NESTA Report Highlights U.K. Innovation Outside the Science Lab


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New report from NESTA identifies importance of hidden innovation to UK plc and public services

28 June 2007, London, UK —- A new report from the National Endowment for Science, Technology & the Arts(NESTA) ( urges business and government to recognise the innovation that occurs outside of the science lab in a bid to boost its impact on the UK economy and maximise competitiveness in the 21st Century.

Hidden Innovation‘ takes an in-depth look at how innovation occurs in six sectors that are not traditionally perceived as innovative and perform poorly against traditional indicators such as spend on research and development (R&D) and the number of patents produced: oil production, retail banking, educationeducation, construction, legal aid and prisoner rehabilitation.

The danger, according to NESTA, is that where innovation is not being measured, it may be overlooked and its potential will go unrealised. It cites ‘modern methods of construction’ (MMC) as one example – this innovative approach is only used in 4% of new builds despite the potential it has for improved standards and cost-savings.

From the seismic sensors which promise to increase recovery from oil fields by one billion barrels to the gas fitters training programme at Reading prison which has cut the number of young people re-offending from 70 to just 10 per cent, the report makes the benefits of hidden innovation clear and suggests how it should be taken into account.

To this end, the report urges government to call for more evidence on how innovation happens in all sectors that are critical to the UK economy. At the same time it stresses the proactive role industry must play, arguing that to develop a full innovation strategy requires a level of sectoral understanding that only industry can provide. NESTA is exploring ways in which it can work with individual sectors to maximise their potential for innovation.

Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Alistair Darling, commented, “Innovation is key to Britain’s future and at the centre of our approach is creating a climate where innovation can flourish. Innovation in the wider economy, including in our services sector, has been too often a well-kept secret and we have a chance to change that. It is a vital driver to ensure we’re a world-leading economy. It’s the way we’ll stay in front in the future.”

According to NESTA CEO Jonathan Kestenbaum, it’s time we caught up with the realities of innovation in all areas of today’s society. He explains, “It’s clear we need to develop policy that supports innovation beyond its traditional home in science and technology, and be more sensitive to other contributing factors. This change should be driven not just by government but by business leaders across all UK sectors who must also commit to recognising, measuring and promoting innovation”.

At the same time, NESTA lays out a clear blueprint for government to facilitate this broader innovation agenda. This, it suggests, should see:

– Innovation policy explicitly extended beyond the historic bounds of science and technology policy

– All government departments given a brief to be innovative themselves and to act to stimulate or be hospitable to innovation elsewhere in the economy

– A senior departmental home for innovation within or closely linked to the department primarily responsible for the productivity of the economy

According to Kestenbaum, recognising ‘hidden innovation’ and taking steps to improve upon it will be vital to our future success, “too many people still see innovation as the exclusive reserve of scientists and in doing this they overlook our broader capacity for innovation in the UK. Without the right kind of support ‘hidden innovation‘ will remain just that – one teacher in one classroom pioneering a new approach or a bank making incremental improvements that might ultimately lead to a new service. The challenge for all of us is to harness and stimulate this innovation for social and economic gain”.

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