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Three takeaways from IGL2016

On May 24-26 we welcomed over 200 senior policy makers, practitioners and researchers working in innovation, entrepreneurship and growth policy at the three-day Innovation Growth Lab (IGL) Global Conference “Making Innovation & Growth Policy Work”.

The event explored how to make economies around the world more innovative and entrepreneurial using experimentation, evidence and the latest policy thinking. On the main conference day, which brought all the different audiences together, world-leading experts such as Ilona Lundström from Tekes and J-PAL’s Iqbal Dhaliwal showcased the latest trends and cutting-edge ideas in innovation and growth policy, and discussed how to develop and support these in practice.

We also held an IGL Research Meeting day, during which academic researchers presented randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that they have undertaken looking at the drivers of innovation, entrepreneurship and growth. The talks ranged from design-stage interventions to completed trials, presented by advanced PhD students, such as Rembrand Koning, to established researchers, such as David McKenzie.

On the final day of the conference, the Policy & Practice Learning Lab, we focused on the practical challenges faced by policy makers and practitioners. The small-scale sessions covered topics such as the skills needed by innovation agencies, strategies for embedding these skills into the workforce, and the use of challenge prizes to catalyse targeted innovation. The day also included the launch of a Nesta report, “How innovation agencies work: International lessons to inspire and inform national strategies”.

In the next few weeks we will be publishing blogs building on some of the themes that came through in the conference sessions, and digging deeper into some of the questions that participants asked through Sli.Do. As a starting point, this blog offers three learnings we took away from the three days.

1. There is a lot more room for experimentation in innovation and growth policy

The audience represented over 25 different countries, each with their own set of challenges in innovation and growth support. But all of them agreed on one thing: there was more room for experimentation in this field.

The current paradigm is to come up with new policies, assume they work, and roll them out at a large scale, only to then check (if at all) whether they had the intended effect. In order to avoid spending large amounts of funding without much knowledge on the impact, the alternative is to start small, pilot programmes and policies at a small-scale, tweaking them where necessary along the way. Rigorous evaluations can be embedded in this process so that programmes that work are scaled up.

At the conference we heard about how other fields have been moving in this direction. Iqbal Dhaliwal presented the work of J-PAL, an organisation that has conducted over 700 randomised evaluations on development programmes since its founding in 2003. Closer to home, Sir Kevan Collins discussed how the Education Endowment Foundation has carried out RCTs in 7,500 schools in the UK. In comparison, the trials database we have put together at IGL, which holds trials on innovation entrepreneurship and growth, only contains about 65 trials at the moment - and most of them are undertaken in developing countries.

2. Policy makers and practitioners want to experiment - but the status quo is holding them back

So why is it that, despite a will to experiment, this field is still lagging behind? When we asked conference participants in a live poll, they answered that the largest barrier holding back experimentation is the status quo. In order to break through this institutional inertia, there must be champions within ministries, public organisations, and intermediaries that believe in the power of experimentation and evidence.

IGL was created precisely to support these champions and their organisations through capacity building, developing trials, as well as translating and disseminating evidence. We are already working with a number of our IGL Partners to identify policy questions that can be answered using an RCT and to help them with subsequent trial development.

3. There is a lot more to be done in bridging the gap between academics and policy makers

Finally, it became clear that while academics are increasingly using experimental methods in their research on innovation and growth, not much of that is being used to inform policy. This means that there is a lot of untapped potential to bring together researchers and policy makers to solve, experiment and evaluate new policies for innovation and growth.

The conference itself was a very useful first step to bring together these two communities, both to present current research as well as to build connections for collaboration. IGL will also continue to use its unique position between policy and academia to create new evidence, for instance by developing new trials with our partners or by funding researchers through our IGL Grants Programme. We will also be disseminating useful insights from existing research, and connecting academics with policy makers.

What’s next

Building on this first edition, our aim is to make the conference an annual event. In the coming weeks we will be publishing short blogs on other themes and questions that have arisen throughout the conference. We look forward to your comments and thoughts on these. To make sure you are the first to hear about these blogs and other IGL news, please join our newsletter here.

For a quick summary of the three days, check out our Storify or check out the post-conference video.

Many thanks to our event partners, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the World Bank.

This blog was originally posted on the Innovation Growth Lab website. Read the original blog.


Teo Firpo

Teo Firpo

Teo Firpo

Senior Researcher, Innovation Growth Lab

Teo is a Senior Researcher for the Innovation Growth Lab in Nesta’s Research, Analysis and Policy unit.

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Lou-Davina Stouffs

Lou-Davina Stouffs

Lou-Davina Stouffs

Senior Progamme Manager, Innovation Growth Lab

Lou-Davina was a Research and Programme Manager for the Innovation Growth Lab (IGL) in Nesta's Research, Analysis and Policy unit.

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