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Senior Researcher (Innovation Prize Design)

Nesta - Challenge Works


Challenge Works is seeking a Senior Researcher to contribute to its portfolio of future challenge prizes. The role involves carrying out targeted research into, and expert engagement on, innovation opportunities and using these insights to co-design challenge prizes and other innovation programmes.

Challenge Works is at the forefront of identifying and defining challenges where new ideas, technologies and approaches can be encouraged to radically improve outcomes and then developing and managing challenge prizes that optimise the likelihood of success. Challenge prizes are competitions which reward whoever can first, or most effectively, meet a defined challenge.

The work of Challenge Works’ Research and Impact team

The Research and Impact team plays three key roles within Challenge Works:

  • Carrying out targeted research to inform the design of new prize projects
  • Horizon scanning, futures thinking and expert engagement to identify new projects and develop new business; and
  • Evaluating the impact and effectiveness of our prize programmes.

We also carry out consultancy work to advise governments around the world on these three roles.

The team’s work focuses on expert engagement to ensure that our work is informed by the best evidence possible. We do this primarily through a combination of desk research, expert interviews and roundtables, but we are always keen to try out and adopt new methods.

Recent or ongoing research projects have included developing the Afri-Plastics Challenges to reduce marine plastics in Sub-Saharan Africa (for the Canadian Government), the Longitude Prize on Dementia on assistive technologies to help people remain independent in their homes (for Alzheimer’s Society, Innovate UK and the Medical Research Council) and competitions for the £200 million Ofwat Innovation Fund on water sector innovations in England and Wales. Recent consultancy work has included advising on the design of Northern Ireland’s city and growth deal challenge funds, and training Brazilian civil servants in how to design and run innovation challenge prizes.

The Senior Researcher will report to the Research Lead. The Research and Impact team currently comprises the Research Lead, Evaluation Manager, Senior Researcher, Researcher and is headed by the Head of Research and Evaluation. Senior Researchers work across Challenge Works in teams with project managers, coordinators, communication officers and other researchers, as well as supporting directors in business development and strategy projects.

What are we looking for

We are looking for a Senior Researcher who can contribute across the full range of our challenge prize topics. These can range from frontier technology (such as space exploration and AI) to social impact (such as innovations to reduce loneliness). Most of our challenges balance a focus on spurring technological innovation with a nuanced understanding of the technologies’ users, customers and impact on society.

The core responsibility of the Senior Researcher is to initiate and co-manage the research and design projects alongside program managers. Their responsibilities will extend to conducting research sprints, expert consultations, and co-design workshops, including oversight of the work of researchers and offering support as needed.

They will utilise a co-design approach in a manner that is iterative, inclusive, and evidence-based. This involves striking a balance between research insights, funders' constraints, and stakeholders' expectations. The goal is to create challenge prizes and other open innovation programmes that are not only exciting but also have a meaningful impact. They will summarise the research findings, challenge designs and implementation plans in clearly written reports and presentations.

Additionally, you will support colleagues with other research and design needs of the business, play a key role in expanding our portfolio of research and design methods, and take on mentorship or line management duties when the need arises.

More than any specific academic or professional background, we’re looking for broad curiosity, the ability to rapidly get up to speed with new topics, pinpoint opportunities and translate these into practical decisions about the design of innovation programmes. You’ll be interested in breakthrough innovations, but also the innovators who create them, and the broader systemic change that they are part of.

You might have that through having been…

  • A service designer or design researcher who uses speculative design to map out future scenarios.
  • A management consultant interested in the cutting edge of technology and innovation.
  • A civil servant who has worked on projects to support innovation, foster economic development or fund research.
  • A technology scientist with an interest in design, entrepreneurship and tech transfer.
  • A social scientist with a background in business studies, management or economics, with an interest in technology and innovation.
  • …or someone else.

