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?


The wicked problem

How can disaster preparation engage with the unengaged, the moving or the hard to reach?

Most disaster preparation engagement programs and materials target people who live full time in residential housing and are well connected to information sources. But many people don’t fit that category. At any given time, people are on the move – for work, for family reasons, for holidays, for leisure, for study. Others have living arrangements that are more transient, less connected with the broader community. We also know that those less socially connected in communities suffer the most when disasters occur. How do we engage people on the move? How can we learn about their disaster information needs and what is the best way to reach them?

the challenge

to engage a transient sector of the community with disaster preparation information.

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 and postgraduate students across Australia to send in innovative ideas and solutions for the wicked problems we are facing with natural hazards.

Hosted by Natural Hazards Research Australia with support from universities and emergency management organisations, the Disaster Challenge is inviting the best and brightest minds in our universities to put their creative talents into helping us solve the trickiest of social and cultural 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 cash prizes on offer, what innovation can you or your team bring that Australia hasn’t done yet?

Meet the Disaster Challenge finalists

The judges have chosen three finalists from the many impressive submissions to the inaugural Disaster Challenge.

These finalists will be supported with academic and industry mentors to bring their ideas to the next level and pitch them at the Disaster Challenge Final on 13 October 2022, where one winner will be chosen.

Mobilising local culturally and linguistically diverse stakeholders and gatekeepers

Jyoti Khatri K C (Queensland University of Technology)

Tourist and tourism worker education using wifi portals

Mark Owens (Country Fire Authority) and Dr Kamarah Pooley (Fire and Rescue NSW)

Beacon of hope

Jane Toner, Sheridan Keegan, Ahmed Qasim, Lynn Lue-Kopman, Winty Wang, Manori Dissanayaka (Griffith University) and Cris Hernandez-Santin (RMIT)

how will it run?

The inaugural Disaster Challenge is coordinated by Natural Hazards Research Australia and specifically covers the social sciences - later Disaster Challenges will cover the physical sciences and other areas. This Disaster Challenge is hosted with support from universities and emergency management organisations in Queensland: Australian Red Cross, CQUniversity, Griffith University, Healthy Land and Water, Inspector-General Emergency Management Queensland, James Cook University, Office of the Queensland Chief Scientist, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, Queensland Police Service, Queensland Reconstruction Authority, Queensland University of Technology, University of Queensland, University of Southern Queensland and University of the Sunshine Coast. 

This Disaster Challenge will take place in two phases:

phase 1: Complete

Pitch the concept - entries closed 30 June.

The judges have reviewed and selected the best entries using the judging criteria. Finalists have been notified and three were selected.

phase 2:

To bring your idea to life, finalists will be supported with academic and industry mentors, who will assist them in developing their idea to the next level. These ideas will be showcased at the Disaster Challenge Final on 13 October 2022 - the UN International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction – in Brisbane. If required, finalists will have access to financial, academic and creative support to get the best out of their ideas, as well as support to attend the Disaster Challenge Final.

Each finalist will have equal access to financial, academic and creative support.

disaster challenge final

The Disaster Challenge Final will bring the finalists together to pitch their brilliant ideas to an audience of emergency managers and disaster preparedness experts. Here, judges will choose one winner.

Date: Thursday 13 October 2022, the UN International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction

Location: Brisbane, venue TBC

Meet the finalists

Your questions answered

Want to know more about the Challenge?
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 hosted an online briefing on 25 May to answer all your questions about the Disaster Challenge.

Dr John Bates (Natural Hazards Research Australia), Dr Josh Whittaker (New South Wales Rural Fire Service), A/Prof Michelle Villeneuve (University of Sydney) and A/Prof Andrew Taylor (Charles Darwin University).

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. Get known – 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 state and national forums over the next 12 months.
  5. Career advancement – work on real problems.
  6. Unlock future opportunities in emergency management research. 

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


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.

Second and third placed teams will receive $2,000 and $1,000 respectively

who can enter?

  • Postgraduate students – you need to be enrolled with an academic institution such as a university or a TAFE in Australia
  • 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
  • Group entries – our preference is for proposals from multi-disciplinary groups with team members at different stages of their career, ideally with an academic/research mentor from their institution, but we still welcome entries from individuals.
  • Participation is only open to entrants from Australian universities and research institutions.
  • The program aims to engage and inspire graduate students and early career researchers in relevant research and to encourage them to explore careers in natural hazards science, management or community resilience.
  • We encourage entries with a social science solution to the wicked problem. This can be drawn from a range of academic disciplines – humanities, education, health and medicine, information technology, engineering, visual arts, marketing, business, law, urban studies, architecture and more.


Individual entries will be accepted, although the preference is for proposals from multi-disciplinary groups, ideally with an academic/research mentor.

Team participation can comprise a mix of postgraduate students and early career researchers from any combination of social 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.

Postgraduate students must be currently enrolled at an Australian university. Students can be either full-time or part-time. Universities and schools within may field multiple teams or collaboration between universities.

Early career researchers are up to five years post PhD or Masters (excluding periods of parental leave, other family caring duties or ill health).

Mentors do not need to be a postgraduate student or early career researcher. Mentors can come from academia, emergency management or other backgrounds/roles.

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


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. Individual entries will be accepted although the preference is for proposals from multi-disciplinary groups, ideally with an academic/research mentor from their institution. We particularly encourage applications from 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 challenge. Each entry will be evaluated against judging criteria. You or your team do not need emergency management or disaster expertise – we want 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.


  • 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
  • Credible – based on sound academic principles
  • Urgent – Australia needs this now and the benefit is clear
  • Achievable – there is a clear pathway to bring your approach to life, at least as a proof of concept


We are 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.

download terms and conditions

media kit

Help us spread the word about the Disaster Challenge by downloading the media kit and promoting on your channels.

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key 2022 dates

coordinated by

Natural Hazards Research Australia logo

supported by

Australian Red Cross
CQU University
Griffith University
Healthy Land and Water
James Cook University
Queensland IGEM
Queensland Office of the Chief Scientist
Queensland Police
Queensland Reconstruction Authority