• Public say economy, safety, health and climate should be UK innovation priorities
  • 67% say innovation spending should focus on making everywhere in the country better off even if that means slower growth for some
  • 81% say government should invest in ideas that will have impact on the widest possible group of people

The government has committed to doubling its innovation spending - to an estimated £18bn in this parliament(1) - and businesses are making it clear that support for innovation should be a key focus of next month’s budget(2). Yet, research released today shows the UK public want to see a social return, not just an economic one and take a hard look at how innovation funding is allocated and who benefits.

When asked to balance how the government should prioritise its investment in innovation, people had a clear preference for innovation with impact across the whole country -- 81% say government should invest in ideas that will have impact on the widest possible group.

The respondents said that innovation is currently more likely to benefit those with existing privileges like high-earners, people in cities and graduates.

People also said that innovation directed at solving social problems was key, even if the investment doesn’t necessarily have an economic impact with 65% supporting this approach. And, 67% said innovation spending should focus on making everywhere more prosperous even if that means slower growth for some.

The results reflect a trend towards ‘mission-led’ innovation where money, time and resources are directed towards solving society’s biggest problems, and benefits as many people as possible, with a greater focus on regional spending priorities.

The public has a clear view of how innovation resources -- at the heart of our industrial strategy -- should be allocated but the research shows there’s a lack of transparency and no channel for input, with 62% of the UK public say that they have little or no opportunity to shape the long-term future of the country.

The research makes clear that the UK public recognises the value of government investment in innovation. Examples of such investment include the government funded research that was key to the creation of the GPS and the world wide web, among other technologies that drive our modern society.

Nesta recommends that the government should:

  1. Direct R&D funding to tackle the challenges that really matter to people, like climate change, inequality and poor health
  2. Increase the impact of innovation at a local level by devolving more of the UK’s research and development budget to cities and regions,spreading the benefits of innovation across the UK.
  3. Become more transparent about how public money is spent on innovation and how these decisions are made, to justify to the public how innovation policy is improving people’s lives.
  4. Involve the public in meaningful conversations about the future and the role of innovation so that everyone can play a part in designing their futures.

Jen Rae, Nesta’s Head of UK Innovation Policy, said, “As the Government again considers who is responsible for what in Westminster, the public are clearly saying the UK lacks a long-term vision for the future. They want action on widening inequality, struggling public services and the global climate crisis and want the Government to prioritise these challenges in its plans for innovation spending.

“There is no clear picture of what the Government spends on R&D and innovation, so it’s no wonder that the public feel they are in the dark. It is essential that the new Chancellor sets out in the forthcoming Budget how the UK is directing its spending on innovation to justify to the public how innovation is improving everyone’s lives.

“The government must make use of new, often technology driven, ‘participatory’ futures techniques that are emerging and give everyone the opportunity to help design the world they want to see. This should include acting on the advice of business groups and devolving some decision-making to regions to decide how it is spent.”


Press contact - Will Hoyles, 07812 362714, [email protected]

Nesta_Press [email protected]

The full research is available at http://www.nesta.org.uk/report/uk-getting-innovation-right and researchers are available for interview.

1 - https://vote.conservatives.com/news/prime-minister-boris-johnson-cbi-conference-speech

2 - https://www.cbi.org.uk/media-centre/articles/historic-budget-brings-chance-for-uk-wide-surge-in-investment-cbi/

  • Britain Thinks conducted a survey of 3,838 adults in the UK online between 1 and 7 November 2019 and the data was weighted demographically to be representative of all UK adults aged 18+. In addition two deliberative workshops were held with members of the public to explore and evidence the survey findings. For more information: https://britainthinks.com
  • Example of mission-driven innovation: Nesta’s own Open Up Challenge created opportunities in open banking by accelerating the progress of startups like Coconut that provides easy banking for small businesses, and the Data Driven Farming Prize which aimed to find ways for data to support smallholder farmers and resulted in the creation of GEOKrishi which allows farmers in Nepal to combine satellite, government and crowdsourced data into usable advice.
  • In September 2019 Nesta made six recommendations for re-balancing the R&D spend: https://www.nesta.org.uk/blog/fuelling-future-uk-innovation/
  • Nesta’s Our futures: By the people for the people report outlines some of the participatory futures methods that government should embrace: https://www.nesta.org.uk/report/our-futures-people-people/

About Nesta

Nesta is a global innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better.

Over 20 years we’ve been tackling the big challenges facing society through research, evidence and policy, practical programmes, making grants and investments, and running experiments. We use these methods to make positive change happen where it matters to everyone, from the frontiers of personalised healthcare to stretched public services and a fast-changing jobs market.

Nesta is based in the UK and supported by a financial endowment. We work with partners around the globe to bring bold ideas to life to change the world for good.

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