Foreword: Ravi Gurumurthy, Chief Executive
Nesta’s purpose has always been to support innovation for social good. In our new strategy, that purpose remains constant but the way we achieve it will change substantially.
Over the last decade, we have been focused on demonstrating and growing the potential of innovation methods, by funding and researching innovation, codifying work into tools and guides used widely by practitioners, and incubating new organisations that fill critical gaps in capability.
The next challenge is to show how these approaches and capabilities can translate into large-scale, life-changing impact.
In this next chapter then, Nesta will be more focused and mission-driven. We will concentrate our resources on addressing three defining societal challenges: how we can give every child a fairer start, how we can help people to live healthier lives; and how we can build a more sustainable economy.
The test of our success as an organisation will be whether we make a difference to measurable outcomes across areas like educational attainment, obesity and carbon reduction. In each, we will set bold objectives that may seem unrealistically ambitious, but which we hope will act as a lodestar that lifts our sight.
We will also work in new ways, concentrating on playing three different roles.
Firstly, as an innovation partner, we will form long-term partnerships with anchor institutions to understand a problem and the opportunities it poses. We will deploy teams of designers, behavioural scientists and data scientists to design new solutions and business models and test them rigorously. We will work with private and voluntary organisations as well as public sector organisations to see things through to scale. This will involve building a network of early adopters, while also working with government and regulators to enable widespread adoption.
While it is essential to support existing institutions to grow and change, new entrants are a key contributor to innovation, particularly where solutions require new business models, or can be delivered by technology-enabled products rather than services. So in our second role, as a venture builder, we will support the creation of new businesses and the growth of existing early stage ventures. By providing investment, skills and expertise, and a path to market, we will develop new ideas, find the right teams to found and lead new ventures, and provide the scaffolding required to substantially increase the likelihood of success.
Finally, we will work as what might be called a system shaper - ensuring that the funding, policies and institutions, particularly within our mission areas, are conducive to learning and innovation. From capability gaps in the design and testing of new solutions to procurement rules that impede the emergence and spread of better solutions, we will, through our work in each mission, be able to identify these issues and help create environments that nurture innovation more successfully.
Delivering these roles will require us to use our existing expertise and networks, as well as grow new capabilities. We helped establish the Behavioural Insights Team as a leading social enterprise and model for behavioural science internationally, and plan to work closely with them in delivering our missions. We will also harness the skills and networks of three enterprises that we have incubated over the last decade: Nesta Challenges, the Innovation Growth Lab, and People Powered Results, which will continue to thrive, working on a fully-commercial basis in sectors and places that are broader than the focus of this strategy.
At every stage of Nesta’s history, we have reinvented ourselves to address the challenges and opportunities of the time.
Our new strategy will require new skills and partnerships and fresh ways of working. It will require us to be diverse in the skills and perspectives we bring together, and cut across the usual boundaries of the public, private and voluntary sectors, and the divisions between academia, industry and government. We look forward to learning with you as we set out on our next journey.
Ravi Gurumurthy, Chief Executive, Nesta
Today’s society is rich in resources: immense human and cultural capital, a wealth of data and an increasing role for social returns in the allocation of finances. In the face of huge societal challenges, Nesta’s optimism lies in the opportunity we see to harness these resources of people, data, finances and culture. By finding new ways of using and combining them, we can unlock their potential.
The actions and behaviours of citizens and frontline practitioners are among the biggest determinants of health, learning and economic wellbeing. Over the past decade, our shared understanding of the drivers of human behaviour, including the effects of environment and context in shaping choice, has expanded tremendously (with further learning to come as the focus of the behavioural sciences expands from individuals to groups and communities). Nesta has helped use this knowledge to design engaging, effective services, for example by investing in the Behavioural Insights Team and FutureGov, and by incubating the People Powered Results enterprise. Yet still public policy pays insufficient attention to the drivers of behaviour, leaving countless opportunities to harness and strengthen motivations and capabilities and create more supportive choice environments and more user-friendly services.
A data revolution is taking place in almost every part of our economy and society. There is immense potential to push the boundaries of how data is used in public services and social movements – such as identifying problems earlier using predictive analytics, matching resources with needs more accurately, tailoring services in highly personalised ways and combining human and machine intelligence at scale.
Both private capital and public investment can be used more effectively to drive impact. Nesta has used alternative finance (impact investing, repayable grants and challenge prizes) to increase our impact, and will continue to do so. However, significant unfulfilled potential remains. For example, procurement rules often strangle innovation, leaving an untapped opportunity for public and private procurement to support the initiation and scaling of good ideas. Meanwhile, shifting resources from treatment to prevention on issues such as obesity could result in a step change in health outcomes.
We know that arts and culture can inspire, mobilise and reshape how people think about the world. Countless films, exhibits and concerts have stirred our collective consciousness, moving communities into action. But, too often, we overlook this power. Nesta has brought support and investment to the creative industries (including through the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre and the Arts and Culture Impact Fund) but there remains untapped power to reframe our work, shape opinion and galvanise action.