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The UK Aid-funded Climate Information Prize (CIP) will close in November with the announcement of the winner of up to $200,000. As of now, we have shortlisted 18 organisations that have found ways to make climate information easier to access and use by farmers to increase their resilience to climate change.

While the excitement is mounting around what the winning initiative will be, we thought of taking stock of the hurdles encountered in this three-year long competition and what we have learned along the way. We hope this will help anyone who is thinking of funding, designing and running an innovation prize in a similar context.

Our 3 greatest hurdles

Without further ado, let’s dive into the three key challenges we faced:

1. What is climate information – if you launch a prize to find a solution to a problem, you first need to define the problem as accurately as possible. Moreover, all potential solvers need to share that same understanding, which proved to be tricky with CIP. That’s why we defined from the prize kick-off what we meant by climate information. For the purposes of this competition, we included data ranging from short-term weather-related information over days and weeks to information that covers longer time spans.

2. How much support – our experience with CIP suggests that applicants might need help in areas such as how to access and use climate data, attract investment and run a start-up initiative. Support could be provided in the form of workshops, mentoring or guidance documents. However, the aim of running a competition is to see whether contestants can find new ways to solve problems primarily on their own, the incentive being a cash prize in our case. It could be argued that providing too much assistance would get us closer to a grant initiative and break down the whole rationale behind the prize process. However, in a longer term perspective, would not helping participants have been a missed opportunity if with a little bit of support they could solve a longstanding development challenge? Also, any assistance provided must be completely unbiased and equal, as helping some and not others would distort the contest. This is a dilemma and not one easy to solve – we also addressed the issue here.

3. Upfront investment – Having to invest time, money and resources with no guarantee of winning the financial prize purse at the end can discourage smaller or grassroots organisations from participating. This goes against the logic of a prize which, compared to other funding mechanisms such as grants, has the advantage of attracting unexpected solvers. How can we balance this? More on risks and rewards can be found in this blog post.

Our proudest achievements

While we are not sure about the answer to these questions, we are certain that CIP has raised awareness of an issue which is often neglected. A conventional grant, instead of a prize, couldn’t have excited that many people and that much – the so-called buzz effect.

Also, we have brought together experts from different sectors, such as academics, investors, meteorologists, entrepreneurs and government officials, that tend to work in silos. Their collaboration could help find solutions to the accessibility of climate information faster and more effectively.

Finally, everyone is a winner because all participants have developed valuable solutions that can help farmers adapt to climate change, even though only the best few will be awarded.

Independent agents are now verifying the merits of the initiatives in the competition, their impact as well as their financial health and sustainability. These findings will help judges determine which initiative deserves to win CIP, so stay tuned to find out who the winner is!

You can learn more about CIP at www.climateinformationprize.org

Cover photo: CIP applicants attended a workshop in Turkana, Kenya, in December 2015.

This blog post was authored by Nicki Spence, CIP Prize Manager from Cardno International Development, and Lorenza Geronimo, Ideas to Impact Communications Manager, based at IMC Worldwide.

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