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Prizes and public challenges

This is one of six hydroelectric systems being brought back to life by The Green Valleys. Courtesy of NESTA.

Prizes and public challenges can be an effective means of distributing funds and incentivising innovation. One of the traditional arguments in favour of prizes and competitions is the way in which it provides those giving out the prize a means of finding a solution to a problem without shouldering the burden of risk. Indeed, with competitions, it is the participants who are expected to foot the financial risk. In the social economy, however, there are arguments for sharing rather than shifting the risk. This can be achieved through a stage-gate process, where participants increase the level of investment as they pass through the various stages. This is how NESTA’s Big Green Challenge was organised. It was launched in 2007 as a £1m challenge prize to stimulate and reward community-led innovation in response to the threats posed by climate change. The Big Green Challenge, aimed at the not-for-profit sector is the first challenge prize of its kind. Over a three stage process, competitors are supported to articulate, develop and, if they become a Finalist, implement their ideas. The prize is awarded to one or more winners based on actual and likely ongoing performance at the end of the challenge year.  One of the Finalists is the Green Valleys, a community interest company based in the Brecon Beacons in Wales. The Green Valleys hope to reduce carbon emissions, mitigate the risks of flooding and provide local residents with cheap, renewable energy. Through hydro, wind and thermal power (some of which will be community-owned) Green Valleys is hoping to make the 520sq mile area energy independent. Excess energy will be sold back to the Grid, generating a steady income stream for the company.