Bringing experimentation and evidence to innovation policy: a radical idea whose time has come

By Geoff Mulgan & Albert Bravo-Biosca on Monday, 16 May 2016.

One of the embarrassing truths of modern innovation and entrepreneurship policy is that surprisingly little policy is backed by hard evidence. Ideas and options tend to be deduced from theory and anecdotes rather than tested empirically.

A few years ago Nesta supported the Compendium of Evidence on the Effectiveness of Innovation Policy, led by researchers at Manchester University. With some exceptions, it showed that the evidence was scarce, often of poor quality, and typically inconclusive. Should governments back all startups? Should they subsidise access to coaching for SMEs or help them to export? Are R&D tax credits more effective than R&D grants? The honest answer to many of these questions is that we just don’t know.

Many have concluded that that’s just not good enough, and a movement is now gathering momentum across the world that is applying experimental methods to innovation and entrepreneurship policy. It argues for the maximum openness to new ideas, and then for rigorous experimentation to test promising ideas out, ideally with a control group. That way you can find out if the beneficiaries of a particular intervention really do grow more than a control group. If they don’t, you can probably save money.

In a few weeks’ time the IGL Global Conference Making Innovation and Growth Policy Work on May 24-26, in collaboration with the Kauffman Foundation and the World Bank, will bring together the people at the forefront of this movement. The conference will showcase some of the latest ideas in innovation and entrepreneurship policy, and explore how governments can become more experimental in putting put them into practice.

In a nutshell, we want to help policy makers to develop more impactful policies. And to do so, we have assembled over 40 speakers coming from (literally) all corners of the world, so that we can all learn from their experience (as well as from the experience of everyone else in the room).

Some speakers such as Ilona Lundström (Executive Director at Tekes) or Andres Zahler (Head of Innovation at Chile’s economics ministry) will share the cutting-edge support programmes that their organisations have developed, and the areas where they see most promise. Others, such as Tiina Likki from the UK Behavioural Insights Team, will explain their first-hand experience on making their own organisations more experimental from within, and how they overcame the barriers that often make it a difficult journey.

And we will also hear on the latest evidence and research in this space, from leading researchers such as Karim Lakhani, a Harvard Business School professor who has been working with NASA testing different ways to help them develop more innovative solutions to the unique challenges that they face.

This is the first ever global event bringing together the nascent international community of policy makers, practitioners and researchers interested in experimental innovation and growth policy. So if you are thinking about how to develop more effective policies in this space, this is an event you really should not miss.


Book your ticket to the #IGL16 conference here