The Big Ideas contest aims to encourage involvement from as many students as possible from eligible campuses, and is designed to spur interdisciplinary participation. As a result, Big Ideas has developed a set of contest categories that, together, stretch across multiple disciplines, and individually, are broad enough to accommodate projects of many different types. In the 2016-2017 Contest year, Big Ideas consists of nine contest categories that span broad areas. Thanks in part to these broad category areas, students who compete in the Contest hail from a variety of different majors and departments on campus.
The way Big Ideas categories developed over time is analogous to the structure of a shopping mall. In every shopping mall there are anchor stores that are large, established, and highly visible chains that help draw consumer traffic to a mall. In addition, there are the established but smaller secondary stores. Finally, there are floating shops that tend to be smaller and less permanent. Global Health, Energy & Resource Alternatives, Information Technology for Society, Improving Student Life, and Scaling Up Big Ideas have long served as the “anchor” categories for the Big Ideas contest. They are most established, longest running, and best-known categories, and thus draw students to the contest. Art & Social Change and Food Systems categories are established but smaller “secondary” categories. Each year, Big Ideas also offers “floating” categories that are new and topical, such as the Hardware for Good and Financial Inclusion categories.
When developing new categories, three key factors are considered. First, the new category should fit within the mission and scope of the Big Ideas contest (refer to sections on Mission & Goals and Big Ideas@Berkeley History). Secondly, there should be potential sponsorship and funding opportunities to support the category, either on-campus or externally. Third, the category should draw upon a specific and new area of emphasis or expertise apparent within the collective student body. Finally, the category should round out the selection of topics covered in a given contest year by not creating substantial overlap with other existing categories.
At the end of each Contest year, Big Ideas staff conducts a review to determine a) which categories to renew (or not), b) which categories should be modified, and c) evaluate opportunities for new categories. Each existing category is assessed based on the following criteria:
Using the above criteria, the anchor categories, which tend to be higher-profile categories with long-term partnerships, are typically renewed each year. In some cases, the category titles and descriptions are revised and broadened to encourage a higher number of applications from a wider range of disciplines. In situations where few proposals are received and/or no sponsorship opportunities exist, a category may be dropped. Other times, topics are found to be too general and overlapping of other categories, in which case they are also discontinued.