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New Year's resolutions

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How to keep your New Year's resolution

New Year Resolutions

A great many of us will have made promises to ourselves at Hogmanay for the year ahead, with the most popular of these resolutions focusing on the need to improve our fitness or lose some weight (you can count me in on both of these). So how do we make sure that this time round we keep our New Year resolutions.

Professor Richard Wiseman, University of Hertfordshire (specialist in the psychology of performance, magic and public engagement) studied 5,000 people as they pursued their New Year's resolutions. He found that most people failed because they didn’t have a plan and that most of those who had succeeded had broken their main goal down into a smaller set of steps, which provided a regular sense of progress and achievement.

Not a bad strategy for all of us to keep in mind as we think about the road ahead for ourselves and for our organisations.

A New Year’s resolution for the innovation landscape

In July 2015, Professor Dame Ann Dowling completed her Review of Business – University Research Collaborations. Top in her list of key messages was the recognition that public support for innovation is too complex. Recognising that businesses, particularly SMEs, find the current landscape too difficult to navigate and that policy makers find it too difficult to understand the totality of the support mechanisms provided – a “systems” view is just not possible.

As a result, all of the players within the current landscape are tempted to work around the complexity, rather than tackle it head on. Each work around will often be simple in its own right to those who created it but to those on the outside looking in, it will usually increase the complexity. This would be a perpetual, self-reinforcing situation - unless of course, someone calls out the problem and challenges the community to get on and solve it.

The Dowling Review has provided us all with that prompt and given the research and innovation community a clear steer on a collective New Year resolution: to fundamentally simplify the landscape.

A New Year’s resolution for Innovate UK

I first encountered the full complexity of how Innovate UK looks from the outside when I was preparing for my job interview. I had in my copious notes, seventeen different ways in which Innovate UK supported business-led innovation. Each intervention was carefully crafted to solve a particular challenge:

  • Catalysts
  • Catapults
  • Collaborative R&D
  • KTPs
  • Innovation Knowledge Centres - to name but a few of them.

If you are a business on the outside looking in to Innovate UK, you are not concerned by the different origins and rationales for our Catalyst programmes versus our Collaborative R&D competitions. You are not interested in the internal workings of Innovate UK.

If you are a business with ambition all you want to know, as quickly and efficiently as possible, is how can Innovate UK help me grow and the answer to that question is in fact straightforward: Innovate UK funds and connects business-led innovation.

So Innovate UK’s New Year’s Resolution, taking heed of the Dowling Review, is to take that important first step and commit to fundamentally simplifying how we connect and fund the innovation landscape.

Keeping our resolve to simplify how we connect

New Year Resolutions, connect

If we are to stay the course with our resolution, we should reflect on the advice of Prof Wiseman, and break down our New Year resolution into a smaller set of steps to ensure that we can continue with a clear sense of progress and achievement.

My predecessor, David Bott, had a great motto “action should be a consequence of thought, not a substitute for it”. So David will be pleased to know that his guidance lives on and that we have been giving our resolution to simplify the innovation landscape some serious thought.

For this particular challenge though, we need much more than a clear internal perspective if we are going to make progress, as it is not the internal team who need to navigate the landscape more easily.

So our next step was to make sure we got our customers engaged with the simplification process. Our Innovate 2015 conference provided the ideal opportunity to gather input from a large cross section of the UK innovation landscape.

The feedback we received was very useful and gave us a much better understanding of our customers’ priorities and how we could start to break down this considerable task into more manageable pieces.

When it came to simplifying our approach to connecting the landscape, everyone wanted Innovate UK to continue with a strong digital lead but different parts of the UK were also interested in having different levels of local presence. Integrating our connect activities more closely with local partners and taking advantage, where appropriate, of our Catapult centres, which are distributed across the UK.

Looking ahead to 2016, our next goal will be thinking through how we can build on a strategy of “digital by default” with the development, over the course of the year, of a stronger regional network which would enable Innovate UK to work more effectively alongside its regional partners and provide a more joined up approach for leading edge businesses and research teams right across the UK.

Keeping our resolve to simplify how we fund

New Year Resolutions, fund

In the case of simplifying our approach to funding innovation, our first objective has been to look at consolidating all of our different competition structures into a single, easy to use format.

Our starting point remains the same:

  • identifying the global opportunities
  • understanding the unique strengths which the UK brings to those opportunities
  • checking whether the timing is right
  • challenging why it requires public sector investment

Traditionally, each opportunity would have typically led to a one-off targeted competition. As a result, it would be difficult for businesses to stay abreast of the competitions relevant to them, and then frustrating for them when they are not able to meet the associated one-off competition deadlines.

Going forward, we are therefore considering a different approach with a much broader competition structure, consistently focused on a group of inter-related sectors and run on a regular cycle – building on the highly successful characteristics of the existing Catalyst and SMART competitions.

Specific opportunities then become highlighted areas of particular interest within these broader competitions and businesses know where to look to find the competitions relevant to their sectors.

If a business is not ready for the deadlines for the current competition they can wait for the following round. By maintaining one competition strand with a completely open mandate, we also ensure that every business from every sector has a route to apply for funding.

The evolution of our funding modes is a key component of Innovate UK’s 5-point plan for economic growth, exploring ways to help public funding go further and work harder, while continuing to deliver impact from innovation.

Looking ahead to 2016, our next goal will be to consider how we can provide a broader range of financial support for innovation: with opportunity-led investment allowing us to find and prove the UK businesses capable of excelling in the global markets of the future and business-led investment allowing us to then grow and scale the businesses which have the highest potential.

Happy New Year from Innovate UK

So as we start 2016, we would like to wish everyone a very happy New Year and we look forward to working with you all in order to simplify and strengthen our mission to create a more prosperous UK.

Follow me on Twitter @KevinBaughan

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