The role

The Senior Researcher will:

  • Plan and execute research and design workstreams to develop challenge prizes and other open innovation programmes
  • Carry out research sprints to better understand market gaps and opportunities for innovation
  • Prepare and present briefings on innovation opportunities in a range of fields
  • Identify promising challenge topics and define problems suitable for innovation programmes
  • Carry out desk research and interviews with experts to gather evidence and feedback
  • Design and facilitate workshops with diverse audiences
  • Develop prototypes of challenge prizes and other open innovation programmes
  • Test and iterate the design prototypes based on research findings and implementation constraints
  • Write and present clear reports summarising research projects and programme implementation plans
  • Act as a point of contact for our clients regarding research and design activities
  • Support senior colleagues in drafting proposals and presentations for new business opportunities
  • Contribute to the research team’s development of research and design methods
  • Help communicate our work to outside audiences, for instance, through blog posts or speaking at conferences
  • Contribute to Challenge Works team-wide initiatives as necessary

The person


  • Strong communications skills
  • Open and willing to work on unfamiliar topics
  • Creative approach to the design of programmes, services or policies
  • Effective at planning and managing research and design projects
  • Strong sense of social purpose
  • Interest in, experience or knowledge of technological or social innovation


  • Knowledge of relevant research and design method(s), such as user-centred design, backcasting, iterative prototyping, workshop facilitation, interviews, ethnography, impact evaluation
  • Experience in developing proposals for new projects and gaining funding
  • Interest in innovation, science and technology policy
  • Experience of successfully working in a fast-paced consultancy, research or think tank environment, getting up-to-speed quickly with new subject areas, flexibility in approach to work to fit project demands, and juggling light-touch short-term and larger in-depth pieces of research
  • Experience in mentoring, overseeing, or line managing

About Challenge Works

We run challenges prizes that attract innovators to solve some of the world’s biggest problems.

Challenge Works unearths innovations to solve problems that matter. We focus on improving health, climate adaptation and mitigation, and social inclusion. We believe in big ideas. Bold thinking. Creative problem-solving. We believe that great things happen when people come together. That, given the right support, unexpected ideas truly can change the world.

Our partners identify problems that need solving, then we at Challenge Works design challenges to attract radical thinkers who want to solve them. Through a process of rigorous testing and iteration, we’ll design a support system that incentivises progress. As well as a cash prize, we’ll offer unparalleled support as teams progress through each stage. From press and networking to upskilling and access to tech, our challenge prizes are designed to drive fast results, change markets and make the world a better place.

What we offer

Salary: £46,000 - £61,500 (offers are expected to be made towards the bottom of the band) plus array of benefits, including private medical insurance, dental insurance, the ability to buy and sell annual leave, eyecare vouchers and more

Location: This role is based in Blackfriars, London, hybrid working arrangement with a minimum of two days in the office

Term: 2 year contract

Hours: Full-Time (37.5 hours per week)

Making an application

To apply for this role, please submit your application before 8:00am on the 26th of February 2024.

Interviews will take place w/c 4th of March 2024.

At Nesta, we believe that a diverse workforce leads to an organisation that is more innovative, more creative and gets better results.

We want our workforce to represent the diversity of the people and communities we serve. We also want our workplace to be one where different experiences, expertise and perspectives are valued, and where everyone is encouraged to grow and develop.

This means that when we are recruiting, we actively seek to reach a diverse pool of candidates. It also means that we are happy to consider any reasonable adjustments that potential employees may need to in order to be successful.

We recognise the importance of a good balance between work and home life, so we do everything we can to accommodate flexible working, including working from home, compressed or part-time hours, job shares and other arrangements.

Please just let us know in your application or at any stage throughout the process (and beyond) if these are options you’d like to explore.

Location: London, Hybrid
Salary: £46,000 to £61,000
Hours: Full Time
Contract Type: Fixed-Term/Contract
Placed On: 6th February 2024
Closes: 26th February 2024
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