Innovative research for wicked problems

A national challenge to encourage new ideas, new thinking and new research. What can you bring to disaster management in Australia?

Enter now

The wicked problem

At the heart of society’s approach to disaster resilience are the notions of shared responsibility and community-led action, backed by scientific evidence and lived experience. This requires informed, trusted and effective relationships between people and organisations involved in preventing, preparing, responding and recovering from disasters, including climate change.

There are many ways to build and sustain mutual trust, however trust can be eroded by the decisions and actions of people, communities and organisations. In its place people, communities and organisations can be disconnected, communication can break down and cynicism, doubt, isolation and non-participation can grow.

When trust is challenged the foundations of disaster resilience are threatened.

The Challenge

In a world where trust is both vital and fragile, how can we build and sustain trust across our whole society to drive the collective and coordinated actions that are fundamental to reducing the risks and impacts of disasters, and strengthening the safety, sustainability and resilience of all Australians?

What is the Disaster Challenge?

The Disaster Challenge is a national challenge to encourage new ideas, new thinking and new research. 

The Disaster Challenge calls out to early career researchers, postgraduate and undergraduate students across Australia – it is your chance to make a difference with innovative ideas and solutions for the wicked problems the country faces with natural hazards.

Hosted by Natural Hazards Research Australia with support from universities and emergency management organisations, the Disaster Challenge invites the best and brightest minds in our universities to put their creative talents into helping us solve the trickiest problems that surround how we deal with floods, bushfires, storms, cyclones and other natural hazards.

A wicked problem is one that is urgent, but difficult to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, or changing requirements that are often difficult to recognise or evaluate.

With a national final and prizes, what innovation can you and your team bring that Australia hasn’t done yet?

Learn more at our online briefings

Is an asteroid impact a disaster? What about a bee swarm? Can I ask a friend to help me? My postgrad experience is in brain surgery – can I still enter? Is ‘wicked’ good or bad? Don’t panic! We are here to help. Natural Hazards Research Australia will host online briefings on 30 May and 6 June to answer your questions about the Disaster Challenge, help individuals find potential teammates and outline the wicked problem and what makes it wicked. Register for one or both briefings.

Online briefing one – learn more about the Disaster Challenge

Thursday 30 May, 4pm AEST

Online briefing two – understanding the wicked problem

Thursday 6 June, 4pm AEST

Register for either or both briefings here

how will it run?

The Disaster Challenge 2024 is hosted with support from universities and emergency management organisations. It will take place in three phases. The first phase is to enter your concept – we want to hear your team’s idea for addressing the wicked problem.

phase 1: ENTER BY 7 JULY

The judges will then review and select the best entries for the Disaster Challenge Final using the judging criteria. Up to three finalists will be selected.


To bring your ideas to life, finalists will be supported with academic and industry mentors to assist them to take their idea to the next level. If required, finalists will have access to equal financial, academic and creative support to get the best out of their ideas, as well as support for up to three members of each finalist team to attend the Disaster Challenge Final.


Finalists will come together in Western Australia at a special public event on 3 or 4 October to pitch their brilliant ideas to a judging panel of disaster management experts.

entry details

why enter?

Reasons to enter the Disaster Challenge

  1. $5,000 cash prize – good ideas deserve to be rewarded!
  2. Make a difference – the judges are involved in day-to-day management of natural hazards around Australia. Your ideas will help them work with communities to improve preparedness, resilience, save lives, protect property, keep people safe and recover better after disasters
  3. Boost your credentials – your entry may be used to support your current education or research, or take it to the next level
  4. Make networks – the finalists will be supported and encouraged by professionals within the emergency management sector and by senior academics, with opportunities to showcase your idea at forums over the next 12 months
  5. Career advancement – work on real problems with industry mentors that can help you develop your concept
  6. Unlock future opportunities in emergency management research.


The winning team will receive:

  • $5,000 cash
  • Promotion of their winning concept by the Natural Hazards Research Australia
  • The opportunity to work with the Natural Hazards Research Australia and its partners to explore the winning concept further
  • Opportunities to showcase your idea at forums over the next 12 months.

Two runners up will receive $2,000 each per team.

The Disaster Challenge is about how you take your knowledge, your ideas, your thinking, and your experience and make a difference to disaster management.

who can enter?

  • Early career researchers – up to five years post PhD or Masters (excluding periods of parental leave, other family caring duties or ill health), no matter their role or organisation within Australia. Does not need to be currently employed by an Australian organisation or enrolled at a university or TAFE, but postgraduate qualification must have been completed in Australia.
  • Postgraduate students – you need to be enrolled with an academic institution such as a university or a TAFE in Australia. Students can be either full-time or part-time. Universities and schools within may field multiple teams or collaborate between universities.
  • Undergraduate students – you need to be enrolled with an academic institution such as a university or a TAFE in Australia. Students can be either full-time or part-time. Universities and schools within may field multiple teams or collaborate between universities.
  • This is a team challenge. Entries must comprise a minimum of two individuals in a team.
  • Entries are encouraged from a range of academic disciplines such as humanities, education, health and medicine, information technology, engineering, visual arts, marketing, business, law, urban studies, architecture and more.
  • Participation is only open to teams comprising of entrants from organisations based in Australia, where the entrants are also based in Australia.
  • The Disaster Challenge aims to engage and inspire early career researchers, postgraduate and undergraduate students in relevant research and to encourage them to explore careers in natural hazards science, disaster management or community resilience.


