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  5. Activity 1: Open Societal Challenges

Activity 1: Open Societal Challenges


To enhance the impact of our research we will help interdisciplinary teams to focus on key societal challenges. We recognise that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed working practices and it will be harder for new collaborations to form. Therefore, we need to create new mechanisms for people to find each other, exchange ideas, form teams and work with external partners.

We will strengthen our collaborations across the four nations of the UK to maximise the benefit of our unique reach.


We will set targets for:

  • The number of new societal challenges proposed over the Learn and Live strategy period.
  • The number of detailed project plans for new challenges.
  • Increases in donation and/or research funding secured for challenges.

We will secure intellectual property for the online technology platform to enable licensing outside of the OU.

We will ask panels drawn from staff, students, alumni and external partners to undertake periodic detailed reviews of our societal impact supported by qualitative and quantitative methods.


Invite staff and students to propose societal challenges that address problems and create opportunities in environmental sustainability, tackling inequalities and helping everyone to live well.

During our consultation we had over 1800 ideas from across the OU for future challenges we should address.

Building on this exceptional engagement, we will hold regular events to explore challenge areas, drawing on experiences from within the OU and from external collaborators. We will publicly announce our intention to help solve key societal challenges and promote participatory action research.

We will actively encourage students and staff from all job families to propose future challenges. We will open the challenge process to external contributions once the concept has been piloted within the University.

Resources will be invested to enable new teams to develop their approaches and established teams to mature their ideas.

Using feedback from societal challenge panels drawn from across our student and staff bodies, and including external stakeholders, we will prioritise time and financial investment in challenge areas where the OU has an opportunity to make a unique contribution.

Investments will be tailored to specific needs of each project. Early-stage projects will require support to validate challenges and build teams. Later stage projects will require pump-prime funding to attract external investment or partnerships.

We will create project plans that set out realistic pathways to impact.

Create a new online collaboration technology platform. 

Drawing on OU expertise we will create a new online tool to allow people to publicise their societal challenges, fill gaps in their expertise and find external partners. We envisage this tool being made available for groups outside of the OU to use if this new model for stimulating collaboration is successful.