04 April 2007

How does innovation work?

Like many countries, the UK has been screaming about the need for innovation. It is the only way to make the economy grow, says the official line. So Gordon Brown and Tony Blair have vied with one another to make the right noises about innovation and the science that, they believe, will make it happen. Spending more on science may not have quite the same Daily Mail appeal as throwing cash at health and education, but it has come out at least as well as these sinks of taxpayers' money. And yet we don't really know how innovation works.

If we did there would be no reason for the Economic and Social Research Council to launch a new initiative: £2 million for Targeted Initiative on Innovation. The money will go to "eight different research projects focusing on innovation". Among the things they will investigate are, says the announcement:

  • How can the rate of innovation be increased to enhance economic growth and competitiveness, while the direction of innovation simultaneously steered to achieve social and environmental sustainability?
  • What are the options for public policy at different levels to increase innovation and steer towards such policy objectives?
  • What economic, social and managerial factors enable an economy such as the UK to best capture high value from increasingly global innovation processes?
  • How is it best to model and measure emergent innovation activities and systems?
All this is happening under the banner of the Advanced Institute of Management Research. As a part of the same package, AIM, as it calls itself, has also awarded seven Innovation Fellowships. one area that these people will delve into is that of innovation in the service sector, something that recently cropped up on the agenda when the UK's R&D Scoreboard suddenly added the sector to its number crunching.

As the ESRC announcement puts it "with over 75% of employment in the UK now being located in services, we need to enhance our understanding of service innovation".

Another topic for discussion is "green innovation". It isn't enough, it seems for innovative stuff to be "sustainable". We also need to look at how it happens. Or, as the announcement puts it "can the rate of innovation be balanced with the need to achieve environmentally and socially sustainable levels of innovation?"

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