Last month, 'The Angry Birds Movie' launched to mixed reviews but big box office revenue, raking in nearly $230 million worldwide (more than triple the size of its budget) in just ten days. If you’ve lost hours of your life shooting a variety of small aggressive birds at equally belligerent pigs, chances are you’ll be familiar with Rovio Entertainment – the Finnish startup that developed the popular mobile game that the movie is based on. But you may not have heard of Tekes, Finland’s government funding agency for innovation, despite the part it has played in helping Rovio to turn a quirky idea for a video game into a global phenomenon.
Around the world, there are many other examples of government ‘innovation agencies’ that give funding and other forms of support to businesses and their partners to help them develop new products, processes or services. Over the past half-century, these public investments have played a critical role in the development of many well-known commercial innovations, including GPS technologies, the CT scanners used for medical imaging, and predictive keyboards for mobile phones. Yet we still know relatively little about the institutions tasked with delivering this support, and even less about what best practice looks like in terms of designing and running them, or deciding what mix of policies and programmes will be most appropriate in different national contexts.
Efforts to find practical and applicable lessons have been complicated by three main things:
Over the past year, Nesta has sought to address some of these gaps by looking at the approaches of ten innovation agencies around the world. Our in-depth case studies and interviews gathered information about why these agencies were set up, how they have evolved over time, the instruments and programmes that they use and how effective they have been.
This comparative study – the most comprehensive we know of to date – turned up some fascinating stories about individual agencies and the successes and failures they have had. Building on this, we identified a number of key choices, options and challenges that face governments thinking about setting up or redesigning an organisation of this kind:
At a time when government support for innovation is becoming increasingly salient – but increasingly hard to fund – we believe that there is both an appetite and a need for a more open-ended and constructive debate about the role that these agencies can play in delivering innovation and economic growth. Alongside this, there is more work to be done to develop a practical ‘playbook’ of options that will help governments understand the range of innovation policy strategies and tools available to them, and which of these are likely to be more effective in different circumstances.
Our new report, 'How Innovation Agencies Work', aims to jumpstart this process. In partnership with others, we look forward to continuing and deepening this conversation in the months and years ahead.
Please do get in touch with your views and suggestions at [email protected].
Image credit: CC image by geralt at pixabay