Together with the Enterprise Research Centre, the Innovation Caucus was delighted to host another series of the Innovators’ Breakfast Club. The Innovators’ Breakfast Club brings together Innovate UK and UKRI staff with social science academics for an engaging early morning discussion on key issues in the UK’s innovation ecosystem. You can read about our first series here.
In these busy online times, we were grateful that participants not only made the time to join us each Wednesday at 08:15, but that they actively engaged in the lively discussions each morning. Once again the series was designed to feed into the ongoing work to develop Innovate UK’s new strategy, with our topics covering Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Levelling Up, Talent and Skills and Business Collaboration.
Each week a member of Innovate UK set the scene for us by providing an overview of current work and future plans on the relevant theme. The opening talks are then followed by 2-3 ‘provocations’ by Innovation Caucus and ERC members (and invited friends) – these are short talks that probe at the key issues at stake and bring in actionable research insights. The focal point of each morning is the discussion section, using participants’ questions from the chat box to further explore the key issues, chaired by Professor Tim Vorley (Innovation Caucus Academic Lead).
We would like to thank everyone who provided spoke (full list below) or joined the discussions and a special thank you to Debbie Johnson, Dr Geeta Nathan (Innovate UK) and Dr Vicki Belt (ERC) for all their work behind the scenes. If you participated in one ore more the Breakfast Club sessions we would appreciate your feedback via the evaluation form you received or you are very welcome to get in touch to discuss directly.
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (30.09.20)
- Dr Emily Nott (Innovate UK)
- Dr Beldina Owalla (University of Sheffield)
- Professor Helen Lawton Smith (Birkbeck, University of London)
- Professor Monder Ram (Aston University)
Levelling Up (07.10.20)
- Dean Cook (Innovate UK)
- Professor David Charles (Northumbria University)
- Professor Philip McCann (University of Sheffield)
Talent and Skills (14.10.20)
- Joanna Burgess (Innovate UK)
- Dr Tamara Friedrich (University of Warwick)
- Professor Bruce Tether (University of Manchester)
- Stewart Miller (Innovate UK)
- Dr Chris Haley (Nesta)
- Professor Ammon Salter (University of Bath)
The ESRC have invited applications for a Manufacturing Made Smarter Research Director. The Research Director will ensure that social and economic science insights are accessed across the MMS challenge and wider UK manufacturing sector. For further details see the ESRC webpages.
The Innovation Caucus was pleased to support a ‘town hall’ style webinar for any individuals who were interested to hear more about the role.
At the event participants heard from a current Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund Research Director (Professor Judith Phillips – Healthy Ageing Challenge), a current Network+ Director (Professor Jacqueline Glass – Transforming Construction Network+), the MMS Challenge Director (Chris Courtney) and the ESRC MMS Senior Manager (Daniel Robinson). The presentations provided participants with further details about the role and the MMS challenge, but also valuable practical insights from academics who have been working to make an impact with similar programme structures. Professor Tim Vorley (Innovation Caucus Academic Lead) chaired a panel discussion to allow participants to ask further questions.
Many thanks to all of our speakers.
Applications close on 25 November 2020 16:00 UK time
Featured photo: ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash.
UPDATE: Series 2 Begins on Wednesday 30th September (Please note that these events are only open to UKRI, Innovation Caucus and Enterprise Research Centre staff). Please contact Phil Wallace (email@example.com) for details.
Over the summer Innovate UK, the Innovation Caucus and the Enterprise Research Centre joined forces to create the ‘Innovators’ Breakfast Club’. Bright and early each Wednesday morning for 5 weeks, staff from across Innovate UK and UKRI arrived coffee-in-hand to participate in an engaging discussion with colleagues and social science experts. Innovation Caucus members enjoyed contributing expert insights and the latest evidence in lively discussions each week, providing food for thought as Innovate UK develop their new strategy.
