Nesta in 2012: the highlights

www.nesta.org.uk/press-release/nesta-in-2012-the-highlights/
Skip to content

In a year that marked the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and an Olympic summer that will be remembered for decades to come, we were also hard at work here at Nesta supporting and showcasing the best examples of innovation across the creative, financial and public spheres.

As is characteristic at this time of year, we've put together a brief round-up of 2012, showcasing some of our highlights from the past 12 months.

In July we released the latest version of our Innovation Index revealing a £24billion collapse in innovation investment since the start of the recession. Even more worryingly, our research highlighted that this 'innovation strike' had begun long before the financial crisis. In fact, the UK economy had experienced a 'lost decade' of innovation. Our Innovation Index showed UK businesses experienced a crisis of confidence in the 2000s, prioritising cash and concrete over investment in innovation.

In 2011, working with the Arts Councils and AHRC, we launched a pilot programme for digital research & development for arts and cultural organisations. The pilot programme resulted in eight projects being formed through collaboration between arts/cultural organisations, tech companies and researchers. Following the fantastic success of the pilot programme, this year we launched the £7million Digital R&D Fund for the Arts. The Fund, which will run until 2015, is supporting research and development projects using digital technology to enhance their audience reach or explore new business models. If you're interested in applying to the fund, you can find out more about it here.

Our Innovation in Giving Fund, supported by the Cabinet Office, celebrated its first birthday this year. The £10million programme is supporting projects and organisations that have the potential to substantially increase the amount of giving - that could be money, time, resources or skills. We supported 52 fantastic projects through our two open calls and this month announced a further nine projects we're funding through the Open Innovation Programme. This strand of the Innovation in Giving Fund is supporting larger charities that are adapting or adopting existing innovations to combat current challenges facing the sector. You can read profiles on all of these projects on the dedicated Innovation in Giving website.

Last Christmas we partnered with the Observer to find and celebrate the people and organisations behind the radical new solutions to the major challenges we face. Britain's 50 New Radicals celebrated the inspiring people or organisations that have come up with ingenious, practical and scalable ways of tackling challenges in areas such as health, education, unemployment, aging, community regeneration and wellbeing. We received hundreds of nominations which our panel of judges whittled down to a list of just 50 - unveiled in the Observer in February. You can browse through the entire list of inspirational people and organisations here.

To mark the start of 2012, Nesta did a spot of future gazing, and set out 12 predictions for 2012. Spanning the tech, retail and entertainment industries as well as business and the public sector, our predictions series proved so popular we've decided to do it all again this year, as well as provide a round-up on what we got right for 2012, and where we were landed a little short of the mark!   

One of our 12 predictions for 2012 was that this year would be one of frugal innovation. To prove our point, we published the Our Frugal Future report in July exploring the policies, institutions and industries that are driving research and innovation in India. The research uncovered a distinctive specialism of the Indian system - frugal innovation, which responds to limitations in resources, whether financial, material or institutional, and using a range of methods, turns these constraints into an advantage. We highlighted 10 such frugal innovations here, ranging from Dr Devi Shetty's pioneering model foraffordable heart surgery to Bharti Airtel's approach to cutting the cost of mobile phone calls.

This year we continued with the work of our Creative Councils programme, which is supporting local authorities that are radically re-thinking the role of local government, and how they transform services to meet some of today's biggest challenges. In 2011 we received 137 applications for the programme from which we identified 17 of promise. In May of this year we had the agonising task of selecting just six to work with, helping them to move beyond ideas and put their innovations into practice. We believe the six local authorities we've selected are worthy of national attention and we hope that by working with them to develop their ideas, we can spark real change in local government.

This summer the Centre for Challenge Prizes launched its first challenges - starting with prizes to encourage more people to get on their bikes, supported by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills. Our Hands Off My Bike challenge (which is still open for entries) will reward the best idea to prevent bicycle theft with £50,000. We're also now working with finalists from our Giving Challenge Prizes, in partnership with the Cabinet Office, to develop innovative ideas to reduce waste and isolation in old age. Other Centre for Challenge Prizes partnerships include the UNDP and the European Commission.

Working with the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), and leading figures from the world of science and technology, we've launched a campaign urging the government to reinvest the proceeds of the of the UK's 4G spectrum auction in science and tech. Nearly 2,000 people have already pledged their support for the 4Growth campaign, including Dr Ben Goldacre and physicist and BBC broadcaster Brian Cox.

We continued our popular Hot Topics series this year with three more events. Kicking off the year's topics we looked at the quantified self - the measuring, logging and sharing of human and physical metrics. Biomimicry was the subject up for debate in July as we discussed the use of nature as inspiration for solving today's creative, design and engineering problems. We ended the year's series drawing inspiration from the phenomenal popularity of the summer's Paralympic games and asked whether novel technologies in prosthetics and bionics have the potential to provide superhuman capabilities.

By far and away, the most popular of Our predictions for 2012 was our assertion that this year would be dominated by the release of Raspberry Pi. The credit card sized computer, which retails at less than the price of your average video game, has been credited with rekindling the public's appetite for home programming. At the time, Jon Kingsbury dubbed it the 'wildcard entry' for our prediction series, but within months of release the devices were selling in the hundreds of thousands. Nesta ended a year of Raspberry Pi revelry with a 24-hour hackathon in December. We asked 100 developers, each armed with a Pi and an SD card, to team up and create a Code Club project that could be made by primary school pupils.

Our flagship publication of 2012 was Plan I, which set out 12 recommendations to kick-start sustainable innovation-led growth and counter the innovation strike of the last decade. Recommendations included using the proceeds for the auction of the 4G spectrum to fund innovation in science, technology and engineering; creating a new generation of Digital Makers that can code, design and programme games as opposed to merely consuming them; and removing barriers to entrepreneurship with measures such as changing the immigration cap to welcome skilled individuals and recasting regulation to encourage new market entry.

That's just a snapshot of what we worked on here at Nesta in 2012. Over the next 12 months we'll be continuing to invest and support innovative projects through our Innovation in Giving and Digital R&D funds, and developing our programme of work around Digital Education.

Look out for our upcoming Manifesto for the Creative Economy in the New Year. There'll also be plenty more Hot Topics events looking at the technological tools that will change our lives in the next few years. We'll soon be releasing details of a major event in the autumn which will focus on what our world might look like in 30-50 years' time. And last but not least, we're currently hard at work developing a brand new website for Nesta which we'll hopefully be ready to unveil by the end of the summer!

To make sure you're kept up-to-date with all the latest news from our programmes, events and publications, sign up to the Nesta newsletter at the bottom of the page.