Our work in innovation policy

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Our response

Our work helps governments and other decision makers support innovation for growth and for good. We believe in the importance of supporting innovation that drives economic growth, but also of directing innovation to society’s most important problems, shaping the application of new ideas and technologies in a way that benefits as many people as possible.

What we want to see

Innovation policies that are smarter, more inclusive and fit for the future.

  • Smarter…in the way they use evidence, experimentation and data.
  • More inclusive…in the way they benefit, involve and listen to the public.
  • Fit for the future…in the way they anticipate and exploit new global trends in technology and innovation.

How we work

We never work alone. We’ve worked extensively within the UK innovation system, and with partners in over 30 countries: the UK government, and the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; national governments in the UAE, Chile, Canada, India, Malaysia, Denmark, Netherlands, Australia and Finland; Innovate UK; Tech City UK; the European Commission; the OECD, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank; Manchester, Oxford and Cambridge Universities; UK Research Councils; the Kauffman Foundation; Bloomberg Philanthropies; Pearson; Google; KPMG; the Lisbon Council; and 100%Open.

Nesta has always been a champion of innovation, but innovation policies are failing.

Innovation policies aren’t giving us the returns we need for the economy or society. We see this in low business investment in R&D, stagnant productivity growth and failed clusters. There is limited opportunity to benefit from, participate in and shape innovation.

We also have very little understanding of what policies are working, and, despite a pressing need to anticipate fast moving global innovation and technology trends, innovation policy is one of the least innovative areas of public policy.

There’s growing consensus of the need for systemic change, but limited understanding of how to achieve it.

More and better directed innovation is essential to our future prosperity, which is why we champion innovation policy that is smarter, more inclusive and fit for the future.

Download our PDF brochure about Our work in innovation policy

Innovation policies


In the way they use evidence, experimentation and data

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More inclusive

In the way they benefit, involve and listen to the public

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Fit for the future

In the way they anticipate and exploit new global trends in technology and innovation

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Our goals: By 2021, Nesta will have…

demonstrated how to support innovation in ways that are smarter, more inclusive and fit for the future.


We will have enabled governments to make smarter policy choices, and to better target innovation policy interventions by:

  • Improving the poor evidence base, seeding a culture of rigorous policy experimentation and learning from around the world, including through the work of our Innovation Growth Lab, and applying it to important policy challenges like stagnant productivity growth.
  • Using our investment in innovation mapping to pioneer new ways of measuring and visualising innovation activity, demonstrating why others should invest in these methods too, and how to do it well.

More inclusive

We will have demonstrated that innovation policy has an important role to play in creating prosperity and wellbeing for everyone by:

  • Increasing participation in innovation through new methods like challenge prizes and building a more diverse community of innovators.
  • Championing creative ways to involve the public in decisions about innovation, from setting priorities for public spending to debating the tradeoffs of innovation and new technologies.
  • Exploring how innovation policies can be better targeted to promoting social wellbeing and addressing social challenges, and how to ensure the benefits of innovation reach those communities who need it most.

Fit for the future

We will have helped policymakers to understand, test and implement new approaches so that governments are better able to support and shape emerging technologies, industries and global relationships for thriving economies and societies.

  • Researching new ideas and practices from around the world, building the evidence of what works and why
  • Testing these methods in our own work, and building a community of expertise through our projects
  • Creating opportunities for debate and analysis – helping governments and others to best exploit emerging trends in technology and international relations for economic and social benefit.

If you’d like to find out more about Nesta’s work in innovation policy, please contact us at: [email protected].