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.

How does innovation mapping work?

A community of leading-edge researchers and companies are using new techniques to measure and map innovation. Here are some of the tools we use in our work at Nesta:

  • We identify burning policy questions and evidence needs using structured methods for stakeholder engagement. In our project, mapping health innovation, this involved developing user personas that have guided us through data collection, analysis and visualisation.
  • We collect data from business websites, open repositories about scientific research and social media websites to get a timelier and more detailed picture of how innovation happens. For example, our map of the Immersive Economy of the UK identified companies using Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality technologies through the descriptions in their websites.
  • We analyse millions of descriptions of innovation using Natural Language Processing (NLP) methods to better understand the technologies used and the problems addressed. We recently used this approach to identify AI research in a repository with hundreds of thousands of papers, which we then mapped to identify hotspots of AI R&D activity.
  • We use network science to visualise the structure of collaboration networks, identify gaps between communities and recommend interventions to encourage the exchange of ideas. In Creative Nation, this helped to understand networks of collaboration between universities and creative businesses across the UK.
  • We present the findings using interactive visualisations that help users answer their own questions and drill down into those locations and sectors that interest them most. (For example, see our Arloesiadur project.

Nesta's work on innovation mapping

Nesta is attempting to transform innovation policy with new data sources, analytic methods and ways of communicating insights. This is an area where we are quickly developing a track record of original research.

In 2010, Nesta published the research report, Creative Clusters and Innovation: putting creativity on the map, which mapped the UK’s creative clusters. This showed where they are located geographically, which sectors form them, and what their role is in the wider innovation ecosystem.

In 2014, we created A Map of the UK Games Industry. Here, a big data approach was used to measure and map the UK games industry and track its evolution over time. It found that the games industry is much larger than previously thought – almost 2,000 games companies in 12 key hubs of game-making activity were mapped across the UK.

Later in 2016, we developed The Geography of Creativity in the UK report, in partnership with Creative England. This study found that creative industries are increasingly important to local economies across the UK and mapped the 47 main creative clusters, helping to identify that there was a 28 per cent growth in creative employment between 2007 and 2014.

In the same year, Nesta and Tech City, in partnership with Growth Intelligence, published the Tech Nation report, providing a comprehensive analysis of the UK’s digital tech industries. To gain comprehensive insight into digital employment, we analysed government data, job advertisements, and official ONS data. This data helped map the impact of the digital technology economy on wider business, employment, and economic trends.

Case studies

In early 2018, Nesta launched Creative Nation, the latest output in a long line of projects mapping the creative industries in the UK. As part of this, Nesta published a report, an interactive visualisation and an open dataset to maximise the usefulness of the work for many different audiences. The analysis in Creative Nation has helped unlock £64m of investment in the creative industries from the Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The report presents eight key findings based on our analysis of the data, and is accompanied by an open dataset and interactive visualisation to help anybody explore the data.

Arloesiadur is a collaboration between Nesta and Welsh Government to map innovation in Wales. We have used new data to measure and visualise Wales’ industry, research and tech networks with the goal of informing government policies that drive growth.

Economists and policymakers recognise that innovation is one of the main ways to address the big challenges of our time. But to support innovation, we need to understand it first. In Arloesiadur (Innovation Directory in Welsh), Nesta has tried to create this data by using new data sources, data science methods and visualisations about about industrial, tech networking and research activity in Wales. In doing so, we aim to answer big questions about Wales’ industrial and research strengths, its collaboration networks and future economic opportunities.

In 2018, we launched The Immersive Economy in the UK. This report, commissioned by Immerse UK with funding from Innovate UK, provides hard data about the size of the sector, its performance, its geography, the drivers of success and the barriers to growth. Information was gathered and analysed by Nesta, with help from Glass – a startup with expertise in text mining from websites – and from strategy and research consultancy MTM London, through a combination of machine learning, a business survey and in-depth interviews.

Our analysis showed that immersive is already an economic reality in the UK, with around 1,000 immersive specialist companies in the UK employing around 4,500 people and generating £660 million in sales, potentially representing as much as 9 per cent of the global market share. We also showed that although much of the immersive activity is concentrated in London, there are hotspots of activity across the UK, including hotspots in Brighton, Bristol, Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester, Cambridge, Oxford and Edinburgh.

The analysis in the report is providing a valuable evidence base for ongoing policy interventions to support the immersive economy in the UK, including through the Audiences of the Future Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

Further resources