumer that would add a different viewpoint. This is an opportunity to contribute insights that could help define the challenge associated with the prize.

You can contribute your ideas through the discussion pages, by commenting on the research papers that will be published on the platform, through engaging in the blogs and by participating in the online discussions which we'll be holding.

Theme: Bioeconomy

Imagine one possible breakthrough or truly amazing piece of progress related to bioeconomy...

We are looking at whether an inducement prize could help to reduce food waste and/or the problems created by it. It has been estimated that around one third of all edible food produced is being lost or wasted across the value chain. We are considering whether a challenge prize could help identify new and effective bioeconomy based solutions to tackle food waste.

We would value your opinion on the following questions:

  • How do you think bioeconomy based approaches can be used to reduce food waste?
  • What promising developments are already taking place to reduce food waste and how effective are these?
  • What are the biggest barriers to reducing food waste?

The term bioeconomy refers to an economy which uses renewable biological resources from the land and sea, converts waste into food and feed, and uses bio-based products and services as well as industrial and bioenergy production. The bioeconomy has great potential to move Europe towards a low-emission circular economy and a more sustainable future in agriculture, fisheries and industrial processes, while protecting the environment.

Here we describe some of the key challenge areas and state of the art developments in the bioeconomy, as well as some of the opportunities created by these developments. This is meant as a prompt to get you thinking about the most important developments and their future benefits.

Key challenge area: reducing food waste

To cope with increasing demand for food, the need to drastically reduce the environmental impact of food production and the need to remain competitive, it is critical to develop more resource-efficient and sustainable food production and processing systems. Biological resources, new approaches to consumers' behaviour and bio-based processes offer significant potential across the food system, including:

  • Reducing food waste
  • Increasing supply chain efficiency
  • Developing healthy and sustainable dietary patterns
  • Increasing value whilst reducing environmental impact

Overall there is potential to take a ‘circular economy’ approach whereby food system outputs either re-enter the environment or are used as inputs to the system in order to increase value, in both cases reducing waste and environmental impacts.

Food waste is a particularly big issue, with an estimated 30% of all food grown worldwide being lost or wasted before and after it reaches the consumer, and in industrialised countries more than 40% of food being lost at retail and consumer stages.

Areas of opportunity

Imagine a future where…..

  • Waste from food production and supply is routinely turned into food packaging using renewable energy sources
  • New food production and preservation methods mean that food stays safe to eat for longer, without increasing – perhaps even decreasing - fat, sugar, preservative or salt content
  • New types of transport and storage solutions are more sustainable and enable food to be kept edible for longer
  • New approaches to transparency in food production and distribution provide more accurate information about food waste, enabling more targeted action to be taken to reduce it
  • More affordable, smaller, more sustainable food growing and processing tools and methods enable much shorter supply chains, and bring food production closer to consumers.
  • Less food is wasted at home where often food is bought but ends up going straight from the fridge to the bin
Theme: Design-Driven Material Innovation

Imagine one possible breakthrough or amazing piece of commercial or societal application related to design-driven material innovation…

We are looking at whether an inducement prize could generate novel, added-value, better performing, sustainable and appealing designs and creative solutions for societal and/or commercial applications based on new materials co-developed by partnerships of designers and material scientists.

We would value your opinions on the following questions:


The design-driven development and use of new materials has the potential to be a critical part of the creation of a smart, sustainable and inclusive Europe, as well as one of the key drivers for developing high value products, increasing productivity and improving resource efficiency.  There is a particular need for material scientists, designers and other societal stakeholders to work together in new ways.  Grand creative visions for what could be done with new materials are numerous; the science behind new materials is extraordinary – bring science and design together, add user insight, innovation and business expertise, and the possibilities for breakthroughs are truly great.

Areas of opportunity

Imagine a future where, thanks to combining human values, design and new materials…

  • An older person can wear clothes that provide information to themselves and their family to help them live more safely with dementia
  • We spray a healing antibacterial web onto wounds without the need for plasters or bandages
  • Historic buildings are renovated to become self-repairing, eliminating the need for future restorations
  • Day-to-day assistive devices are transformed, at an affordable price, from passive to dynamic products, providing users, family and carers with information that can help them manage disabling conditions with dignity
  • Buildings and clothes change colour to provide information about air quality
Theme: Health

Imagine one possible breakthrough or truly amazing piece of progress related to health…

We are looking at whether a challenge prize, or prizes, could help to advance effective rapid and cheap diagnostics for respiratory infectious diseases.

We would value your opinion on the following questions:


As an area of innovation, health is particularly exciting, challenging and complex.  Advances in the health sector span prevention, diagnostic technologies & processes, drug development, treatment methods, disease management and patient empowerment across a wide range of conditions.

Health is also a critical social and economic challenge for Europe.  There are many important and growing health concerns for European citizens, including chronic diseases such as cancer and infectious diseases, as well as health challenges associated with an ageing population and the quality and financial sustainability of healthcare delivery systems.

The possibilities for developing challenge prizes in health are vast. Some areas of need and opportunity might be more suited to challenge prizes than others.  For example the costs associated with drug development may make it difficult to develop a prize that could really make a difference in this field. 

