Evaluating Grand Challenges and Innovation: Approaches, Lessons and Reflections


Challenge funds and ‘grand challenges’ are a response by a range of funders – including donors and philanthropists – to stimulated innovative solutions to important unsolved problems of the day. When it comes to development and humanitarian programmes, this raises questions and challenges for evaluators: how are such initiatives best evaluated? are the evaluation challenges specific to the nature of the fund itself and how might they be addressed? what innovative approaches can be taken within the evaluation methodology itself?

This paper, which won the Best Paper award at the UK Evaluation Society 2019 Annual Evaluation Conference, opens with a brief review of the ‘doing development differently’ debate which has driven a quest for innovation programming reflected in the two funds evaluated by the author, the Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) and Amplify. 

The paper describes the two funds, outlines the evaluation approaches and methodologies used to evaluate them and explores the main challenges which arose and why they matter. The paper provides recommendations on how evaluators can respond to these challenges to better assess innovation funds, and in so doing provides advice to strengthen their design and management.