Topics like ‘Foreign Direct Investment’ might seem too heavy to tackle while you’re still finishing off your toast, but over 50 people logged in each week, filling the chat box with insights and intelligent questions. Each event began with an outline of that week’s strategic theme presented by an Innovate UK / UKRI colleague with a level of responsibility for that area. These opening thoughts, often covering the existing work programmes and the emerging vision for the future, were followed by 2-3 of what we like to term ‘provocations’ provided by Innovation Caucus and ERC academic members (and invited guests). Provocations are short and punchy presentations, which prompt and probe at the key areas – bringing research insights to bear on key issues without getting too bogged down in the detail (the academic references can always be provided in follow-up discussions, or indeed dropped in the chat box!). Each session culminated in a panel discussion chaired by Professor Tim Vorley (Academic Lead of the Innovation Caucus), drawing on participants’ own questions and insights.
We hope that participants found the series to be an engaging and accessible exploration of (some of) the key strategic issues around innovation that UKRI are working on, seen through the lens of social science.
Thank you to all of the contributors, whether in the chat box or giving a presentation (full list below). A special thank you to Debbie Johnson, Dr Geeta Nathan (Innovate UK) and Dr Vicki Belt (ERC) for bringing the series to life:
Diffusion and Adoption (22.07.20)
- Dr David Wilkes (Innovate UK)
- Professor Stephen Roper (Enterprise Research Centre)
- Professor Philip Shapira (Innovation Caucus)
Commercialisation and Cooperation (29.07.20)
- Dr Tony Soteriou (UKRI)
- Dr Kristel Miller (Innovation Caucus)
- Professor Markus Perkmann (Imperial College London)
- Maxine Adam (Innovate UK)
- Professor Mark Hart (ERC)
- Dr Norin Arshed (Innovation Caucus)
Sustainability and Societal Impact (12.08.20)
- Paul Mason (Innovate UK)
- Debbie Johnson (Innovate UK)
- Professor Will Green (Innovation Caucus)
- Lee Hopley (ERC)
Foreign Direct Investment (19.08.20)
- Dr Geeta Nathan (Innovate UK)
- Professor Nigel Driffield (ERC)
- Professor Richard Harris (Productivity Insights Network)
Today the Innovation Caucus and the Enterprise Research Centre published a joint report commissioned by Innovate UK into how supported businesses have weathered the pandemic. The research led by Professor Stephen Roper and Professor Tim Vorley highlights that the implications and impacts of COVID-19 have not adversely affected Innovate UK funded firms, many of which have shown great resilience and innovation.
- In general terms firms had either maintained current levels of collaboration or seen it decline often due to the inability of partners to access laboratory or other facilities. Around 1:3 firms collaborating with universities said they had reduced levels of collaboration over this period. Few firms are planning to increase their level of spend with around two-thirds planning no change and 1:6 planning to reduce spend by more than 50 per cent.
- Around two-thirds of firms regarded their IUK project as ‘progressing, but behind the planned schedule’. Around 10 per cent of projects were described as ‘paused’. Only a small proportion of projects (1.3 per cent) were ‘stopped permanently’. Project delays were more likely among larger firms and those in the manufacturing sector.
- The main reasons for disruption to projects were access to buildings or facilities due to the lock-down and the availability of collaborating partners. Together these were reported by around half of all respondents. Disruption to revenues was also a significant reason for project disruption among micro-businesses and among those in the broad hospitality, transport and finance sector.
- Around two-third of firms suggested future R&D plans remained unchanged. The other third of firms were slowing down or cutting back on their projects.
- The majority of firms indicated that they would benefit from additional financial support from IUK. Perhaps surprisingly only around 1:5 firms suggested that such support would be useful although this proportion rises to 1:3 among micro- businesses working on IUK awards
An Innovate UK spokesperson said:
“The Covid-19 pandemic is not just a crisis for health but also one that affects our economy and society profoundly. Recognising the impact that coronavirus has had on businesses that Innovate UK responded rapidly to roll out additional support. We are accelerating up to £200 million of grant and loan payments for its 2,500 existing Innovate UK customers on an opt-in basis. An extra £550 million will also be made available to increase support for existing customers and £175,000 of support will be offered to around 1,200 firms not currently in receipt of Innovate UK funding. Businesses have demonstrated resilience and innovation and we know that may still face tough circumstances. We will do everything we can to develop our support and encourage businesses to get in touch with us so we see what further we can achieve together.”
