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.

More space for experimentation

In Cardiff, there’s Y Lab. In Alberta, Canada there’s the Energy Futures Lab. New Zealand has the Co-Design Lab based in Auckland and Helsinki is home to Finland’s social innovation agency, Sitra.

These are ambitious institutions with a remit to focus on long-term social impact, working with public services, businesses, charities and national agencies to test and evidence new approaches to shared problems.

In Scotland, if we can become less risk-averse in implementing our bold policies and reframe the way we look at some of our big social issues, we still need to create the places for innovation and rigorous experimentation to take place. We also need our policy makers to support longer-term, more ambitions and deliberate commitments to social innovation. This matters because more of the same will not be enough to meet the complex and multifaceted challenges we face.

However, when we talk about innovation policy in Scotland today it is almost always in the context of innovation for economic growth. Any knock-on effect on public service efficiencies or social impact is often a secondary consideration.

We have three national enterprise agencies, a national investment bank, seven innovation centres for priority growth industries and a multitude of targeted business innovation funds and regional growth deals. These are all good things, but where is Scotland’s public service innovation laboratory? Where are our social innovation testbeds? Where are the innovative finance mechanisms for long-term public benefit?

There are some initiatives such as the Local Government Digital Office, Research Data Scotland and the UNICEF Data for Children Collaborative, but we need more approaches to testing, designing and scaling practical solutions to shared social problems. Approaches that are designed with sustained buy-in from local and national governments for long-term impact.

Resourced, incentivised and enabled

Achieving long-term policy, practice and political buy-in has been a challenge in Scotland in recent years. Over the last 15 years, Scottish voters have participated in a total of 17 elections or referenda. And while there is much about this to celebrate in terms of democratic engagement, it has had an impact on the time horizons in much of our political discourse. We need more long-term thinking in key areas of social policy development and service delivery as well as our approach to public finances.

Perhaps the best example of where we have fallen short in this regard in recent years has been our collective failure to suitably rise to the rallying call of the 2011 Christie Commission report on the future of public services. This landmark paper, which received cross party and cross sector support on its publication, called for a radical rethinking in the design and delivery of our public services, to prioritise preventative action and investment to tackle the root causes of our shared social challenges. It is widely acknowledged that, more than a decade on, we still have not delivered on this ambition in Scotland.

In this context, it’s notable that as part of the recent Resource Spending Review, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance highlighted the need for public sector innovation and reform as a core part of Scotland meeting the financial and social challenges ahead. However, there was little indication of the government's view on how this should best be achieved or enabled.

Effective social innovation doesn’t just happen by itself, it must be properly resourced, incentivised and enabled. It must be well evidenced and analysed if it can hope to be scaled in complex systems. Establishing and backing more deliberate approaches to social innovation over the long term would be a welcome recognition of the scale of the problems we face in Scotland today and a powerful political commitment to solving them that goes beyond the next election cycle.

At Nesta we're passionate about innovation for social good but know we can’t make a big enough impact on our own. We want to work with partners in Scotland that are interested in our mission areas: reducing the early years poverty attainment gap, tackling population trends on obesity or in accelerating how we decarbonise heating our homes.

In the coming weeks the Nesta in Scotland team will be writing and sharing more on our specific plans for impact in each of these three mission areas in Scotland and the opportunities we think are distinct to the operating environment here for us to go further faster on these challenges.

How do you think we can get better at social innovation in Scotland? To tell us what you think or If you are interested in working with the Nesta in Scotland team in relation to our mission areas, then please do get in touch at [email protected]


Adam Lang

Adam Lang

Adam Lang

Head of Nesta Scotland

Adam led the work of Nesta in Scotland, working across missions, practices and partnerships to deliver impact against our strategic objectives in Scotland.

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