Wednesday, January 16, 2013
NESTA IN WALES
NESTA’s annual roadshow to encourage greater innovation in Wales.
As a charity devoted to promoting and developing innovation across the UK, the event was a perfect opportunity to showcase the work they are already doing in Wales and to consult on how to promote further innovation in the economy.
This includes a research project at the University of Wales that is examining regional innovation within peripheral economies, using Wales as a case study of how academia, industry and government can work together to develop a more innovative economy.
Whilst the project still has some way to go until it is completed, the preliminary results should hopefully have a direct impact on the way that innovation policy is developed within Wales, especially in terms of the commercialisation of knowledge from business and the university sector.
There will be more written on the results from this research project over the next few months.
But it is not only academic research studies that NESTA supports. A number of more practical innovation projects were presented on the day, all of which were very different to each other but showcased how innovation can make a difference.
One of these is “The Big Green Challenge”, a £1 million prize fund for communities across the UK funded by NESTA to develop a plan to reduce carbon emissions.
Only three winners shared this prize in the UK, and one of these was the Green Valleys community interest company in the Brecon Beacons.
With £300,000 to take its ideas forward, it has focused on using carbon reduction as a way to promote economic renewal within local communities through increases in renewable energy generation, developing sustainable woodland, reductions in fossil fuel dependency and promoting local sustainable food production. It is certainly a model that could and should be replicated across other local communities.
Another equally innovative but totally different project supported by NESTA is the Welsh Crucible project. Led by Cardiff University, this is a programme of personal, professional and leadership development for highly promising young academics who are building their careers in Wales.
It aims to help participants to discover how other early- to mid-career researchers in other disciplines are tackling the same issues as them, the skills and attitudes that are likely to make their research more innovative, and how thinking creatively can make a difference to their work and career.
And as readers of the Western Mail will have discovered through a series of articles last year, it is also supporting young researchers to transfer their knowledge to the public sphere to make an impact thus demonstrating the real value that exists within Welsh universities.
Finally, there is the Creative Councils programme that has been developed by NESTA and the Local Government Association to support innovators in local government across England and Wales to develop and implement radical innovations that address a long-term challenge that matters in their area.
With only six local authorities funded across the UK, it is great news that one of the most forward thinking councils in Wales has been chosen to participate in this public sector innovation programme. Monmouthshire has used the opportunity to develop the 'Your County Your Way' programme to implementing a cultural transformation within the council to listen and respond more creatively to the needs of its communities.
Central to this approach is an internal training programme, the Intrapreneurship School, which is building innovation skills across all departments within the council, and I am proud that my colleague Richie Turner has been working closely with the team at Monmouthshire to help develop opportunities in this area. Details of the programme are shown in the video below.
Therefore, NESTA certainly is pushing the boundaries when it comes to supporting individuals and organisations to develop new ways of thinking and doing here in Wales but more certainly needs to be done to encourage those with great ideas to come forward to help the economy.
Indeed, too often we have organisations purporting to be supporting innovation when it is merely words on a document rather than real action. As Paul Matthews, the Chief Executive of Monmouthshire County Council, noted in his excellent presentation, "innovation is a mindset" that needs to be adopted across the organisation.
Certainly we need to encourage more private, public and voluntary organisations to think more innovatively and, more important, to act more innovatively if we are to move forward as a nation. The fact that we already have some fantastic projects in Wales to act as trailblazers to others is a massive step in the right direction.
The last word of the event went to Geoff Mulgan, the chief executive of NESTA, who said in his closing speech that "We want to be an ally and partner to all innovators in Wales".
It is an invitation that should be taken seriously and I hope that Welsh innovators will take full advantage of this offer over the next few years.