With the goal of inspiring more innovative and multi- and inter- disciplinary research proposals, the Sandpit concept was conceived by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in 2003. Knowinnovation was engaged to help with the early Sandpit design, and we’ve been privileged to facilitate dozens of these workshops, known for being extremely intense, interactive and demanding.
The event itself is a 5-day residential program. Typically, 20 to 30 participants are invited, from different disciplines and universities. Over the course of the week, the group works to deepen their shared understanding of the designated challenge, usually complex one, to redefine the problems within the challenge and to generate novel ideas for research proposals. The outcome: inter-disciplinary research that’s risky, cutting edge and unlikely to get funded through any other source.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has adapted the Sandpit methodology, only they’re calling the event an Ideas Lab. The format is nearly identical, but customized to suit the needs of the US funding agency. For instance, at a Sandpit, the funding decisions are usually made on the last day and announced to the participants before they leave the event. An Ideas Lab allows for the funding team to incubate over the weekend and the funded project teams get notified the following week. If the difference is so minimal, then why the name change? Sandpit doesn’t quite translate across the Atlantic, so Ideas Lab it is.
Read more about what happens at a Sandpit or an Ideas Labs here.