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.

Innovation Brokerage

This report examines how ‘digital innovation brokerage’ aims to connect ideas, people, organisations, and communities through digital technologies.

Innovation rarely happens through the actions of a single person or organisation. More often, it is the result of collaboration and the exchange of ideas. Yet the role of intermediaries that bring innovators together is frequently overlooked, despite digital technologies offering new ways of connecting.

We’ve investigated this under-explored field and found that digital tools can make important contributions across the four brokerage phases (Prepare, Search, Align, Support). To ensure novel ideas benefit people more quickly, we recommend that policy-makers do more to recognise the importance of digital innovation brokerage and support the field.

Looking to the future, we speculate that digital technologies have the potential to change the nature of innovation brokerage in four main ways:

  • Lowering the relative costs of different parts of innovation brokerage, particularly in the Search phase.
  • Reducing vertical integration within digital innovation brokerage so that different phases are offered by different providers.
  • Breaking down existing barriers to collaboration allowing smaller or resource-poor organisations to participate.
  • Increasing the role and power of brokers as their networks and capabilities grow, enhanced by digital technologies.

Policy recommendations

  • Policy-makers should recognise the importance of digital brokerage by publicly committing to consolidating the field, integrating digital brokerage into the policy mix, sign-posting these tools to innovators, coordinating activity and supporting professional networks.
  • Public funding should be used to create tools to fill gaps in digital innovation brokerage and understand how best to use digital tools for brokerage where the market is not providing solutions. This should prioritise understanding the most suitable roles and relationships for humans and machines in brokerage – especially in the Align phase, which is currently relatively under-explored despite the opportunities it presents.
  • Data for innovation brokerage should be improved through responsibly making relevant public data more open, implementing appropriate data standards and providing suitable metadata. Doing so will help unlock brokerage opportunities in areas like the IP market.
  • The public sector should experiment with digital innovation brokerage by making greater use of existing and emerging digital brokerage tools to improve public services, enhance innovation and support the emerging field of innovation brokerage. One immediate opportunity is in the public procurement of innovation.


Laurie Smith

Laurie Smith

Laurie Smith

Head of Foresight Research, Discovery Hub

Laurie leads on strategic foresight for Nesta.

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Christopher Haley

Christopher Haley

Christopher Haley

Head of New Technology & Startup Research

Chris led Nesta's research interests into how startups and new technologies can drive economic growth, and what this means for businesses, intermediaries and for the government.

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