The concept of Grand Challenges is widely used by organisations and institutions to encapsulate the major issues they face at any particular time. It is believed that the phrase was first used by the German mathematician David Hilbert, who presented a list of 23 unsolved “mathematical puzzles” to an international society of mathematicians in 1900. The recognised definition now states that Grand Challenges are lists of important problems with the following objectives:

  • To energise and encourage the community (research, commercial organisations, professional bodies) to understand the issues and accelerate solutions.
  • They are beyond ordinary research questions, may be global in scale, difficult but possible to solve, but involving numerous projects.
  • They must capture the popular imagination to gain support.

BOF developed their first grand Challenges in 2008 and ten years later decided to review and refresh them. The output was launched at the Bridges 2020 conference.

Grand Challenge Zero

When the Grand Challenges were launched in 2020, the level of awareness of the issues of climate change, and especially the implications of the carbon agenda, was relatively low. Recent years have not only seen an increased urgency in the need to address carbon but also the recognition of the construction sector’s huge contribution to carbon emissions.

That realisation also led to the establishment of the Consultants’ Net Zero Bridges Group (NZBG) and a seminal moment came at BOF 69 in February 2022 when their chair, Brian Duguid, was invited to present NZBG’s programme of works. Rather than plough its own furrow, BOF (on behalf of all bridge clients, and later supported by UKBB) agreed to continue to work closely with NZBG in the development of carbon reduction strategies and wider sustainability concerns.

Subsequent BOF meetings agreed that there was a need to revisit the Grand Challenges in order to reflect the need to address carbon and associated sustainability issues. This led to the concept of the Grand Challenge Zero, an over-arching challenge, and one related to each of the original five.

Following a workshop at the Bridges 2023 conference, the details of Grand Challenge Zero are scheduled to be discussed at BOF 73 in June 2023, including how the GC Zero should be promoted and launched.