The analysis will be repeated in a second wave of the survey that will be conducted in late September, with a third wave of the survey to be conducted early in the New Year to help understand the full impact of COVID-19 on innovate UK funded businesses.
The ESRC has issued a pre-call for a Manufacturing Made Smarter (MMS) Research Director and is hosting a Town Hall event supported by the Innovation Caucus. The Research Director will develop and support the creation of a visible and effective digital innovation ecosystem to accelerate the innovation and diffusion of Industrial Digital Technologies (IDTs). The MMS Research Director will work for initial period of five months to engage with key stakeholders and develop a detailed proposal for a MMS Network+. The Network+, under the leadership of the MMS Research Director, will ensure that the full range and depth of social and economic science insights are accessed across the MMS Challenge and wider UK manufacturing sector. The MMS Network+ will operate until December 2024. The UKRI ISCF MMS Challenge will invest up to £4 million through this competition. Full details on the pre-call are available on the UKRI website.
This meeting is for any individual interested in finding out more about the Research Director role, where you will hear from a current ISCF Research Director (Professor Judith Phillips), a Network+ Director (Professor Jacqueline Glass), the MMS Challenge Director (Chris Courtney) and the ESRC MMS Senior Manager (Daniel Robinson). The webinar will take place on Tuesday 13th October, 14:30 – 15:45.
Click here to register: http://bit.ly/MMSResearchDirector
The aim of the MMS Challenge is to help UK manufacturing become more productive and competitive through the innovation and diffusion of digital technology. This includes IDTs such as additive manufacturing, robotics, virtual/augmented reality, artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics. The MMS ISCF Challenge will invest up to £147m.
The role of the Research Director is to develop and oversee the implementation of a MMS Network to ensure that the full range and depth of social and economic science insights are accessed across the MMS Challenge and wider UK manufacturing sector. The Research Director will work closely with the UKRI MMS Challenge Director and team in the development of the Network+. The Network+ will provide academic leadership across the sectors and organise networking activities such as workshops, events and communications, to build sustained engagement and collaboration. Applicants for the Research Director position can come from any academic discipline relevant to the MMS Challenge but will need to demonstrate a detailed understanding of the economic and social sciences as they apply to innovation and diffusion of new digital manufacturing technologies. They will be able to demonstrate their commitment to interdisciplinary working, and ability to build new collaborations between different social, economic and other disciplines including engineering. They will also need to demonstrate an understanding of the needs and demands of the manufacturing sector in the UK.
Through the five-month scoping phase, the MMS Research Director will work with the UKRI MMS Challenge Director and team to identify how the economic and social science communities can most effectively support the UK manufacturing sector accelerate its innovation and diffusion of IDTs. Industry engagement will be critical, including SMEs, as will the engagement of other key stakeholders including the Made Smarter Commission and Northwest pilot, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
The scoping phase will also need to ensure that the proposed Network+ and wider MMS Challenge are aligned and able to respond to key developments such as major fiscal events, EU Withdrawal, and the ongoing impacts of Covid-19. Following this scoping phase, the Research Director will lead the Network+.
For full details and timetable of this call please visit https://www.ukri.org/funding/funding-opportunities/ukri-iscf-manufacturing-made-smarter-research-director-pre-call-announcement/
Tuesday 2nd June 2020
By Phil Wallace
Innovation Caucus Project Manager
It was touch and go whether this year’s Innovation Caucus Members’ Event would go ahead. Granted, it’s not like re-scheduling Glastonbury, but the idea of condensing an engaging day of talks, discussion and new connections into a Zoom call initially felt unappealing. However, currently many of our academic members are actively supporting a wide variety of organisations who are making massive adjustments in light of the challenges we are facing – changing an event format became a small matter when considered against this backdrop. Indeed, the social science response to COVID-19 rightfully became the new focus for our remodelled Members’ Event.
