Making inclusive innovation a reality

For decades, one of the great fears of economic growth was that it might come at much too high an environmental cost. The economy-environment trade-off was almost an orthodoxy of growth and development tensions. Today, multiple drivers, levers and incentives help us manage and mitigate this – from sustainable development frameworks, to explicit ‘green growth’ strategies; from considerable international and national statutory net zero requirements, to local decarbonisation policy goals.

It is only much more recently that increasing levels of attention has been given to the impacts of innovation led growth policy and practice on inequality, community cohesion and social mobility. One suspects the hunch that the benefits of all these shiny new buildings and facilities, their high technology Research, Development and Innovation (RD&I) programmes, might accrue primarily to highly qualified, well-paid scientists, large well-financed businesses and a few ambitious entrepreneurs, has always been there. But it has rarely made it to the short list of policy priorities for either evidence gathering, analysis or for directly influencing the design and development of RD&I programmes.

For a whole range of reasons, this is undoubtedly changing. The ‘How to make innovation investment inclusive’ session at the INE Inaugural Conference will address Inclusive Innovation directly.

The session will build on the evidence of an early INE project which sought to:

  • define Inclusive Innovation,
  • synthesise ‘good practice’,
  • develop helpful tools and techniques for measuring and applying it,
  • test those tools in a Helix Innovation District case study,
  • suggest future themes to consider in delivering Inclusive Innovation policy and practice

One of the outputs arising from this work that we will present and discuss at the Inclusive Innovation session is the one-side ‘Do’s and Don’ts checklist’ below. Beyond hearing about its genesis, we hope the session might help us develop it further. In particular please let us know your views on:

  • Is this type of high-level summary useful for policy and decision-makers when formulating specific RD&I interventions, and for North East leadership teams when considering Innovation policy and practice?
  • Does it resonate with your own experience and knowledge of the challenges and tensions of ensuring that RD&I investments and activity do contribute directly to ‘inclusive growth’?
  • What further work might INE prioritise to increase Inclusive Innovation understanding and its effective delivery?

Of course, please feel free to raise other issues and discussion points – either directly at the session, or with INE over the coming months. In the meantime, we hope you find the checklist stimulating.

There is undoubtedly a very long way to go before inclusion is as mainstream and central as ‘green’ and ‘net zero’ in RD&I-led growth and development. But we hope that the INE initial Inclusive Innovation project and the tools and approaches – like the checklist – arising from it, are a small but positive stage in the North East’s journey in this important area of work.

The checklist: Five do’s and don’ts of Inclusive Innovation

  1. Make inclusion strategic intents as explicit and as early as possible in the formulation and design process- and seek to embed them in the goals and purposes of the programme or project
  2. Build relevant inclusion indicators of success/metrics into the operational performance management, monitoring and evaluation intelligence systems, commencing with a clear baseline starting point
  3. Agree at an early stage ‘touchpoints’ for communities of place and interest involvement, and the degree to which target inclusive growth beneficiaries can have agency in the leadership and management of the intervention
  4. Ensure the intervention is as aligned and connected as possible to wider city/city-region strategic priorities with strong links to local innovation, enterprise, skills, infrastructure and community eco-systems
  5. Do promote core inclusion and sustainability­ driven standards (e.g.Real Living Wage/good work pledge, net zero/low carbon solutions, circular economy/supply chain procurement); and proactively curate activity(e.g.tenancies, local testbeds/living labs, access and animation) to drive and assure inclusion impacts
  1. Shy away from difficult questions and discussions on trade offs between different strategic and policy goals. Inclusive lnnovation is about finding the compromises and win-wins- there will never be single ‘right answers’
  2. Delay considering early inclusion dimensions on the grounds physical build, a high growth, high knowledge ­based innovation model and financial stability have to be achieved first. Sequencing of strategies is not necessarily linear
  3. Sacrifice inclusive growth vision and values to government bidding guidance, or the demands of public or commercial anchors without a very big fight, being clear about explicit benefits of the sacrifice, and seeking offset compensation
  4. Allow ‘ivory tower’ cultures and barriers to access and involvement to be created unless there are very strong arguments for them that can be explained to and understood by those who will be excluded
  5. Let debates about the Do’s and Don’ts of inclusive innovation be overwhelmingly dominated by ‘usual suspects’ in both the local innovation and inclusion spheres – ensure independent and constructive ‘challenge’ voices are brought into the conversation