The growing role of government in innovation

The British government has established innovation as a central economic focus and has created several organizations to help drive its adoption by businesses in the UK.

During some recent research, I came across some very interesting innovation developments now happening in England. The British government has established innovation as a central economic focus. It has created organizations to serve as catalysts or as network connectors between investment sources, education, industry and public agencies to stimulate advances in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in order to drive long-term economic growth.

The government’s goal is to help make the connections that will make their business base stronger and their public services more effective. In the UK, science and innovation is a cabinet level position; the leading department was called the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills (DUIS). In June, 2009 the DIUS was reorganized into the Department For Business Innovation and Skills (BIS). A DUIS white paper named, “Innovation Nation” was published in March 2008 and set out the government’s aim to make the UK the best place in the world to run an innovative business or public service. The interactive version of this report can be found here

The DUIS has begun publishing an annual innovation report that details progress in the following areas:

  • National innovation performance
  • Research, Knowledge exchange and business innovation
  • Internal investment and international collaboration in science and innovation
  • Skills for innovation
  • Public sector demand for innovation and procurement policies
  • A series of innovation case studies.

The innovation community should be asking ourselves what role governments have in innovation. BusinessWeek’s Bruce Nussbaum has written multiple times about this topic. While I am an advocate of smaller government, I do believe that with the complexity of society today and the globalization of economies, government can play an important role in stimulating collaboration and focusing education programs on producing higher skilled people that will enter a complex work environment.

This doesn’t have to mean bigger government, but could mean re-focused government. A June 15, 2009 BusinessWeek cover story discussed its view that U.S. innovation has failed to realize its promise and may be a major contributor to the current economic crisis.

As stated in its documents, the DUIS/BIS is working with partners from the commercial, public and voluntary sectors to accomplish the following:

  • Accelerate the commercial exploitation of creativity and knowledge, through innovation and research, to create wealth, grow the economy, build successful businesses and improve quality of life.
  • Improve the skills of the population throughout their working lives to create a workforce capable of sustaining economic competitiveness, and enable individuals to thrive in the global economy.
  • Build social and community cohesion through improved social justice, civic participation and economic opportunity by raising aspirations and broadening participation, progression and achievement in learning and skills.
  • Pursue global excellence in research and knowledge, promote the benefits of science in society, and deliver science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills in line with employer demand.
  • Strengthen the capacity, quality and reputation of the Further and Higher Education systems and institutions to support national economic and social needs.
  • Encourage better use of science in government, foster public service innovation, and support other Government objectives.

Another UK organization to watch is the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA), which is in the process of creating an innovation index. NESTA delivers practical programs to help British innovation flourish by providing innovators with access to early stage capital and by driving forward research into innovation, with a view to influencing policy.

NESTA is not only focused on the UK but is also supporting innovation efforts throughout Europe. In my opinion, this current economic recession is an inflection point across the entire global economy. All countries are inter-related now, and I believe this trend will continue to grow. There are flows of relationships, capital, intellectual property, supplies, workers and other resources that span the globe, and it is probably a good idea to see the U.S. learn from its allies and competitors in supporting its innovation efforts.