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Spotlight on Innovation Policy: Summer 2019 edition

It’s been a busy few months for the innovation policy teams at Nesta. In what’s becoming a seasonal trend, we take a look back on what’s been happening over the last few months, give you a forecast for what’s coming up over the Summer and how to stay involved.

An outside look

We’ve been paying attention to what’s happening in the world of innovation policy, and, hidden amongst the Government’s Brexit-related activity, there’s been more than you may think. Science Minister Chris Skidmore went on a speaking tour in May to set out the government’s vision for how it plans to invest 2.4% of GDP in research and development by 2027.

The Government has faced criticism from some for lacking a sufficient roadmap to 2.4%, with CBI pointing out that if R&D investment continues at the current rate of growth the UK would not reach the 2.4% target until 2053 — 26 years too late. The Campaign for Science and Engineering calculated that UK investment in R&D will need to be £65bn in 2027/28 to reach the target, up from the current level of £35bn. You can read our thoughts some of the hidden levers to reach the 2.4% target here.

April marked the one-year anniversary of the launch of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) whose mission it is to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish in the UK. A celebration event in Leeds earlier in June saw the launch of 2019-20 delivery plans for UKRI’s Research Councils and Innovate UK.

A key part of UKRI’s role will be to fund excellent research across the UK, and April saw the announcement of the successful proposals for the first wave of its Strength in Places Fund (SPF) and a call for proposals for the second wave. The flagship fund, which was announced in November 2017 as part of the Industrial Strategy White Paper, is offering funds to the tune of £50m for those awarded early stage funding to carry out projects designed to drive significant local economic growth.

Finally, the global innovation summit in May, EUREKA, provided an opportunity to roll out the announcement of the government’s new International Research and Innovation Strategy (IRIS). The announcement was delivered against a background of intensive negotiations by the UK with its European partner countries to stay as involved as it can in collaborative research programmes after Brexit, including associate membership of the major Horizon Europe research programme.

Inside Nesta

So what have we been focusing on? Here’s an update on what we’ve been doing at Nesta to contribute to innovation policy.

  • Nesta’s Innovation Growth Lab (IGL) held their annual conference in Berlin last month in a three-day event which brought together those working at the cutting-edge of innovation policy. For a spotlight piece highlighting just one of the topics discussed at the conference on how governments are embracing the ethos of innovation, you can read Marieke Goettsch’s most recent blog. IGL also made it into the pages of The Times in a piece examining why economic policy should face the rigours of science.
  • Back in March, in collaboration with Brazilian-American political philosopher Roberto Unger, we proposed a radical new vision in our report Imagination unleashed: Democratising the knowledge economy. In it, we suggest many of the big global challenges — stagnant productivity, inequality, political alienation — can all be linked to the way the knowledge economy works and call for a total rethink of the way the ‘innovation economy’ operates. In case you missed it, listen to the podcast we recorded with Roberto Unger in conversation with Nesta’s Chief Executive Geoff Mulgan about making the knowledge economy more inclusive.
  • May also saw the publication of another major piece of work: Finding Ctrl: Visions for the Future Internet — our new interactive book bringing together essays, interviews, stories and artworks reflecting on the internet’s past and future. Designed to coincide with the World Wide Web turning 30, the ‘visions book’ is part of the Next Generation Internet (NGI) initiative – the European Commission’s new flagship programme working on building a more democratic, inclusive and resilient internet.
  • We were pleased to Nesta's work reflected in the Government's white paper on 'Regulation for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.' Over the past few years, Nesta has been developing new ways of thinking about regulation, and working to show what it means in practice through programmes like Flying High. In our latest thinking we show how regulators and governments can become more anticipatory in their approach to disruptive emerging technologies and innovation.
  • Did you know Europe lags behind other entrepreneurship ecosystems, such as the US, which produces four times more scaleups than Europe? A new report we launched earlier this year is designed to help startups scale up — by exploring different funding methods and illustrating with real life success stories our Paths to Scale is a for entrepreneurs to overcome financial inhibitors for success.
  • In a world awash with data why do we need new data for innovation policy? In our new Innovation Mapping Now report, launched at an event with the European Commission and the OECD, we explore how timely and relevant data could transform the innovation policy landscape. An example of how innovation mapping is having an impact is through our work on the Health Innovation Scanner — a collaborative project with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — which allows users to scan large-scale datasets to map health innovation ecosystems across a range of global contexts.
  • A compendium of Nesta’s work over the last 10 years uncovering, studying, developing and promoting new methods of supporting innovation — from accelerator programmes to challenge prizes and experimentation — is now available to download and buy.
  • In May, Nesta presented at the Eureka Global Innovation Summit , hosted by Innovate UK. Nesta’s Alex Glennie led a keynote at a parallel meeting of leaders from more than 40 innovation agencies speaking about the changing role of innovation agencies which she has outlined in a blog.

What to look out for next

Over the summer we will be publishing a series of new research reports as well as holding several events you may interested to attend.

  • In June we will be launching a study of the remuneration packages of FTSE 350 companies looking at how big business are actually inhibiting innovation and research and development by focusing on short-term gains over long-term investment.
  • We will be launching a report called Motivation to Scale (a follow-up to Paths to Scale), which looks instead at how policymakers can better support entrepreneurs to scale, finding that government would do better to design policies that respond to how entrepreneurs think about growth and finance, and by placing greater emphasis on improving the quality of information that already exists.
  • On the horizon is a scoping study into the promise and potential of the next wave of digital technologies to transform innovation brokerage activities (in conjunction with 100% Open and Science Practice).
  • We will also be launching new research looking at the role of real world innovation testbeds, and how to design them well (in conjunction with Arup)
  • Registration for an immersive five-day workshop for the data science community is now open. Run by Nesta’s innovation mapping team, HackSTIR, is an interactive data science workshop for science, technology and innovation research.

If you’d like to find out more information about any of the projects mentioned please don’t hesitate to get in touch by emailing [email protected]


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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Elle Wolfhagen

Elle Wolfhagen

Elle Wolfhagen

Policy Communications Manager, Innovation Policy

Elle was the Policy Communications Manager for the Innovation Policy team.

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