Tackling Grand Challenges

Community Engagement and Collective Impact in Public Problem Solving


  • Cara Marie DiEnno University of Denver
  • Anne P. DePrince University of Denver




university-community, collaboration, multidisciplinary, institutional structure


In recent years, grand challenge initiatives have emerged nationally with the goal of addressing large, multidisciplinary public problems. The advent of university-led grand challenge initiatives offers an important opportunity to reflect on how institutions of higher education design, implement, and orient externally relevant activities at a time of public skepticism. With a focus on public problem solving, grand challenge initiatives offer a way to re-engage the public’s imagination and faith in higher education, depending on what these initiatives reflect about institutional values, practices, and work. We use this reflection opportunity to review early approaches to university-led grand challenge initiatives. We then propose that two frameworks should merge explicitly into grand challenge initiatives to guide public problem solving: community engagement and collective impact. Finally, we offer the establishment of a grand challenge initiative at the University of Denver (DU) as an example of the integration of community engagement and collective impact frameworks into the organization and implementation of institution-wide, publicly-engaged work.

Author Biographies

Cara Marie DiEnno, University of Denver

Cara Marie DiEnno is Associate Director of the Center for Community Engagement to advance Scholarship and Learning (CCESL) at the University of Denver. She supports faculty, staff and students in their community-engaged work – collaborating with the community to advance social justice and live out the University of Denver's public good vision. In addition to supporting the campus community, she also teaches university courses using service learning pedagogy and participates in community engaged research.  

Cara Marie DiEnno 
Center for Community Engagement to advance Scholarship and Learning 
University of Denver 
2050 East Evans Avenue, Suite 22 
Denver, CO 80208 
Email: cara.dienno@du.edu 
Phone: 303-871-2158 
Twitter: @CaraDiEnno 

Anne P. DePrince, University of Denver

Anne P. DePrince is Professor and Chair in the Department of Psychology and Director of the Center for Community Engagement to advance Scholarship and Learning (CCESL) at the University of Denver. In her capacity as CCESL Director, she has advanced the institutionalization of community-engaged work across campus. She also pursues a program of community-engaged research on gender-based violence.

Anne P. DePrince 
Department of Pyschology 
University of Denver 
2155 S. Race St. 
Denver, CO 80208
Telephone: 303-871-2939 
Email: anne.deprince@du.edu 
Twitter: @apdeprince