We read a great deal about the importance of innovation in productivity, jobs, growth, UK competitiveness and prosperity, but we rarely read about the importance of people and participation in innovation.
The UK Government’s recently published Innovation Strategy talks of needing “the whole system of businesses, government, R&D-performing organisations, finance providers, funders and others to come together to achieve our innovation ambitions”. But people appear oddly absent from this ‘whole system’. When people are referenced it is because innovation is to create something for them – namely making “the UK the most exciting place for innovation talent”, although no one seems to have asked the people what would make the UK an exciting place for innovation talent.
The failure in policy-making, and consequently policy-makers, to include citizens and communities from decisions that impact their daily lives isn’t confined to innovation, however. The ‘participation gap’ exists across all areas of policy, even those where policy aims to improve wellbeing and prosperity.
In the absence of participation, policy-makers reach for the tried, tested (and failed) indicators of change - GDP, economic growth, and productivity. There ‘gold standard’ measures of success for the UK economy fail to accurately reflect whether communities and citizens are living a good quality and prosperous life, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made deep-seated inequalities, in-work poverty and job precariousness worse.
The ‘participation gap’ is created by how we view ‘inclusion’ and ‘inclusive growth’. Current inclusive growth frameworks and practices align with the narrowest interpretation of inclusion as ‘access’, connecting people to growth and the benefits of growth. However, at the IGP we argue that broadening how inclusion is conceptualised opens up new spaces for action and scope. Encompassing knowledge co-production, commitments to fairness, and empowerment, with inclusion. That creates the space to reduce entrenched inequalities through impactful and co-produced innovation.
Research by IGP and the London Prosperity Board on livelihood security argues that to deliver on the promise of ‘inclusion’, governments, government bodies and organisations that are pursuing ‘inclusive growth’ or ‘inclusive innovation’ strategies, such as innovation districts, must adopt ambitious new forms of collaborative knowledge co-production, problem-framing, policymaking, cross-sector working and measurement. This represents a step-change in the way citizens and communities are connected to innovation policy and economic decision-making.
Addressing the ‘participation gap’ in its simplest form means enabling citizens to play an active role in policy-making. Developing inclusive policies that aim to close the ‘participation gap’ means shifting the conversation from governance to engaging more people in policy design and delivery. Recognising the priorities of local communities. Expanding ‘inclusion’ from a model of access to a model of participation and social responsibility and fairness. Creating space for citizens to be included in evidence and knowledge production that then frames problems and develops policy responses.
The chancellor has acknowledged innovation investment as a key pillar for post-COVID-19 recovery planning and highlighting its importance “to deliver new, growth, ideas and services”. However, the creation of a ‘Build Back Better Business’ council where members are all CEOs of large corporations just exemplifies how there is a lack of citizen, community and third sector involvement within policy-making.
While some measures such as commitments to increase economy-wide R&D investment to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 are welcome, the IGP urges greater and more meaningful citizen participation within the wider Innovation Strategy. We believe fundamentally that citizens and communities need to be at the centre of policy-making, to co-produce, collaborate and work together with the policy-makers to improve their quality of life and prosperity.
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The Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP) is a world-leading academic institution with a central mission to redefine and rebuild prosperity for the 21st century. The IGP is calling for Government to address the ‘participation gap’ as part of the Innovation Strategy.
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