The innovation landscape in the UK is changing and 2017 will see a number of developments. The Innovation Caucus, funded by the ESRC and Innovate UK, aims to provide research-based insights from the social sciences that support innovation-led growth. What has it discovered?

By Professor Tim Vorley

Innovation, defined in simplest terms as converting ideas into value, is widely regarded as a central engine of economic growth, rooted in and shaped by economic, social and political forces. In many ways, innovation as a field of research embodies the essence of the social sciences, attracting research interest from a broad array of disciplines. The social sciences, and the Innovation Caucus in particular, have an important role in strengthening the innovation landscape in the UK and beyond.

Now more than ever the UK's credentials as a world-leader in innovation are central to future economic growth. Innovate UK – the national innovation agency – has a critical role in fostering the conditions for innovation and supporting organisations to grow through innovation. Businesses that invest in innovation are recognised as outperforming their counterparts, so the question for Government is how to enable innovation and stimulate investment with a view to deliver growth.

The Innovation Caucus was established to facilitate knowledge exchange and promote closer collaboration between social science researchers and Innovate UK. For the past 18 months, the Innovation Caucus has comprised five 'thought leaders' – Professors Tim Vorley, Iain Docherty, Irene Ng, Nola Hewitt-Dundas and Paul Nightingale – who have provided expert insight, explored different policy options and made recommendations about 'what works' in supporting innovation-led growth. Working with groups of policymakers, strategists, analysts and technologists at Innovate UK, the Innovation Caucus has sought to enhance the impact of social science research.

A series of projects have been undertaken in addition to the advisory role of the Innovation Caucus. These include the development of a business model innovation toolkit to support businesses to innovate, and the creation of a new tool designed to help businesses engage and forge links with universities. The thought leaders have also conducted an experiment to examine how public funding is allocated in supporting businesses to innovate, and undertaken modelling work to understand the impact and implications of introducing loans alongside grant funding.

As the Innovation Caucus enters its third year it is growing in both scope and scale. Following an open recruitment process the membership now stands at 65 academics from across the social sciences with interests in innovation. Over the next 18 months the Innovation Caucus will continue to respond to questions from Innovate UK, as well as supporting the work of the ESRC to encourage social scientists to engage more with businesses. The Innovation Caucus will also be looking to take on four doctoral interns over the next 18 months, as well as funding a series of independent pieces of research on innovation-led growth.

Changing times

The UK is at a critical juncture in terms of innovation-led growth. The innovation landscape in the UK is changing, and 2017 will see a number of developments. The Dowling Review mapped the complex research and innovation landscape, and the emphasis now needs to be on making the system accessible and effective as opposed to simplification per se. Social science researchers have an innate understanding of innovation and are supporting our work to shape the future of the innovation ecosystem.

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