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When Small is Beautiful: Lessons from highly innovative smaller countries

When it comes to innovation, big countries loom large in the popular imagination. But smaller countries can innovate too. This report looks at implications for Scotland.

When it comes to innovation, big countries loom large in the popular imagination. But smaller countries can innovate too. This report looks at implications for Scotland.

Key Findings

We looked at how innovation happens in five countries with populations of less than ten million, focusing on Finland, Estonia, Israel, Singapore and the Basque Country. Five themes for smaller countries emerge from looking at these case studies:

  • The importance of downstream innovation, not just basic research
  • Openness to the world, its ideas and opportunities
  • A government whose wider policies support innovation and technology
  • Strong but flexible institutions
  • A sense of national mission

For Scotland, the report outlines some challenges in pursuing innovation-led growth, which would apply to either a yes or no response in the referendum on independence:

  • How to balance a cohesive national vision for innovation with an economy open to the world
  • How to do downstream innovation well in a country with a reputation for great upstream research
  • How to embrace public and social innovation
  • How to create adaptive, effective innovation institutions

Authors
Jen Rae and Stian Westlake

Authors

Jen Rae

Jen Rae

Jen Rae

Head of UK Innovation Policy at Nesta

Jen Rae is a policy advisor on innovation and economic growth for Nesta’s Policy and Research team. She is responsible for producing evidence-based policy from Nesta’s wide range of ...

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Stian Westlake

Stian Westlake

Stian Westlake

Executive Director of Policy and Research

Stian led Nesta's Policy and Research team. His research interests included the measurement of innovation and its effects on productivity, the role of high-growth businesses in the e...

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