The advantages of a virtual event soon became apparent, with more participants able to take part than would have been possible in our planned physical location. We were delighted to have Professor Mark Gillan (Chief Technology Officer, Innovate UK) and Professor Paul Nightingale (Director of Special Projects, Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)) share with us the important work that Innovate UK and the ESRC are doing to support individuals and organisations as part of the UK’s COVID-19 response. Professors Gillan and Nightingale also provided plenty of primers around how social scientists can contribute to efforts to respond to the global pandemic – sparking a highly engaging discussion later in the session.
We are also grateful to the fantastic Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) Directors who were able to join us and share information on their Challenge area. By splitting into break-out rooms, our members enjoyed more interactive discussion around the key priorities in these Challenge areas and how we as social scientists can play our part. A big thank you to:
- George MacGinnis (Healthy Ageing)
- Paul Davidson (Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging)
- Bruce Adderley (Transforming Foundation Industries)
We are grateful for the support of the Innovation Caucus Leadership Group – including Melanie Knetsch (ESRC), Dr Geeta Nathan (Innovate UK), Dr Adam Luqmani (ESRC), Debbie Johnson (Innovate UK) and also Heidi Hinder (ESRC) for their hard work and support in making this event happen. Rather than experiencing “Zoom fatigue”, our Innovation Caucus members went away freshly inspired and informed in how they can use their expertise for maximum impact.
Members of the Innovation Caucus are involved with a number of upcoming webinars addressing innovation during and beyond the crisis. Click on the images below for further details.
The excellent Productivity Insights Network has brought together speakers from Nesta, SQW, the Enterprise Research Centre and Innovation Caucus member Professor Robert Huggins to look at the future of innovation in a post-covid world. Friday 5th June, 12:00 – 13:00. One not to miss!
The NextGenPSF project has lined up some fantastic speakers from industry and academia for a series of three webinars:
By Sally Godson
Project Administrator, Innovation Caucus
After starting my role with the Innovation Caucus, a common question from curious friends and family was; ‘what’s a caucus?’. Fair question! If you’re not quite sure yourself, I promise to serve up a definition I’ve found helpful, but allow me first to show you what the Innovation Caucus means through the lens of one of our recent events.
In January we brought together many of the 80-strong group of social science academics who are at the heart of the Innovation Caucus. Our members’ expertise spans a fascinating range – from climate change policy to computational social science – but what unites all of the academics who give their time to work with us, is a deep understanding of innovation based on research-based social science insights. The purpose of our gathering in January was to celebrate new members joining and to discuss future plans.
To kick-off our meeting in Birmingham, the Caucus’ Academic lead, Professor Tim Vorley took us on a quick journey through the Caucus’ past – from its beginnings as 5 thought leaders who worked with Innovate UK to provide on-hand social science expertise – right through to the current ‘phase 3’ incarnation represented by the room full of engaged social science scholars.
Following Tim’s opener, we were delighted to hear from Geeta Nathan (Head of Economics & Insight, Innovate UK) and Dr Adam Luqmani (Senior Portfolio Manager, ESRC). The purpose of the Innovation Caucus is to provide the ESRC and Innovate UK with easy access to academically-rigorous, social science based, innovation insights. The collaboration works through Members’ provision of rapid responses, projects, and workshops, meeting needs as they emerge. Adam and Geeta, who both sit on our Management Group, shared with us how this relationship has contributed to past projects and how Members can play a part in future delivery plans.
Over the last year the Innovation Caucus has been working hard to mobilise social science capacity to meet the challenges set out in the Industrial Strategy. As part of this ongoing mission, ISCF Challenge Director, Gary Cutts, kindly joined us in Birmingham. Gary delved into his own Challenge area of ‘Future Flight’ and illustrated how social science insights can intertwine with technological challenges to create the new and innovative thinking that the UK government wants to see.
Perhaps the best representation of what the Caucus is all about came in the final part of our Members’ Event – a panel session with Maxine Adam (Head of Business Growth, Innovate UK), Melanie Knetsch (Deputy Director of Impact and Innovation, ESRC), Dr Emily Nott (Head of Diversity and Inclusion Programmes, Innovate UK) and Ben Peace (Head of Manufacturing, KTN). Each of the panel were able to share their experiences of integrating social science insights via the Caucus – such as a project looking at how to encourage participation in innovation from under-represented groups.
So, ‘what’s a caucus?’ Well, I promised a dictionary definition and Merriam-Webster’s “a group of people united to promote an agreed upon cause” certainly rings true. However, I hope I’ve left you with a richer picture of what the Innovation Caucus represents.
Dr. Rossella Salandra and Prof. Ammon Salter, School of Management, University of Bath
Innovate UK’s goal is to drive productivity and economic growth by supporting businesses to develop and realise the potential of new ideas. They both connect organisations to help turn ideas into commercially successful products, and service and fund business and research collaborations to accelerate innovation and drive business investment into R&D.
Through the funding process Innovate UK aims to support ideas delivered by individuals or teams with the highest potential to develop innovation, in order to allocate funding to the strongest projects.
Yet, the evaluation of innovation projects remains ‘more art than science’. Funding proposals cover a wide range of technological areas, and it can sometimes be difficult to assess the potential technical and business value of the ideas, even by experts in the field. Assessors will tend to rely on their experience to assess the quality of the proposal and the anticipated outcomes. They may also display a range of implicit biases that may favour some individuals or groups rather than others, leading to a sub-optimal allocation of funding.
An ongoing project for the Innovation Caucus, led by a research team including the two of us and members of staff at Innovate UK, seeks to help Innovate UK better understand the assessment process.
Building upon the work already done by Innovate UK, and their deep knowledge of the organisation of the funding system, the project seeks to develop insights about potential sources of bias and about the effectiveness of the assessment system.
To date, we have worked collaboratively with Innovate UK to access and organise data on Innovate UK applicants and assessors, collected from the Innovation Funding Service (IFS).
What are the characteristics of Innovate UK applicants?
We investigated the features of individual applications / applicants (e.g., gender), and of the applying organisations (e.g., location and size) in relation to the type of call, acceptance rates, and average assessors’ scores.
While most applications are led by men, there was no evidence that women-led applications had a lower success rate. In terms of the geography of applications, there was a strong concentration from England, especially London and the South East. Again, we found no evidence of geographical preference in selection, as the success rate for applications from different Home Nations in the UK was roughly similar. When looking at firm size, we found that small firms were responsible for a large share of applications, and they also had a lower success rate. However, this might have been expected, given the administrative capabilities of large and medium size firms to develop applications.
What are the features of Innovate UK assessors?
We then considered various assessors-level factors, such as their gender and location. The assessors’ pool was found to mirror the imbalances in the applicants’ pool, with an over-representation of men and assessors from the South of England. Despite this, we found little evidence of bias against women-led applications. We also found that non-London based applications were scored more highly than London-based applications by London based assessors. This would suggest the current imbalances in the assessor population are not leading to any structural disadvantages for women or for applications from outside London.
The research opens up a range of questions that could spur further investigation. For example, at the level of the applicants, the current analysis focuses only on lead applicants. It would be interesting to examine the role of the entire application team and their characteristics. At the level of the assessors, accessing information on the workload of the assessors, and the timing of their assessments might provide insights into how assessments are shaped by other parts of the selection process.
Altogether, greater understanding of the evaluators and the factors that shape their assessment might help to develop richer and more refined approaches for the treatment of R&D grant applications.
Imagine a school with 500 pupils sitting at their desks and keen to learn. However, only 2 of the 500 pupils are taught maths; 50 of the 500 pupils are taught English and 125 are taught languages. Faced with this scenario you might consider what you could do to ensure that all pupils had access to the maths teacher and are taught maths, as well as English and languages. Your motive to intervene being to increase the knowledge sharing from the teacher to the pupils and also to ensure that all had access to the learning and development that this would provide.
While this scenario is highly unlikely in the real world, the parallel with university knowledge sharing with businesses in the UK is very real. A (slightly dated) report published in 2013-14 on knowledge exchange between English universities and small and medium sized businesses (SMEs with 5 to 250 employees) found that only 1 in 231 SMEs were engaged with universities for contract research; 1 in 9 were engaged in consultancy with universities; and 1 in 28 accessed university facilities and equipment. Similar proportions to the hypothetical scenario of pupils’ access to education!
This leads to the question: ‘Does it matter if businesses engage with universities?’. The short answer is ‘Yes’! The basic reason being that universities – like the teacher in our scenario – provide a valuable source of knowledge that can directly benefit business innovation and in turn, growth and productivity.
Partnering for innovation stimulates creativity, reduces risk in the innovation process, accelerates or upgrades the quality of the innovations made and signals the quality of firms’ innovation activities. Innovation partnerships may also increase firms’ access to technology developed elsewhere and their ability to appropriate the returns from innovation.
Yet, despite the apparent advantages, collaborating with universities for innovation is not easy for smaller firms. Indeed, we consistently find that only around 12 percent of firms that are ‘innovating’ cooperate with a university as part of this. Explanations as to why university-business co-operation rates are so low include: limited managerial resources in SMEs to identify appropriate partners; a restricted ability to absorb external ideas and technology; and even a cultural clash between the logics and priorities of businesses and universities – something which has been referred to as the ‘two-worlds’ paradox.
If the proportion of businesses collaborating with universities is to increase, then we need to look at the fundamental steps in the process of collaboration. Kim et. al., (2010), suggest that there are four stages in forming a collaborative partnership. These are: (i) identifying strategic needs; (ii) assessing and selecting a partner; (iii) implementing a partnership; and, (iv) re-assessing and re-shaping the partnership. Stages (ii) and (iii) are a particular problem in the UK, with limited information on the expertise in universities often meaning that businesses are unable to identify the best partners. As a result, they either partner with the wrong universities or more likely, do not collaborate at all.
This lack of information on the expertise in the university sector, along with a lack of understanding of the different channels through which universities and businesses can collaborate can be viewed as a ‘market failure’. Recognising this, UKRI and the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) developed konfer. Konfer is an innovation brokerage platform created through data mining and machine learning, that enables businesses to understand better with whom they might cooperate.
The Innovation Caucus, working alongside konfer, also recognised that for smaller businesses in particular, unless they understand how they can work with a university – in other words, the channels for collaboration – then it is difficult to identify partners with whom to cooperate. A better understanding of the different channels for collaboration, also helps businesses to identify their strategic needs – stage (i) in the partnership formation process.
These different channels for collaboration span interactive relationships that characterise collaborative research between both partners. This includes contract research and consultancy where businesses are more likely to commission a university to undertake a research project. Other channels for collaboration may also include: the use of university facilities and equipment; access to and collaboration with universities to support PhD research; placements for Doctoral students; Knowledge Transfer Partnerships; or the acquisition of university-generated Intellectual Property through patents and licenses, etc.
Each of these channels for collaboration provides different resources and capabilities to a business and in turn requires different levels of engagement from the business. Similarly, each channel has different timelines for the benefit to be achieved and different costs, with some being eligible for grants or other forms of public funding support. The innovation and competitive benefits of each channel will also vary considerably, and some channels may be more suitable for larger than for smaller businesses.
Ultimately, the konfer brokerage platform helps to find the ‘right’ partners but, more fundamentally, shaped by the work of the Innovation Caucus, the platform also helps businesses to consider why and how they might collaborate with universities. If businesses can think more strategically about the different channels through which collaboration can occur and at the same time, understand the implications of each channel, then with support to find the right partner, we can hope to see the proportion of innovating firms collaborating with universities increasing from the current low level of 12 percent.
Professor of Innovation Management & Policy and Head of Queen’s Management School,
Queen’s University Belfast