Innovation – the driving force for our economic recovery
According to Brian Cox writing in The Sun newspaper on 4rd October 2011 the UK Government’s commitment to spend an extra £195 million on science is “brilliant news as investment in science is a no-brainer. It will the driving force for our economic recovery.”
I agree it is in deed brilliant news that extra funding is available, and not least because £50 million is being invested in the commercial exploitation of graphene, the one atom thick form of carbon with such a wide range of potential applications. However, I would not necessarily agree with the notion that investment in all science is a no brainer – especially because so much of it does too little in driving forward our economy. This is one of the reasons why research impact is being introduced into the research assessment framework of public funded science, because there is a general acknowledgement that while the UK is a global leader in scientific outputs, we have a relatively poor record in translating that scientific excellence into technologies, products and services for the benefit of UK plc. This is a subject which I addressed with my colleague Prof Mike Theodorou in a report published in May this year entitled, Market-led Innovation Centres: a new model for UK innovation www.dentassociates.co.uk. After analysing commercial outputs from UK Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) and BBSRC funded research institutes, it was evident that the poor outputs in terms of licences, patents and commercial income would be difficult to justify commercially, relative to the investment made. One solution proposed in the report is to promote a more market-led approach to innovation in order to increase our understanding of the markets into which emerging technologies will feed but also to expand the range of innovations available for industry such as, new business processes and models, promotional, organisational and supply chain innovations. There is so much scope for driving benefit to the economy through these additional forms of innovation while building on our current capability to develop innovative technologies.
The emphasis we place on technological innovation relative to market-led innovation is perhaps best epitomised by the common use in R&D of Technology Readiness Levels (TRL’s) and the complete lack of a corresponding scale of Market Readiness Levels (MRL’s) (something my colleague Brian Pettit and I are remedying in a paper currently in preparation). I believe we need to wake up to the need for a better understanding of the market for innovation, the gaps and opportunities on offer, and designing innovative solutions in their full panoply of guises – not only technologies, in order to drive our economy forward. Innovation is not just about science, and it is innovation rather than science that will be the driving force for our economic recovery.