Innovating UK Innovation Policy

An funding body inspired by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in the US could make a valuable contribution to UK innovation if it takes a mission-led approach, reaches a wide pool of innovators and helps rebalance innovation across the UK. However, ARPA’s large budget and the specific circumstances of its formation will mean that its exact model will be difficult to replicate in a UK context.

ARPA was set up by the US government in 1958 and was a product of the race between superpowers. It played an important role in many of the great innovations of the last 50 years, from the Internet and the graphical user interface to GPS and self-driving cars. It makes big bets on breakthrough technologies – high-risk, high-payoff opportunities.

A funding body inspired by ARPA should be set up in the UK to:

  • Take a mission-based approach.
  • Reach a wider pool of innovators than existing funding mechanisms.
  • Help stimulate innovative economic activity outside of London and the South East.

Authors

Harry Farmer

Harry Farmer

Harry Farmer

Senior Policy Adviser, Inclusive Innovation

Harry worked to develop and advocate for policies to make the UK’s innovation economy fairer, more inclusive and more conducive to the public good.

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Madeleine Gabriel

Madeleine Gabriel

Madeleine Gabriel

Mission Director, A Sustainable Future mission

Madeleine leads Nesta’s mission to create A Sustainable Future, which focuses on decarbonisation and economic recovery.

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Chris Gorst

Chris Gorst

Chris Gorst

Challenge Director, Nesta Challenges

At Nesta Challenges, Chris's experience spans the public, commercial and social impact sectors and interactions between the three.

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Jen Rae

Jen Rae

Jen Rae

Head of UK Innovation Policy

Jen Rae is a policy advisor on innovation and economic growth for Nesta’s Policy and Research team.

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Olivier Usher

Olivier Usher

Olivier Usher

Head of Research and Evaluation, Nesta Challenges

Oli leads Nesta Challenges’ research team. He helps to identify promising areas for innovation and choose the most impactful focus for new prizes.

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