The UK is at an important inflection point in its ambition to create world-class hubs of innovation – places fuelled by the technologies, the trust and the teamwork to become genuine destinations of discovery and drivers of new skills, good jobs and broad-based opportunity.
Covid-19, Brexit, Net Zero and Levelling Up provide a compelling set of reasons to focus harder than ever on what it takes to really marry innovation with a mission for a place.
As those of us already working in one of these locations can testify, it is an art more than a science to continually bring forward the right pro-innovation physical spaces with the networks, tailored support, services and amenities to match. At the same time the task is to inspire the institutional buy-in and the confidence and involvement of communities. It takes time, patience, and dedication. Yet the rewards are tangible – more capable clusters of mixed companies, a hot bed for start-ups and more diversified investment, greater appeal as well as opportunities to ‘grow-your-own’ talent, and more of a lasting sense of local pride and belonging to a place.
As our recently published Hubs of Innovation Playbook shows, up until now there have been many more attempts to build and foster hubs of innovation in the UK than there have been successes. Perhaps only a handful of locations have achieved the kind of scale, sustainability and enduring impact that they have the potential to. Yet we now see many highly promising innovation-driven places where partnerships are starting to tackle big challenges facing their city, region and the wider world. The UK’s domestic and global aspirations need more of them to make the journey to full scale and whole place success.
There are four main lessons in the handbook that are worth drawing attention to in particular:
1. It is a long path to a become a place that is truly a global hub of innovation, and this path is not for every place everywhere. It takes clarity of vision and purpose, many cycles of investment, concentrated commitment and generous, collective leadership. Over time the mission quite rightly gets larger, broader and relies on more ingredients – but throughout this evolution, the shared vision must remain consistently strong.
2. To hold a global status, more and more innovation places now recognise the need to also be rooted in local foundations. A commitment to ‘whole place return’ with a focus on good growth over any growth is a central part of how we build back better and take innovation further and deeper.
3. Getting the fundamentals right at the start – the knowledge networks, the future industry drivers, the skills, the incentives, and the inclusivity – is essential to avoid disappointment.
4. If we really want more hubs of innovation, everyone has a role to play. It requires a willingness to do things differently in central government, local authorities, major institutions, investors, academic anchors, infrastructure providers, planners, anchor businesses and of course, the citizens whom innovation ultimately serves.
What is exciting is the momentum that has built up behind the UK’s emerging and aspiring innovation districts to become more connected nationally and globally. Together, they are becoming more informed by each other’s experiences, and fostering a shared spirit of purpose and co-operation that provides mutual advantage as they rethink their path to success after Covid-19. More places are learning to do the right things and sidestep avoidable mistakes.
As much as possible, we should try and learn how to do this together. Diversity fuels innovation. We need diversity of thought to shape the best version of innovation places. This handbook adds to our collective knowledge base as we kick start our innovation-led recovery.
How CPC can support
- Develop a forum in which to convene placemakers and start the conversation
- Identify and build links to broader regional economic strategy
- Identify existing funding gaps, from both private and public investors, that entrepreneurs are facing
- Facilitate an open civic innovation challenge to invite a broad range of voices and ideas
- Develop a collaborative governance model, building in processes to test new approaches
- Case study: With support from Connected Places Catapult, Belfast City Council uses public spending to spark new local innovation activity through challenge-based procurement – the Smart Belfast Framework.
- Perform an assessment of existing innovation assets
- Facilitate open dialogues and workshops regarding existing strengths, weaknesses, and leadership appetite for development
- Assess complementary opportunities and broader opportunities for collaboration in the region
- Leverage network to identify catalytic stakeholders who can support regional transformation
- Identify quick wins and create roadmap to tackle these
- Case study: Drawing on a global knowledge base, Connected Places Catapult supported place leaders in Sharjah to identify their location’s unique assets and identify global peers.
- Support local leaders in establishing a differentiated USP and a credible vision
- Facilitate development of a stakeholder coalition and establish governance and engagement structure
- Develop an inclusive growth framework for planning, housing, and use choices
- Advise on how to embed net zero principles
- Conduct analysis to establish current baseline, identify relevant and proven KPIs, and set targets
- Case study: Digital land use planning services (Plantech) accelerated by Connected Places Catapult are helping place leaders make faster decisions and adapt to new opportunities.
- Develop and manage target working groups for partners with shared functions or missions
- Help align the built environment directly to the needs of the local community
- Launch and manage urban innovation competitions and programmes to build local skills
- Design movement and connectivity strategy to ensure accessibility and walkability
- Trial specific micro-mobility solutions to improve permeability
- Case study: Unable to travel due to lockdown, Connected Places Catapult developed a digital platform for convening and connecting innovation ecosystems in three African cities.
- Develop monitoring strategy for space and housing affordability
- Deploy and manage a test bed for new technology and “smart” solutions
- Support dialogue with Government and national bodies
- Case study: By delivering place-based Accelerator programmes in partnership with leaders in Salford, Staffordshire and elsewhere, Connected Places Catapult helps innovative companies grow and scale where they are born.
- Assess and suggest programme of improvements for road safety, micro-mobility, and anti-congestion measures
- Convene partnerships and knowledge exchanges with other ecosystems and place leaders
- Quantify spillover benefits to broader ecosystem