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Next Grand Challenge: Topic Collection and Topic Grouping

Topic collection and topic grouping have been completed. The Berlin University Alliance would like to thank all committed researchers, students, and young people for their participation in the participatory process of the Next Grand Challenge so far. We are pleased to present the topics here and are looking forward to the Next Grand Challenge Forum in February 2023, where the next step will be the topic evaluation.

Result of (Topic) Grouping

Of the topics submitted by researchers and students in the course of the topic collection, 28 topics were chosen for grouping. In the youth workshops and in the idea camp, a further 15 topics were proposed by young people. We were able to divide the total of 43 topics into the following 5 categories.

Green Urban Spaces

Global urbanization is moving forward. Already today, more than half of the world's population lives in urban areas. The resulting challenges are immense, as cities are not only agglomerations of economic, cultural and political activity, but also hot spots for stress, mobility, waste production, energy and resource consumption, and associated environmental pressures such as noise and air pollution, with negative impacts on people's health and well-being. Cities are also responsible for the majority of global greenhouse gas emissions. The effects of climate-related extremes such as heat, water scarcity, or flooding are usually particularly devastating in urban areas.
In addition, the accumulation of many people in large cities brings with it numerous other challenges. Problems such as housing shortages due to skyrocketing rents and gentrification, social exclusion due to poverty and unemployment, crime and the challenges of high mobility volumes in a small area all come together. In urban areas in developing regions of the global South, the situation is even more precarious. There, air pollution is often an even greater environmental and health risk, and large parts of the urban population live in slums under poor sanitation conditions.
In this thematic field, concepts for sustainable, environmentally and climate-friendly, healthy, socially just and livable cities are to be developed in an integrative manner and passed on to decision-makers. To accomplish this, scientific findings for the design of sustainable urban spaces must be interlinked, taking into account their technical, social, economic and ecological complexity. Silo thinking must be avoided and different solution systems must be brought into harmony with each other. The realities of life of all people who use and shape a city should be integrated in the development of solutions.

Resources & Sustainability

Much of the global problems such as greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss, and water stress are due to the extraction and processing of natural resources. In particular, non-regenerative resources, such as fossil fuels, metals, and minerals, require significant energy inputs during extraction and processing, result in waste production, release of pollutants, and emissions of greenhouse gases, and are often accompanied by interference with or destruction of ecosystems. In addition, most of the world's non-renewable resources are limited. However, global population and economic growth are increasing the demand for them, making extraction increasingly difficult and expensive. As a result, resource conflicts may increase. Sharply reducing the demand for resources, using resources more efficiently, and ensuring sustainable production and consumption patterns is therefore a global responsibility. The same applies to curbing global waste production.
In this field, innovative technologies and solutions for the sustainable use of resources are to be researched. An important factor here is research into a circular economy that conserves resources, reduces emissions and avoids waste. Research into new materials made from renewable raw materials for various areas of application and their disposal is also relevant here. The knowledge gained is to be translated into practicable solutions and these are to be passed on to decision-makers. This requires innovative holistic approaches from different disciplines in the natural sciences, humanities and health sciences, involving various non-scientific stakeholder groups. Successful concepts for a circular economy in Berlin can serve as pioneers for other areas on a national and international level.

Social and technical Innovations in Times of Change

In times of overlapping and interlocking transformations (e.g. climate, health, energy, migration), society is facing complex change. In addition to the creation of sustainable innovations (techniques, processes, ways of life, etc.), the accompanying research of transformation processes for noticeable changes and successful renewals in society is of great importance in order to cope with these challenges and conflicts.
It is necessary to find answers in this thematic field: Which technical and social innovations lead to sustainable solutions? How can change in society be made shapeable? How can communication be used to make the population aware of the need for transformation? How can people be supported in initially implementing drastic decisions or in reducing rejections in change processes? And how can people be involved on an equal footing? At the interface between science and society, transfer can be shaped cooperatively.

Balances in the Anthropocene

The health of humans, animals, plants and their environment are closely linked and interdependent. However, in the Anthropocene, humans have become a threat to these fragile balances through their actions. Population growth, industrialization and globalization, and the accompanying factory farming, monocultures, pollution and destruction of ecosystems, emission of climate-damaging gases, etc. threaten the well-being, health and ultimately the existence of all living beings on our planet. Measurable impacts are, for example, the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services with relevance for the supply of humans with vital resources as well as for the climate of our planet. But direct impacts on human health are also noticeable. Pathogens and associated infectious diseases are spreading ever faster. In addition, more and more pathogens are developing resistance to drugs, making it more difficult to treat infections. Socially disadvantaged population groups often suffer particularly severely from the effects of disturbed balances in the Anthropocene. Poorer people more often live in poor environmental conditions or are less able to adapt to and avoid environmental risks.
In this topic area, the complex balances between humans, animals, plants and their environment will be examined. The aim is to identify or develop important adjusting screws that can have an effect on the balances, as well as measures for preventing and improving disturbed balances in the Anthropocene. In particular, solutions must be found to minimize the impact of disturbed balances on human health. This requires innovative holistic approaches of different scientific disciplines with society. Lessons learned must be communicated to decision-makers, taking society as a whole along with them.

Education & Individual Development

In order to better prepare people for the challenges of the future, improvements in the education system and opportunities for individual development are needed, e.g., advancing digitization requires learning the necessary digital skills. Among other things, teachers play a central role in education and development, but there is currently an urgent need for action in teacher training, and a quantitative shortage of teachers is becoming apparent, not only in Germany but globally. The social promotion of education, also beyond the school, is therefore of current and future relevance.
The research field can look at conditions for educational success and positive individual development, both in terms of students and teachers, in order to have enough well-trained teachers who can teach the next generation. In terms of individual development, the application of innovative methods for the therapy of people with mental stress or illness contributes specifically to promoting the participation of all people in society. Overall, the topic area has clear overlaps with the other topic areas of the Next Grand Challenge in that it can be understood as the basis for excellent science and research in the various contexts.


The submitted topic proposals were grouped into topic areas using an inductive approach. For this purpose, all proposals were reviewed, analyzed, and related to each other. This made it possible to identify similarities and overlaps between the proposals and to integrate knowledge. Five topic areas emerged.

The method of qualitative content analysis was used for grouping (Mayring 2002). This topic analysis allows the identification of topics that emerge from the proposals. It is a frequently used method of qualitative data analysis, especially in the social sciences. Topic grouping involves the following steps: An overall intersubjective impression of content and meaning is obtained by repeatedly reading the topic proposals. The data are tagged with keywords (so-called "codes") that represent the main topic. In the synopsis, commonalities in the codes are identified and grouped into topics. The topic areas identified are then reviewed, refined, and, if necessary, merged or split. Finally, the topic areas are assigned a name that reflects their content and meaning and the respective topic area is described in a short text.


Mayring, Philipp (2002): Einführung in die qualitative Sozialforschung. Eine Anleitung zu qualitativem Denken. 5. Aufl., Weinheim, Basel: Beltz Verlag.