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Innovation Population: the UK's views on innovation

Today we are publishing the first set of results from research into public opinions on innovation, undertaken for Nesta by ComRes. From surveying attitudes to innovation and segmenting the responses, five distinct innovation attitudes have emerged.

These show the broad range of public views on innovation. They are useful for highlighting common attitudes found in the research and we hope they will spark debate on what innovation means to all of us.

The basic message is one we intuitively know already – that innovation itself may not necessarily resonate as a concept. But new ideas and ways of working that make our lives better do inspire and excite a wide section of the public. The vast majority of the British public are positive about innovation, but only a third (our Futurists and Romantics) see it as intrinsically valuable. Other people are much more interested in the results of innovation, particularly in areas of tangible social value like healthcare and education.

The public raise legitimate concerns when they talk about innovation, from questions of ethics and rights protection, to dealing with risks, and an increasing culture of disposability. The challenge lies in how to address these concerns when we talk about innovation, in being smarter and quicker in acknowledging benefits and risks in a way that supports (and is seen to support) an honest, informed debate.

There are of course some people who are disengaged and sceptical about innovation. This can be because they don’t see themselves as beneficiaries, or indeed they believe they will lose out from the results. Others have serious concerns over society’s ability to effectively mitigate risks, a distrust of motives for change and a belief that the pace of change is out of control. Is it possible to bring reassurance in these areas? How do we deal with the impact of such polarised views?

In the coming months, Nesta will publish further analysis from the study. We'll take an in depth look into what the research tells us about the public’s attitudes to innovation, including public perceptions of the UK’s place globally. We will be talking to politicians and policymakers about what the findings mean for communicating the value of innovation to a general audience, and in a way that captures the spirit of its importance to our future.


Jen Rae

Jen Rae

Jen Rae

Head of UK Innovation Policy

Jen Rae was a policy advisor on innovation and economic growth for Nesta’s Policy and Research team.

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