Team participation can comprise a mix of postgraduate and undergraduate students, and early career researchers, from any combination of science disciplines. However, in order for teams to be as competitive as possible we strongly encourage a multi-disciplinary approach with teams of students and early career researchers with multi-disciplinary expertise wherever possible.

Participation is open to entrants from all Australian states and territories.

Collaboration, diversity and inclusion

The Disaster Challenge aims to encourage as much diversity in solution designs as possible. Just as there are no single right answers to complex problems, the nature of the issued challenge demands teams look for highly innovative solutions. Applications are particularly encouraged from teams that include and represent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, women, culturally and linguistically diverse people, people with disability, LGBTIQ+ people, and people with family and caring responsibilities.


This is a research-informed challenge. It is about applying research knowledge to a wicked problem. Each entry will be evaluated against judging criteria. Your team does not need emergency management or disaster expertise. The Disaster Challenge is about innovation from all areas that can be used to benefit disaster management in Australia.

The problem is so wicked it does not allow for a simple response. Your entry needs to take into account the complexities of the problems, the trade-offs between various solutions, the people impacted for better or for worse, the costs involved and who needs to pay for it.

You are not expected to solve the entire problem. By their nature, wicked problems are notoriously difficult to resolve and cannot be solved in a single step. Instead, the Disaster Challenge is looking for ideas that can help Australia take a step in the right direction towards tackling this particular wicked problem.


  • Focused – identifies a specific, real-world example of this wicked problem in practice that the submission seeks to address
  • Informed – demonstrates why this specific example needs new and innovative solutions
  • Impactful – Australia needs this now and the benefit is clear
  • Credible – based on sound academic principles
  • Innovative – no-one else has tried this or combining ideas in a new way in Australia
  • Affordable – this could be realistically achieved with a reasonable budget
  • Adaptable – it could work in different places in Australia
  • Scalable – good for big and small disasters
  • Achievable – there is a clear pathway to bring your approach to life, at least as a proof of concept.

Your entry should not:

The Disaster Challenge is not just looking for better technological solutions – better fire hoses, more satellites, information websites or apps, warning and alarm systems, bigger water bombing planes or fire/flood proof building materials. These may address problems, but they are not solutions to wicked problems.

how to enter?

We want to hear about your ideas for developing a solution.

Enter the Disaster Challenge by outlining you or your team’s idea on how to address the wicked problem. At this stage, we’re not expecting teams to present a complete solution – that comes later.

Enter now

To get started, all you need to do is:

  1. Read and review the Guide for Entrants and Terms and Conditions for handy tips on how to get started
  2. Get your team together
  3. Spend some time to understand the wicked problem and why it is so difficult to solve
  4. Think through how you would address the wicked problem and decide on your preferred approach
  5. When you think you have your idea in good shape, make sure that you can explain how it will be used and what benefits you would expect to see if it was used
  6. Decide how you would like to submit your approach – written or video entries will be accepted


You can explain your concept in either written or short video format, using the Entry form. Note video entries are judged on the concept only, using the same judging criteria as written entries. Production qualities will not be taken into account – we just need to see and hear your idea.

Applications should address:

  • Why the wicked problem is an issue
  • Why new and innovative solutions are required
  • What is your approach to solving this wicked problem?
  • How do you think your approach will improve disaster response and link those who have resources and supports with those that are most in need?
  • How is your approach different to solutions that have already been tried?
  • What evidence do you have to support this?
  • How is your proposed approach affordable, adaptable, scalable and achievable?

For full assessment criteria, see the Guide for Entrants.

Finalists will have an opportunity to work with a team of mentors to help take the idea to the next level. That’s where you will translate your idea into a solution that you can showcase at the Disaster Challenge Final, in front of people who work in emergency management, who are looking for better ways to improve public safety and reduce pain and suffering as a result of natural hazards.

Download guide for entrants
Download terms and conditions

Previous Disaster Challenges

Want to be inspired by previous Disaster Challenges? See, read and watch more about the 2022 and 2023 Disaster Challenges.


“The Disaster Challenge gives participants the opportunity to work together across universities and disciplines around the country. They get to take on a challenge, be imaginative, creative and collaborative, with guidance from some brilliant mentors.”

Professor Cheryl Desha, Griffith University Disaster Management Network

“The great thing about the Disaster Challenge is that it really gives us the opportunity to hear from early researchers about some new and innovative ideas. As a disaster management sector, that gives us the opportunity to really push the limits and think about what is new and fresh coming our way that we can incorporate in to the way we do disaster management.”

Kath Ryan, Executive Manager Public Information and Warnings, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services. 2022 Disaster Challenge Final judge.

The 2024 Disaster Challenge is coordinated by Natural Hazards Research Australia and is hosted with support from universities and emergency management organisations.

Thank you to our 2024 Steering Group:

  • Deb Sparkes, AFAC
  • Margaret Moreton, AIDR
  • Helen Keen-Dyer, CQUniversity
  • Shaun Hooper, Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water NSW
  • Bec Pianta, Department of Fire and Emergency Services WA
  • Kamarah Pooley, Fire and Rescue NSW
  • Paul Arbon, Flinders University
  • Deb Parkin, Inspector-General for Emergency Management Vic
  • Matthew Adams, Landgate
  • Jonathan Abrahams, Monash University
  • Fleur O’Connor, NT Police Fire and Emergency Services
  • Rachael Nolan, NSW Bushfire Research Centre
  • Simon Heemstra, NSW Rural Fire Service
  • Jasmine Muir, SmartSat CRC
  • Brendon McAtee and Vicki Godfrey, Natural Hazards Research Australia


coordinated by

Natural Hazards Research Australia logo