About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

How do innovation agencies work?

National innovation agencies are becoming a common feature of government support for innovation around the world.  From Tekes in Finland to CORFO in Chile, and Innovate UK closer to home, these organisations help catalyse commercial developments in science and technology and support businesses to innovate. 

While there has been a lot of interest in these institutions in recent years, there has been little systematic analysis of their role in driving innovation and economic growth.  At Nesta, we are starting a new research project that will look under the bonnet of national innovation agencies and better understand how they work.

What we plan to do

The first phase of this project will look at a small - but diverse - group of established agencies.  An extensive review of the literature and in-depth interviews with experts, government officials and practitioners will help us tell a clear story about:

  • why these institutions were first established and how they have changed over time;
  • how they are structured and managed;
  • the types of programmes they run and their impacts to date;
  • their position in the wider innovation system, both nationally and internationally; and
  • their ambitions for the future.

Over the longer term, we hope to widen our scope and work with partners in countries with newer innovation agencies, as well as those looking to set one up for the first time.

Our objectives

This project does not intend to produce a blueprint for the ‘perfect’ innovation agency, or perform a traditional evaluation of existing agencies along a strict set of criteria.  What works in one country will not necessarily suit the context of another, and it is likely that the most successful institutions will be those that are constantly adapting and evolving in response to technological, economic and social changes. 

However, we believe that a comparative study will yield valuable practical insights for policymakers about how to design and run an innovation agency, and what these types of institutions can reasonably be expected to achieve.

Who we’re working with

To deliver this project, we are partnering with Nesta Associate Dan Breznitz, Munk Chair of Innovation Studies at the University of Toronto and a recognised expert in this field.  We will also draw on Nesta’s extensive networks with innovation agencies and other stakeholders across the world.

Get involved

We are keen to hear from others who are working on these issues. Please do get in touch with any comments, questions or contributions at [email protected]



Alex Glennie

Alex Glennie

Alex Glennie

Senior Policy Manager

Alex is a Senior Policy Manager in the Innovation Growth Lab (IGL).

View profile
Kirsten Bound

Kirsten Bound

Kirsten Bound

Executive Director of Research, Analysis and Policy

Kirsten was an Executive Director at Nesta and led Nesta’s Research, Analysis and Policy team.

View profile