Key challenge area: Rapid point of care diagnostic tests for respiratory infectious diseases

More accurate, more immediate, less invasive and point of care diagnostics are key research topics across many areas of development for health.  Much has been done to develop future diagnostic technologies and processes, but there are many more opportunities to create significant impact through new and radically improved diagnostics.

Rapid point of care diagnostic tests for infectious diseases could have a transformational effect on the appropriate use of antibacterials, ultimately enabling the reduction of the unnecessary use of antibiotics.  This would reduce costs and side effects of antibiotics and delay the emergence of antibiotic resistant organisms.  In addition, rapid point of care diagnostic tests would be helpful in treating patients because they would enable doctors to take early decisions in infectious disease management. 

What are the opportunities?

Imagine a future where…..

  • The huge problem of antimicrobial resistance can be stopped
  • Fewer unnecessary antibiotics are used because doctors can immediately differentiate between viral and bacterial pneumonia with a rapid and cheap test in their surgery
  • Treatments can be tailored to individual patient conditions, thereby dramatically improving their effectiveness
Theme: Transport

Imagine one possible breakthrough or truly amazing piece of progress related to clean engines...

We are looking at how a challenge prize, or prizes, could help to advance the development of clean engines.

We'd like to hear your thoughts on:


Transport plays a crucial role in the lives of citizens across Europe and is a critical element for a sustainable, economically strong Europe, as well as for developing a future Europe that is smart and inclusive.   The importance of addressing the environmental and public health effects of transport is therefore particularly important.  The CO2 impact of transport is fairly well recognized but there is a considerable way still to go to address the impact.  Air quality and impacts from other emissions are regulated but are still problematic in many European cities that are subject to higher than acceptable pollution levels, as well as being generally less well understood by the public.

Key challenge area: clean combustion engines

The European automotive industry is innovative across many fronts and there are several mechanisms that exist to support and recognise that innovation.  An area that perhaps warrants more attention is the development of clean engines and an understanding of the effects of toxic pollutants. The development of electric and/or hydrogen vehicles offers great future opportunities.  Meanwhile, whilst the technology and infrastructure required continues to develop, there is significant potential to improve combustion engines that will remain on streets around the world for decades to come, to reduce their environmental and public health impact.

In 2011, 5% of the EU urban population lived in areas where the annual EU limit value and the World Health Organisation Air Quality Guidelines for NO2 were exceeded. Reasons for failure to meet projected air quality standards are complex. It is thought that potential problems include:

  • Unforeseen degradation and limitations of installed technology
  • Increased penetration of higher rated diesel vehicles that emit greater concentrations of nitrogen compounds than petrol vehicles
  • Standard test methodologies achieving emission limits that are considerably better than emissions under real-world driving conditions
  • Lack of clear consumer data on clean engines

What are the opportunities?

Imagine a future where…..

  • An effective, low cost method or product enables any combustion engine to be adapted to drastically decrease pollution levels (e.g. taking a Euro 1 performing vehicle to Euro 5 for minimal cost)
  • New testing procedures enable effective, easy to use on-road testing to more accurately assess pollution levels from combustion vehicles
  • Cars are produced or can be retrofitted with technology that makes safe, automatic changes to driving that drastically reduce pollution levels
  • New vehicles successfully combine significantly increased fuel efficiency with minimal emissions
Theme: Energy

Imagine one possible breakthrough or truly amazing piece of progress related to energy,..

We are looking at how challenge prizes could achieve breakthroughs in the development and application of synthetic photosynthesis and/or in the effectiveness and spread of community-led energy supply.


Energy is a topic of great importance to the lives of every citizen, organisation and business in Europe. Increasingly scarce resources, growing energy needs, energy security and energy independence, and climate change present critical challenges for Europe as we make the necessary transition to a reliable, sustainable competitive energy system.

Key challenge area 1: Synthetic Photosynthesis

Synthetic photosynthesis involves mimicking photosynthesis - nature’s way of making fuel from sunlight. Across Europe there are already efforts to develop the science to enable this to happen, but there is still some way to go before we can harness this technology at a commercial scale. Further scientific and technical advances, as well as inter-disciplinary collaboration, are required. Advancing progress could have a significant impact on moving Europe towards a clean and secure energy future.

Key challenge area 2: Community Energy Supply

People in their everyday lives contribute to the challenges related to energy, whether consciously or not, in the choices they make about its access and use. Increasingly citizens are also playing important roles in solutions for creating a more sustainable, clean and safe energy future for Europe. Future solutions will allow them to have a greater role in the decision-making process on how their energy is generated. This has included the development and early adoption of community-level and citizen-led renewable energy generation and supply solutions, which can also bring additional benefits including social innovations that create a greater sense of connection for people to their place and community.

However there is still great unrealised potential in community energy supply, through both the scale and scope of its use. For example;

  • through creating new innovative opportunities for mass participation;
  • by developing new innovative models for energy transfer between energy rich and energy poor communities; or
  • by developing breakthroughs in energy exports from communities

What are the opportunities?

Imagine a future where…..

  • Solar energy can more easily replace fossil fuel-derived energy in the production process
  • Hydrogen vehicles are a viable option thanks to commercially available solar produced hydrogen
  • Solar produced hydrogen is used for electricity generation
  • Energy resource-poor communities across Europe receive power generated by energy resource-rich communities through new partnerships
  • Communities in which every person has microgeneration or owns shares in local renewables become common across Europe



Design-driven material innovation


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