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.

Bringing a great new idea to life – and then to the scale where it can realise its potential value – can be a long and incredibly difficult journey. Over the last decade, Nesta has been researching, testing, developing and spreading the methods that, at each phase of the journey, can improve the chances of success.

Building on our prior work with innovation methods, we wanted to explore what’s coming next. Novel innovation methods are important because they underpin much economic growth and social progress, and can help tackle growing concerns that the pace of new discoveries may be slowing.

What, then, are the emerging methods that can reshape the way we support and manage innovation across business, science, civil society, and government? And how can organisations like Nesta help develop and spread these promising prospects to those who can apply them for greatest good?

To answer these questions, we reviewed innovation management literature from new and emerging sources, before undertaking in-depth interviews with a group of more than 35 leading thinkers, innovators and supporters of innovation across a wide range of sectors.

Great ideas can come from anywhere, so our interviewees included people with backgrounds in everything from space exploration to design, artificial intelligence, international development, psychology, software and public service reform. We purposefully sought out views from those embedded in a range of geographies – from Cambridge and New York to Shenzhen and Nairobi.

From our interviews, we identified three emergent groups of novel practices:

New ways in which emerging technologies are being used to enable and speed innovation

New ways of organising for innovation and shaping activity across teams

  • Fostering neurodiversity in teams: Increased neurodiversity – via recruiting individuals with a wide range of neurological differences, such as autism – is gaining traction as an opportunity for building more diverse and creative innovation teams.
  • Scaling 'Agile' management approaches to entire organisations and new sectors: Agile project management approaches that were created by software development teams are now being scaled across entire organisations and new sectors to facilitate innovation management.
  • Neuroleadership and management: New measurement tools are enabling a deeper understanding of our own neurology. These tools are being used to help us develop the skills of innovation leaders to better navigate complexity and uncertainty.

New approaches to optimising resource allocation to maximise the success and impact of innovation processes

  • Reducing bias in funding decisions: With growing fears that innovation funding is biased towards incumbent approaches and populations, novel methods of decision-making are being explored. These methods can ensure that innovation funding both supports bolder ideas and is fairer and more efficient.
  • Hacking public procurement: New public procurement methods like Netflix-style subscription models for antibiotics and digital technologies are emerging to help governments purchase innovation.
  • Radical decentralisation and the token economy: Building on the decentralised protocols of crypto-currencies, digital tokens are enabling new organisational forms, as well as bringing new economic incentives into markets which otherwise would not be viable, thus enabling innovative value creation.

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We are grateful to all of our contributors for taking part in this horizon scan. We would particularly like to thank the innovation practice Brink, with which we collaborated on some of this research.

Find out more about the nine emerging innovation methods we identified below: