Modelling Return on Investment (ROI) at the firm-level image

Modelling Return on Investment (ROI) at the firm-level

Innovation Caucus Internship – Chris Dimos, University of Bath

Governments around the world seek to incentivise Research and Development (R&D) of the private sector as a means of boosting innovation, fostering productivity and promoting national competitiveness. In the United Kingdom, the Industrial Strategy aims to establish the UK as the world’s most innovative economy and increase investment in R&D to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027. To achieve this ambitious goal, a series of incentives are necessary to encourage more investment in private sector R&D.

A reason why companies underinvest in R&D is that they often cannot fully appropriate the benefits of the outcomes of their R&D activities. Competitors can often copy the new products or processes developed by a certain company’s R&D. This means that R&D, apart from benefits to the R&D conducting company – i.e. private returns, can also give rise to wider benefits accruing to the wider industry, economy and society – i.e. social returns. The greater the “gap” between social and private returns, the greater the unwillingness of a company to invest in R&D.

In order to shed more light into private and social returns of R&D and its implications for policy, Innovate UK and the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) have launched a project that aims to measure and model R&D returns. I am currently working with both organisations to meet the project’s objectives. More specifically, the project aspires to develop a Return on Investment (ROI) tool for measuring the impact of publicly funded R&D on the UK economy by taking into account: (i) private and social returns of R&D at the firm-level; (ii) the effectiveness of public funding in inducing additional private R&D spending; and (iii) R&D investment in the long-term by modelling depreciation of R&D and discounting. The impact on the UK economy is measured in terms of Gross Value Added (GVA), employment and income.

The aim of this tool is to better inform innovation policy. Innovate UK can use it to better channel public funding towards those types of companies able to yield large R&D returns (private and/or social). Its network partner, the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), can also use the tool to better foster business collaboration to grow the UK economy. The tool will also be helpful to companies allowing them to evaluate the returns they might receive on their contribution to the funded project. Companies have many competing opportunities to direct their internal resources and it is not always easy to decide which is the most rewarding.

Innovate UK and the KTN strive to help companies grow by funding R&D, linking new ideas and opportunities with expertise, markets and finance through their network of businesses, universities, funders and investors. The project, aligned to the mission of both organisations, will enable Innovate UK to maximise private and social returns of publicly funded R&D and the KTN to foster collaborations and make companies grow towards a more innovative and stronger UK economy.

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Call for Expressions of Interest for new Innovation Caucus members image

Call for Expressions of Interest for new Innovation Caucus members

As we embark on the next phase of the Innovation Caucus through to the end of August 2021, we’re looking to recruit new members. We’re inviting Expressions of Interest from academics with a broad range of disciplinary expertise across the social sciences, who will enable the Innovation Caucus to extend its activities and impact. The call for Expressions of Interest for new members is now live on the ESRC website.

Membership of the Innovation Caucus provides opportunities to engage with and impact Innovate UK and the ESRC on a real time basis, shaping their thinking and informing their strategy, as well as the opportunity to influence innovation policy, practice and programmes. A number of members have also contributed to the development of different thematic areas under the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF).

The Innovation Caucus provides the opportunity to be part of a networked community of academics and offers a valuable form of external recognition, as well as demonstrating professional standing and addressing the wider engagement criteria of the academic career pathways framework. Members of the Innovation Caucus also have opportunities to apply for commissioned projects in their areas of expertise.

We’re looking to appoint engaged academics from across the social sciences, with expertise in different fields of innovation research, from a variety of backgrounds and with different research specialisms. We’re keen to ensure equality and diversity within the membership and to include a diverse range of expertise, talent and perspectives.

You’ll need:

  • To be based in the Faculty of Social Sciences (or equivalent) of a UK Higher Education institution
  • A strong track record of research relevant to innovation policy or practice
  • A commitment to collaborative working within and beyond academia
  • Experience of knowledge exchange, working in a user-focused role, and/or translating research outputs for non-academic audiences.

It would also be an advantage to have an interdisciplinary approach and broad expertise in how social science research can inform policy and practice.

To find out more and for details of how to apply, please see:

The deadline for submitting the short Expressions of Interest form is: 17:00 on Friday 18 October 2019.

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PhD Internship Opportunity: Helping Innovators to Manufacture image

PhD Internship Opportunity: Helping Innovators to Manufacture

Applications are invited from highly motivated PhD students to undertake a three month, full time internship (or up to 6 months part time), developing a stream of work to establish the challenges and opportunities of supporting innovators to scale up the manufacturing of prototype hardware products. The internship will be hosted by the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), which is Innovate UK’s network partner, with support from the Innovation Caucus. The Innovation Caucus is an initiative funded by Innovate UK and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), which are both part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). A key aim of the Innovation Caucus is to support innovation-led growth and promote greater engagement between the social sciences and businesses.

UKRI and others invest significantly in getting many businesses to prototype stage. This challenge has been described as a ‘valley of death’. However, a ‘second valley of death’ occurs when innovators look to move from prototype to full manufacturing. By identifying the key challenges and gaps in the current support landscape, the intern will help develop intervention strategies aimed at ensuring that innovations are commercialised and, where possible, manufacturing is retained in the UK and full value is realised. This internship is part of a larger programme of work, aimed at assisting the KTN to establish the most effective means of helping innovators to manufacture.

The internship will have the following key deliverables:

  1. A literature review providing context for the main challenge themes in the context of hardware commercialisation and scaling-up manufacturing (Design for Manufacture; manufacturing strategy, including production scale up; supply networks; investment; regulation and standards; culture and leadership).
  2. Mapping the support currently available in this area. This will include support from academics, Research and Technology Organisations (RTOs) (e.g. High Value Manufacturing Catapult centres), consultancies and support agencies (KTN, Innovate UK, Scottish Enterprise, Invest NI, etc.).
  3. Conduct some qualitative interviews with innovators in order to identify their support needs. Mapping challenges faced by innovators (identified through the literature review and interviews) against the existing suite of tools, expertise, support, funding, resources, etc. available. Prioritise and identify where the gaps are.
  4. Report with recommendations for how best KTN can provide support in future (e.g. using a SWOT analysis or similar to collate findings and distil some potential strategies).


Person Specification

The intern will need to have:

  • the ability to work with academics and engage with academic debates to identify insights and make connections across research and policy;
  • a broad understanding of the social sciences, and appreciation of how the social sciences can contribute to the economy and society;
  • an interest in how social science disciplines can be applied to generate insights for businesses and innovation.
  • an interest in the challenges relating to commercialising hardware and scaling up manufacturing.

It is also desirable that the candidate will have:

  • an interest in and/or experience of conducting previous research into the impact of innovation activities;
  • the ability to synthesize research findings into outputs for non-academic audiences, e.g. using infographics;
  • excellent communication skills and the ability to work in a client-focused role.


Dates of Internship

By agreement, but we are aiming for a start date of 1st September 2019 and ideally to complete the internship by 31st December 2019.



KTN’s main office is in London, but there is scope to work remotely from the PhD student’s home institution and to accommodate flexible working arrangements. The intern will be expected to attend meetings in London (and potentially in Swindon and Sheffield) on an ad hoc basis.


Funding and time commitment

A total of £4,500 will be paid in equal monthly instalments over the agreed duration of the internship (e.g. a £1,500 per month stipend for 3 months, if working on the internship on a full-time basis). The flexibility to undertake the internship on a part time basis is designed to accommodate restrictions on working hours for international students with a Tier 4 student visa. International applicants will need to be registered for their studies with a UK institution. Travel to meetings and other agreed expenses will be reimbursed in addition to the stipend. The funds will be transferred to the university at which the PhD student is registered, and the stipend and travel expenses will be paid by the PhD student’s home institution.


Application Process

Please send a letter of application, outlining your interest in the project and position as a PhD intern with the Innovation Caucus, and details of how your skills and experience make you well suited to undertake the internship.

Applications should be sent to by Friday 19th July at 17:00.

Please ensure that the university at which you are registered agrees to support your application.

Shortlisted candidates will be invited to an interview, which may be conducted online. Interviews will take place during the week commencing 12th August.

For informal enquiries about the technical requirements for this internship, please contact Professor Tim Vorley, For enquiries about the application process, please contact Dr Katy Wing,


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Highlights from #CatchingTheWave Social Science & Industrial Strategy Event, 20 May 2019 image

Highlights from #CatchingTheWave Social Science & Industrial Strategy Event, 20 May 2019

Opening keynote: ISCF & the Social Sciences in Wave 3 – Dan Hodges, Deputy Director, Strategy – Innovate UK

After opening the event and introducing the Innovation Caucus, Tim Vorley welcomed to the stage Dan Hodges, Deputy Director – Strategy at Innovate UK, to deliver the first keynote speech. Dan set the scene by providing an overview of UKRI, Innovate UK and the Industrial Strategy landscape. He explained that there are opportunities for social scientists to contribute across all four Industrial Strategy Grand Challenges, including looking at cultural change, business models, diffusion and adoption, as well as potential negative social impacts and how these can be mitigated.

Dan explained that the government’s Industrial Strategy aims to boost productivity by focusing on five foundations: ‘Ideas’; ‘People’; ‘Infrastructure’; ‘Business Environment’; and ‘Places’. Innovate UK works across these five foundations and all are key to the ISCF challenges. Dan believes that social scientists have the potential to play an important role in advancing our understanding of all of these. Dan presented the ISCF challenges in waves 1, 2 and 3 and set the tone for the rest of the day by explaining the vital role of social science in implementing the Industrial Strategy:

“If the social sciences haven’t been embedded into the ISCF challenges, then they haven’t been set up right to achieve societal impact”.

Dan’s speech was accompanied by lots of positive tweets and followed by questions from the floor. Dan’s presentation slides are available here.


Panel 1: How the Social Sciences can add value

We had a fantastic line-up of speakers for our first panel session, expertly chaired by Melanie Knetsch, Deputy Director of Innovation and Impact at the ESRC. Mel was joined by panel members, Rob Saunders, Industrial Strategy Challenge Director (Energy Revolution) from Innovate UK; Sarah Hodgetts, Deputy Director at BEIS; Ed Hobson, Head of Design & Innovation at the Knowledge Transfer Network; and Adam Luqmani, Senior Portfolio Manager from the ESRC.

Rob Saunders talked about the Energy Revolution and the potential role of social science in advancing our thinking about the ‘complex system’. This challenge involves developing future smart energy, providing cleaner, cheaper, more resilient energy systems and demonstrating their use at scale.

Sarah Hodgetts referred to the role of the Industrial Strategy Council, chaired by Andy Haldane, which has been set up to assess progress on delivering the Industrial Strategy. Sarah also emphasized the importance of the social sciences in solving the UK’s ‘productivity puzzle’.

Ed Hobson talked about the potential for social scientists to help develop better design solutions and how a social science perspective can change how people think about and address Industrial Strategy challenges.

It was great to hear from Adam Luqmani about how he is advocating social science in the wave 3 business cases, embedding it into the DNA of the ISCF. Social scientists need to work out how to ‘sell’ themselves to businesses and other partners to take advantage of these opportunities. Adam said:

“We need to get the acceptance and adoption piece right. This is where we need to see social science led projects”.

A key message from the first #CatchingTheWave panel was that social scientists need to recognise the valuable insights they can bring to the Industrial Strategy and identify how best to promote their unique capabilities to businesses and other stakeholders.


Round table discussions: What might the Social Science offer look like & how can it be articulated?

Of course, the value of attending events is not just from listening to expert speakers and panel members, but also from interacting with other attendees. This session incorporated round table discussions, with the opportunity for delegates to focus on the Grand Challenge of most interest to them (AI & data, Ageing Society, Clean Growth, or Future of Mobility). Round table discussions were interspersed with polling questions, conducted as a plenary, to gather live audience feedback. This session worked really well, balancing quick fire polling questions with more in-depth interaction. Professor Katherine Runswick-Cole tweeted: “Loving the use of to capture disciplines and institutions represented here”.

Delegates comprised mostly social science academics, but also included circa 25% knowledge exchange professionals. Around 50 different disciplines / specialisms were identified as being present in the room, including: business / management; innovation / entrepreneurship; economics; sociology; political economy; psychology; information systems; geography; design; law; construction management; town planning; engineering; and advanced manufacturing.

The majority of delegates reported feeling relatively confident about relating to the ISCF priorities and drivers, with only 21% “still unsure”. Almost half were already engaging with other disciplines than their own, either with other social scientists or with non-social science disciplines. In terms of non-academic partners, public sector engagement came out higher than engagement with businesses or third sector partners. “Conceptual” knowledge came out top, in terms of what delegates could primarily bring to the ISCF (47%), followed by “Empirical” knowledge (27%) and “Methodological” knowledge (24%), with only 2% answering “None really”.

The top skills that social scientists could bring were felt to be “Analytical” (32%), followed by “Problem-solving” (22%) and “Boundary-spanning” (20%) (with “Visionary” and “Others” each on 13%).

This level of engagement and interdisciplinary working was felt to be very encouraging. Tim Vorley tweeted “The world’s problems do not divide up along disciplinary boundaries”; and “If @CSkidmoreUK was in #Sheffield today I’m sure he’d be impressed by the engagement and commitment of #SocialScientists with the #IndustrialStrategy and #ISCF”.


Final keynote: Business Engagement Vision – Social Science as the Golden Thread – Melanie Knetsch, Deputy Director, Impact & Innovation – ESRC

Tim welcomed Mel back to the stage to give our final keynote speech. Mel shared her vision and insights about social science engagement with business and about moving from research on and about business to research with business (i.e. collaboration). She discussed the opportunities for social science in relation to the ISCF, emphasizing that “It isn’t all about new technologies!”. Social scientists can help to frame problems in new ways, by asking challenging questions and rethinking assumptions. Mel highlighted some of the key ways in which social scientists can contribute, including:

  • Understanding the role of industry in driving growth and understanding regional variation (place)
  • How to ensure adoption of new ideas, technologies, services and approaches, including ethical considerations
  • New skills that are needed by companies
  • How business models can be evolved to capture more value and make companies fit for the future
  • How customers can drive product innovation
  • How businesses can develop new methods
  • How they can design better products, services, processes, methods and practices
  • How workforces can engage with change
  • Identifying new ways of measuring the hard-to-measure – e.g. productivity, business-to-business partnerships, impact
  • Offering excellent understanding of data and digital innovations
  • Helping to understand bias, ethics, employees, managers, and customers
  • Working closely with regulators, government and policymakers.

There were lots of positive comments on Twitter, for example, Dr Vicki Belt from the Enterprise Research Centre tweeted: “Insightful talk by @Mel_Knetsch of @ESRC on #SocialScience and business engagement. Barriers exist but there are so many benefits”. Mel’s presentation slides are available here.


Panel 2: Experiences of ISCF & the Industrial Strategy

Our final panel was very ably chaired by James Wilsdon, Professor of Research Policy in the Department of Politics at the University of Sheffield. James was joined on the stage by: Professor Jacqueline Glass (UCL); Professor Lucy Kimbell (UAL); Professor Simon Collinson (University of Birmingham); and Professor Katy Mason (Lancaster University).

 This was a practical conversation, involving academics sharing their experiences from the coal face on issues such as finding partners, developing and implementing proposals. A few highlights and top tips from panellists included:

Jacqui Glass advised that the Transforming Construction Challenge is massive and academics are seen as a conduit. “It’s a rewarding space but stakeholder engagement is key”. Also, “Don’t underestimate your hours! You have to accept the short timescales – these are dense programmes of work, but these investments are not about reaching end points: they’re part of a trajectory”.

Lucy Kimbell highlighted the potential of conducting design-led, co-produced research and shared her experiences in relation Next Generation Services, exploring the potential of AI in relation to business models, data and ethics. Lucy’s top tips were to “Pick partners who are different; be open to learning and therefore transformation. Go out of your comfort zone!”.

Simon Collinson talked about his experiences as Director of City-REDI, emphasizing that we need to continue to demonstrate legitimacy and the added value of social sciences. He advised that “These aren’t quick fixes and early wins: you need to look at pathways to different forms of impacts”.

Katy Mason discussed some of the challenges of ”learning by doing” as a researcher and bringing innovation to the research process as it takes place. Gantt charts are helpful, but flexibility is needed around challenges and to respond to new opportunities as they arise. “Evaluation frameworks need to be iterative and re-looked at over the lifetime of projects.” Katy also offered this positive note on which to end: “There’s an opportunity to have real fun again with research – the thrill of being out there dealing with real research problems is really exciting”.


Following the Panel 2 Q&As, it only remained for Tim to thank everyone for attending and for their contributions – especially our speakers, panellists and facilitators, for sharing their insights and stimulating lots of thought-provoking discussions throughout the day.













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Assessing potential social, societal and environmental impacts image

Assessing potential social, societal and environmental impacts

Professor Palie Smart and Dr Sara Holmes (University of Bristol) and Professor Miranda Wolpert (UCL) have completed a scoping study examining criteria by which Innovate UK can assess funding priorities according to social impact. The project contributes to the commitment of Innovate UK to deliver economic and social impact through its investments. Following a review of social impact measures, the project developed a framework based on the Sustainable Development Goals to help inform the prioritisation of future funding programmes. Whereas Innovate UK has historically evaluated funding priorities based on four economic criteria, this work will inform ongoing efforts to incorporate social, societal and environmental impact into future assessments.

The framework is underpinned by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of 17 interconnected objectives aimed at tackling global social and environmental issues. Agreed by world leaders in 2015, they are part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. All signatories to the SDGs are expected to contribute to them internationally and deliver them domestically. The project identified 6 priority SDGs for Innovate UK based on a content analysis of the most recently available Annual Report and Delivery Plan. The 6 priority SDGs are those which Innovate UK activities impact most directly and can be used as a starting point for societal impact evaluation. These are:

  • End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  • Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  • Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  • Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  • Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive & sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  • Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

The project also identified a set of societal impact evaluation criteria which could enable Innovate UK to examine the potential social, societal and environmental impacts of future programmes in greater detail. These criteria were drawn from the Impact Management Project, a multi-stakeholder initiative convened by four recognised bodies in impact investing: the Global Impact Investing Network; Global Reporting Initiative; Global Steering Group for Impact Investment; and the International Finance Organisation. This project consulted widely with stakeholders to develop a common framework which could be used and understood by organisations in all parts of the impact investment ecosystem. A summary version of the suggested evaluation criteria is below.

Categories                 Dimensions of evaluation            Evaluation criteria

Scale of impact         Numbers of people affected       Few ↔ Many

Depth of impact        Extent of societal impact           Limited ↔ Extensive

Timescale                 Time expected to take effect      Short term ↔ Long term

Societal attention     How well addressed issues are   Under-served ↔ Well-served

These components can be incorporated into a 2 stage evaluation template. The first stage involves identifying the potential applications of an innovation or technology research area and aligning these with priority SDGs. The second stage involves applying the above societal impact evaluation criteria. All SDGs have an associated set of more specific, measurable targets. Therefore the second stage of the evaluation process could consider whether the application can be related to delivering a specific SDG related target.

A potential next step would be to trial the proposed framework against a sample of emerging technologies that might receive future Innovate UK funding.

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Knowledge Absorption and Innovation in SMEs: A Pilot Study by Place and Economic Sector image

Knowledge Absorption and Innovation in SMEs: A Pilot Study by Place and Economic Sector

Research Aims and Focus

This pilot research for Innovate UK examined the role played by knowledge transfer and knowledge absorption mechanisms as processes in understanding rates of innovation activity in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), by place and economic sector. Pilot research was undertaken on SMEs in 3 economic sectors (manufacturing, high tech and services) based in 4 locations representing different types of local economies: Cornwall; Cumbria and North Lancashire; Edinburgh; and Essex including parts of East Anglia.

Research Questions and Methods

The study focused on 3 key research questions:

  1. What role does knowledge management and absorptive capacity play in innovation activity within SMEs?
  2. To what extent does innovation activity vary across different places and economic sectors?
  3. How does our understanding of variations in innovation activity by place and economic sector help contribute to a more targeted innovation policy for SMEs?

This study investigated SMEs for 3 key reasons: (i) limited coverage of SMEs in knowledge transfer and innovation research (ii) private sector predominance of SMEs in all places (iii) SMEs are a key focus of business development policies, including the Industrial Strategy. This exploratory study compared the ability of micro businesses and SMEs to recognise knowledge, capture it and successfully absorb it into their business models.

The research used two survey instruments: a questionnaire followed by in-depth interviews. The questionnaire was designed to capture a range of information about knowledge transfer and knowledge absorption. Focusing on examples from participants’ own experiences of implementing innovation in their companies, the interviews provided a follow up to the survey and explored 4 stages of absorptive capacity: (i) acquisition, (ii) assimilation, (iii) transformation and (iv) exploitation.

Summary of Key Findings

  • Conceptualising innovation: many study participants, particularly those in the ‘high tech’ sector, chose to focus the discussion on product development and new technology. Some also interpreted innovation to be about service innovation. A small number of respondents, particularly micro-businesses, viewed innovation very broadly, relating it to their business model to ‘do things better’ and as essential for business sustainability.
  • Acquisition: firms acquire knowledge mainly through collaborations and communications with external partners and some via internal creative capacity development. Study participants identified a wide range of sources of knowledge including: customers, suppliers, internal team members and industry networks. The use of more formal networks and groups was mentioned by several participants and a few had acquired knowledge from universities.
  • Assimilation: knowledge assimilation appears to be an inclusive process, with evaluation and decision making about new knowledge being carried out by internal employees. Medium sized firms adopt more formal procedures describing a ‘stage and gate’ process, looking at the fit with company product portfolio. Micro and smaller sized firms preferred informal processes to assimilate new knowledge. Many described a need to be inclusive in this process, involving a range of stakeholders, including customer consultations to obtain feedback on early ideas.
  • Transformation: knowledge is transformed either through trial, error and experimentation, or by adopting a systematic approach. Product development in high tech companies was often based on a structured process of prototyping, testing and experimentation. Two businesses noted help from universities at this stage as either a follow-up to knowledge acquisition or to access new specialist resources. In a small number of cases, participants indicated that the knowledge transformation process was not needed as the knowledge was already in a usable form.
  • Exploitation: success in going through the other three stages of absorptive capacity leads to effective exploitation. Participants in all the SMEs reported largely positive outcomes, namely: (i) objectives were achieved (e.g. new product or service launched and profitable); (ii) outcomes not yet achieved, had been modified or the project had changed direction; and (iii) successful and there were further unintended benefits.
  • Perceived aids to innovation: a number of success factors were identified that enabled innovation, combining informal stakeholder relationships with formal development processes. Other innovation enablers included: good engagement with customers and knowledge of the market; an innovation culture that accepts failure and risk-taking; and clear decision-making and accountability structures.
  • Perceived barriers to innovation: obstacles included: time constraints, competing priorities, and being distracted by customer suggestions that do not ‘fit their roadmap’. Application processes for grant programmes were often perceived to be difficult and bureaucratic. This was noted as a key barrier in accessing funding for innovation.
  • Place-based innovation: unique resources linked to specific geographical locations can be beneficial for innovation. In this study, the location of the business was of less importance to high tech and manufacturing businesses, which tended to collaborate internationally more than locally. In rural areas, access to skills was cited as an important issue. Many companies in rural areas had chosen their location for social reasons (e.g. quality of life, closeness to family, etc.). Some of these companies deliberately constructed their business around available rural assets.
  • Sector and place in the Industrial Strategy: the study found that sector plays a more important role than place in explaining the innovation output of the firms in our sample set. Service sector firms are relatively less innovative than those in the manufacturing and high-tech sectors. There was recognition by certain companies that the regional environment constrained growth, with some unable to access resources, skills and knowledge within their locality. Establishing a business in a specific location or region is therefore not sufficient to produce innovations: instead sectoral activity plays a critical role.
  • Factors explaining innovation capacity: employees’ training has no statistically significant impact on the number of innovations. Instead, mechanisms that encourage employees’ participation in knowledge creation and sharing activities make a substantial contribution to innovation output. These mechanisms differ significantly among the four regions. Implementation of policies and procedures (to codify, absorb and redeploy the external knowledge) notably contribute to the innovation output.
  • Knowledge absorption across regions: there were no major differences across regions in this regard, except for the participatory mechanisms of employees. This is due to firms with higher knowledge management and absorption capabilities being able to understand, assimilate and utilise knowledge, regardless of their location. Absorption from sources outside the regional boundaries (including global market influences) compensates for the regional disparity, triggering higher innovative performance in some firms.

Conclusion and Future Research

The intention of this study was to undertake pilot research to explore attitudes to innovation, knowledge transfer and absorption in SMEs, to investigate differences in sectors, regional variations and types of place (rural or urban). More innovative firms are better able to acquire, assimilate, transform and exploit knowledge. Industry structure plays a crucial role, since different industries provide different opportunities and challenges for growth and innovations. Hence industrial policy should focus on the role of industry structure alongside place in the growth of a local economy. This study begins to understand those SMEs which are ‘innovation followers’ and those with a sustainability orientation. There is scope to examine the questions in much more depth, with a more comprehensive study, using these preliminary findings as a basis for further discussion with funders and policy makers.

This research was led by: G. Shaw, with support from A. Marshall, D. Murphy, A. Rosiello and V. Sena and research assistance from C. Carr, O. Golra and S. Hickman.

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PhD Internship Opportunity: Exploring the potential of AI and data technologies in the Service Economy image

PhD Internship Opportunity: Exploring the potential of AI and data technologies in the Service Economy

Applications are invited from highly motivated PhD candidates to undertake a three-month internship to gather and assess evidence to identify new opportunities for project priorities related to the Next Generation Services theme under the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The successful intern will work closely with the Innovation Caucus, which is an initiative funded by Innovate UK and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), (both of which are part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)). Some key aims of the Innovation Caucus are to support innovation-led growth and promote greater engagement between the social sciences and businesses.

Services account for almost 80% of the UK economy, with financial and professional services alone employing around 2.2 million and valued at £190 billion. As technologies such as artificial intelligence and data analytics become ever more ubiquitous, we need to prime the UK services sector to take advantage. These can help create a more efficient, productive and competitive sector and significantly improve the services that are provided to customers and clients. The next generation is expected to involve highly tailored services, building on the opportunities created by AI, coupled with increasing levels of data and digitisation, to better serve clients.

Next Generation Services (NGS) is a £20m pioneer programme funded under the industrial strategy challenge fund from March 2018 – March 2021. The goal is to help ensure that the UK is at the frontier of the services revolution and to consolidate its leadership position through the responsible use of technologies such as artificial intelligence and data analytics. Common themes throughout all NGS activity are identifying opportunities, removing barriers and understanding how to increase adoption of these technologies. So far, funded activities have focused on identifying opportunities in accountancy, insurance and legal services in the UK. However, there are other service sectors which also have strong potential for these kinds of technologies to have an impact. This internship will identify a shortlist of likely candidate UK industries which can be targeted next.

Person Specification

The intern will need to have:

  • the ability to work with academics and engage with academic debates to identify insights and make connections across research and policy domains;
  • a broad understanding of the social sciences, and appreciation of how the social sciences can contribute to the economy and society via the Industrial Strategy;
  • an interest in how social science disciplines can be applied to generate insights for businesses and innovation.

It is also desirable that the candidate will have:

  • a working understanding of the “service sector” and/or “AI and data technologies” would be an advantage;
  • the ability to synthesize research findings into outputs for non-academic audiences, e.g. using infographics;
  • excellent communication skills and the ability to work in a client-focused role.

Key Dates

Given the time sensitive nature of this project the start date of the project will be 1st July 2019 and will need to be completed by 30th September 2019 unless by mutual agreement. The timetable of key dates is presented below:

Date Milestone
14th June 2019 (noon) Deadline for applications for Internship
21st June 2019 Shortlisted candidates interviewed
w/c 24th June 2019 Successful candidate notified
w/c 1st July 2019 Kick-off meeting with ESRC/Innovate UK in London
30th September 2019 Project completed



The PhD intern will be expected to work remotely from their home institution, although there is scope to accommodate flexible working arrangements and the intern will be expected to attend meetings in London (and potentially in Swindon and Sheffield) on an ad hoc basis.

Funding and time commitment

A total of £4,500 will be paid in equal monthly installments over the agreed duration of the internship (e.g. a £1,500 per month stipend for 3 months). Travel to meetings and other agreed expenses will be reimbursed in addition. The funds will be transferred to the university at which the PhD student is registered and the stipend and travel expenses will be paid by the PhD student’s home institution.

Application Process

Please send a letter outlining your interest in the project and position as a PhD intern with the Innovation Caucus, and details of how your skills and experience make you well suited to undertake the internship. Applications should be sent to by noon on Friday June 14th 2019.

Please ensure that the university at which you are registered agrees to support your application.

For informal enquiries about the focus and requirements for this internship, please contact Professor Tim Vorley, For enquiries about the application process, please contact Dr Katy Wing,

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Geography of Innovation Clusters in the UK image

Geography of Innovation Clusters in the UK

Kevin Tang, The University of Oxford

I have been working with the Innovation Caucus and Innovate UK on a project analysing the geography of innovation clusters in the UK. Through this work, I have had the opportunity to meet with and learn from several researchers across various government departments, working on a wide range of topics related to innovation and technology, data analysis, and business development. It has been a very interesting experience to meet with and learn more about the work of other researchers and colleagues in the government, as I greatly appreciate applying my academic research background in economics and statistics to contribute to research on very tangible topics that have implications for public policy.

Over the course of my internship, I have given presentations to Regional Managers and other colleagues at Innovate UK and to members of the Innovation Caucus team. From these presentations, I have received very positive and constructive feedback on my work that has contributed to the research process. The feedback has been helpful in learning about different methods and priorities in presenting research for academic versus government audiences. I really appreciate the advice and support from the Innovation Caucus team in these presentations and meetings.

From the meetings, I have had the opportunity to meet with other colleagues working in related areas, learn about their work, and learn about other data resources and methods used at Innovate UK. Colleagues outside of the Innovation Caucus have offered their advice in guiding my research project and helping me to identify other data resources that have assisted in the research process and in formulating the best way to construct a dataset to identify clusters of innovation.

On the project itself, I have extensively studied methods of spatial and network analysis in my PhD, but had not actually found an application of the methods for policy. My initial interest in working with the Innovation Caucus was to conduct this type of data-based geographic and spatial research on a topic, such as identifying clusters of innovation in the UK. From working on this project, I have learned a lot about characteristics that make an innovation cluster, why clusters of innovation matter for economic growth, how they are defined in business and in public policy, and how to use new methods of spatial and network analysis to develop measures of innovation clustering in large datasets of research collaborations and financing.

From this project I used the Innovate UK public dataset to build a graph of innovation collaborations across the UK, and I developed measures to identify clustering based on network analysis of the collaborative innovation graph. This analysis can be combined with other datasets to build larger, more complex, and more detailed graphs, to identify potential clusters of innovation. In my report, I highlight the research process in determining the methods and measures of cluster identification, how the dataset was structured and compiled, and how the report and the results form the foundation of analysis on the identification of clusters of innovation in the UK that can be further developed in future research.

For further information about this internship, please email Howard Partridge, Regional Manager – East of England at Innovate UK,

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Catching the Wave: Social Science & Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund

Monday 20 May 2019, 10:00 – 16:00

The Edge, Endcliffe, 34 Endcliffe Crescent, Sheffield. S10 3ED.

The Innovation Caucus is hosting a free event to explore how the social sciences can contribute to the Industrial Strategy. This event will help social science researchers to engage with the Industrial Strategy and ensure they’re well positioned to participate in calls under the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF).

‘Catching the Wave’ is open to all social scientists who are keen to engage with the Industrial Strategy. With numerous calls live under Wave 2 of the ISCF, and the priority themes of Wave 3 now announced, this will be a valuable and timely opportunity to generate ideas and build connections.

To start the day with presentation about the development of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund we have Dan Hodges (Deputy Director – Strategy, Innovate UK) as our first keynote speaker. Dan will reflect on the “Industrial Strategy and the Social Sciences in ISCF Wave 3”. This will be followed by a panel discussion exploring ‘How the Social Sciences can add value’, where there will be an opportunity to put your questions to panel members, including Sarah Hodgetts (Deputy Director, Department of Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy and Ben Peace (Head of Manufacturing at the Knowledge Transfer Network) (tbc).

After a networking lunch, we’ll convene round table and plenary discussion, to explore opportunities for social scientists to collaborate and engage with the ISCF. There will be groups focusing on each of the grand challenge areas (Ageing Society, Artificial Intelligence and Data, Clean Growth and Future of Mobility) and related to the shortlisted ISCF Wave 3 challenges. The session will focus on identifying how to frame and articulate the value and offer of social science research when engaging with partners from business and other STEM disciplines around the Industrial Strategy.

The final session we are delighted to have Melanie Knetsch (Deputy Director of Impact and Innovation, Economic & Social Research Council) who will outline the “ESRC’s Business Engagement Vision”. Mel leads on ESRC’s strategic knowledge exchange and innovation activities to ensure its research portfolio is visible to potential users, and has been instrumental in ensuring social science is the golden thread woven through the ISCF. This will be followed by the second panel discussion, focusing on Experiences of ISCF and the Industrial Strategy’. Panel members, including Professor Jacqueline Glass (University College London), Professor Simon Collinson (University of Birmingham), Professor Lucy Kimbell (University of the Arts London) (tbc) and Professor Katy Mason (Lancaster University). This group of academics will share their experiences and perspectives on working on projects linked to the Industrial Strategy and the ISCF.

This event is for ALL social scientists, and we hope you can join us in Sheffield for an interesting day with a practical focus aimed at generating insights and sharing lessons to help the social sciences gear up for future ISCF funding calls.

To avoid missing out, register now at


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Mainstreaming Diversity & Inclusion

Alina Kadyrova, the University of Manchester

Over the past decade, the issue of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in innovation has received significant attention from policy-makers and academics. This internship focused on the practical attempts of policy-makers and innovation agencies to tackle this issue and their potential to make a visible and measurable impact.

Innovate UK has commissioned various projects aimed at promoting the inclusion of under-represented groups and boosting innovation activity in the UK. Recently, the agency commissioned a Global Review of Diversity and Inclusion in Business Innovation, which explored a variety of programs and policies aimed at the inclusion of different groups in innovation processes and sought to identify how the UK can adapt the good practice of other countries. Short-term projects and longer-term policies of ten countries were pre-selected and reviewed in a report produced by the London School of Economics (LSE).

During the third year of my PhD, I undertook a six-month internship to explore the findings from this report in more depth, working alongside Dr Emily Nott from Innovate UK and Professor Tim Vorley and Dr Katy Wing from the Innovation Caucus. They have provided excellent guidance and support to me over the duration of the work.

We decided to focus on D&I policies and practices of innovation agencies aimed at increasing the participation of women, people with disabilities and ethnic minorities. These practices were analysed by means of semi-structured interviews with project participants, innovation agency representatives and through documentary analysis.

The research revealed a strong focus on gender equality issues in specific regions. For example, most of the D&I programmes and policies of the Northern European countries have had a sole focus on gender, with other equality issues relatively neglected, while the countries of Eastern Europe, such as Poland, prioritised overall innovation development, rather than focusing on specific under-represented groups. The analysis revealed two major gaps in current D&I practices:

  • Lack of efforts to promote the inclusion of under-represented groups other than women as potential innovators;
  • Absence of systematic frameworks and practices applied at different levels to monitor progress on D&I issues, including data collection and evaluation of impacts.

Northern European countries, such as Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands were good practice examples in terms of the mainstreaming of diversity and inclusion principles across all activities. Initiatives implemented by Sweden and Norway, such as organising internal workshops on gender issues, where employees share their experiences and learn new perspectives on dealing with inequality, demonstrate that top-down, sustained, intersectoral governmental initiatives, requiring institutions to track progress and report back to the government, can contribute to success in tackling the problem of gender inequality.

More programs targeting ethnic minorities, disabled people or other excluded groups are needed. However, over the longer term, inclusion activities should ideally be embedded into the operations of all actors, without necessarily requiring a dedicated programme or budget. This mainstreaming of D&I issues requires more radical system change, that tackles the roots of exclusion, rather than masking its consequences.

To conclude, this internship provided an excellent and unique experience of working on diversity and inclusion at the intersection between policy-making and academic knowledge. The discussions with Innovate UK and with the representatives of overseas innovation agencies provided me with an additional perspective on my own PhD topic on social innovations in Europe. I would like to thank Tim, Emily and Katy for this opportunity and for the mentorship they provided.

For further information about this internship, please email Emily Nott, Lead for Diversity and Inclusion Programmes at Innovate UK,


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