IGL year in review

By The IGL team on Wednesday, 20 December 2023.

Image by Stefanie Schmid Rincon

                                       Image by Stefanie Schmid Rincon

2023 saw IGL kick off exciting new partnerships and projects, deepen relationships with longstanding collaborators, and break new ground both in how we work and our thematic areas of focus. This blog shares highlights of our year, and looks ahead to what’s on our radar for 2024.

Supporting our network of government partners to become more impactful

This year we continued to grow our network of core IGL Partners, welcoming Scottish Enterprise, and were delighted that Innovate UK, ISED Canada and ENISA in Spain renewed their multi-year participation in IGL. 

At IGL we help our partners individually and collectively to drive policy impact through experimentation, evidence and data. In 2023, this included supporting partners to develop new evaluations and experiments, sharing knowledge about policy challenges such as SME technology adoption, and integrating data-driven strategies and methods to improve the way they work. For example, we helped a number of partners think about how to incorporate machine learning in funding application processes, and the effective use of internal and open-access data to monitor innovation themes and funded project teams more closely. 

We’ve also convened several cross-partner ‘inspiration sessions’ over the course of the year on topics including:

  • the use of design methods to uncover the lost innovative potential of places
  • accelerating science commercialisation and increasing university-business collaboration
  • the links between net zero and productivity
  • inclusive innovation policies and practices
  • understanding effective innovation ecosystems
  • barriers and enablers in policy experimentation. 

If you’d like to learn more about how we can support your organisation to use experimentation, evidence, design and data through the IGL partnership, do get in touch!

Making innovation policy more experimental and data-driven

Building on the impact of our earlier work to incentivise innovation agencies to engage in policy experimentation, this year we have continued to advance experimental and data-driven innovation policy via two major new projects.

In January, we launched an ambitious three-year project with the European Commission to promote the use of policy experimentation and citizen engagement in research and innovation policies across Europe. We are working with DG RTD to identify how best to embed policy experimentation in the new EU Framework Programme, Europe’s flagship Research and Innovation funding programme. In collaboration with Nesta’s Centre for Collective Intelligence Design, we are also exploring citizens' attitudes to engagement and experimentation through a multi-country survey. The insights from this research will help to shape three experiments to test citizen engagement in EU Missions - look out for more details in 2024.

In June, we started a new collaboration with the European Innovation Council (EIC) to support the agency on data-driven, experimental, and collaborative public sector innovation processes. The EIC is Europe’s new flagship programme to identify, develop, and scale up breakthrough technologies and game-changing innovations, and this collaboration has given us the opportunity to support them in leveraging the untapped potential of their data for better and more effective policies. We are currently implementing three experimental case studies using data within the EIC and beyond, running a data use benchmarking exercise across innovation agencies, and preparing the collaborative events that will take place in the first half of the new year. Get in touch with us if you’d like your agency to be included!

We’ve also continued supporting a range of experiments, whether at the early design stage or to help achieve wider impacts on research and policy. We’ve been delighted to see experiments that were once ideas discussed at an IGL research meeting become completed papers, for example the great work by Amisha Miller and her co-authors showing how the changes to the evaluation processes applied by investors could reduce gender disparities. Our partner FFG took stock of the learning from its EU funded experiments and we put the finishing touches on the overarching Business Basics Programme evaluation which will finally be out in 2024. In 2024, we’ll also have more to say about the current experiments we are undertaking, which include one on boosting takeup for an SME advice programme and another testing support for SMEs with the net zero transition. 

Growing our work in data science and innovation mapping

In 2023, IGL focused on expanding the data science and innovation mapping capabilities of innovation agencies - an important step in developing more effective ecosystems. This included supporting ARIA, the UK’s new breakthrough innovation agency, in identifying national innovation clusters and areas where the UK holds comparative strengths, and in horizon scanning for emerging innovation areas. As part of this work we developed a bottom-up taxonomy methodology, designed to highlight UK strengths in a nuanced and comprehensive way. We’ll be building on this work next year through some exciting new collaborations in the pipeline.

This year we also helped to build the data skills of applied researchers who often work with policymakers. The TalTech hackweek, for example, gave participants opportunities to apply these skills in diverse projects, including media sentiment analysis, a metastudy to control AI hallucination, and a classifier for house appliances based on intermediate frequency responses in power lines - see more in our public GitHub repository. We also designed and led a week-long PhD workshop for social scientists, focusing on imparting comprehensive skills in natural language processing (NLP) from basic to advanced levels.

Testing new ways of building knowledge, capabilities and relationships

This year we have piloted a new approach to advance experimentation in organisations -  our Impact Accelerator - starting with a focus on interventions to increase university-industry collaboration. This capability-building format invites clearly identified projects to apply for a spot on a multi-session applied training in experimentation, followed by targeted one-on-one support to reach the experimental piloting phase within months. Stay tuned for more pieces on this project in the spring and future iterations of the Accelerator targeting other policy areas!

Throughout 2023 we’ve also continued to provide opportunities for up-and-coming experimental researchers, with the aim of enabling high-impact experimental research in this space. We supported the fourth annual Conference on Field Experiments on Strategy (see this thread on X for a summary) and led training workshops for PhD students at different universities. We've also released materials to support those carrying out randomised experiments - including useful templates and a guide to quantitative analysis and helped connect researchers and policymakers. With this workstream and network of talented researchers worldwide, we look forward to the new ideas and experiments that may emerge as a result.

Mapping the future of innovation systems and agencies

Effective innovation ecosystems require agile and innovative policy institutions. In 2023, IGL deepened our work in this area by supporting the presidency of the Taftie network of European innovation agencies. This involved designing surveys and analysing the new roles that Taftie members are taking on in relation to technology transfer, intellectual property, European funding and support for startups and scaling businesses. We identified many opportunities for these agencies to experiment and develop more impactful programmes in these areas - we’ll be sharing more ideas in a blog next year.

This year, IGL has also been a core member of the UN Economic Commission for Europe’s Transformative Innovation Network (ETIN). In March, we partnered with Sweden’s innovation agency Vinnova to co-design and run a pair of linked policy dialogue events for ETIN, considering the different approaches being taken for ‘mission oriented’ innovation policies, and the capabilities and skills required by governments to bring them to life. This has spurred new ideas about strategic learning in the context of driving transformative innovation. We’ll be diving deeper into this topic in 2024, with a focus on how innovation agencies can develop scenarios of different plausible futures in order to help them make better strategic choices in the here and now.

Promoting experimentation to recover the lost innovative potential

Recovering the lost innovative potential of people and places traditionally left out of innovation processes has become a focal part of IGL’s work on inclusive innovation. This year, we worked with Innovate UK to develop a framework for how they might embed dynamic learning and experimentation in their mission to increase and diversify the UK’s R&D sectors' skills and talent. Part of this work was repurposed to produce a toolkit others might use to enable innovation missions to become more robust and evidence-based

In addition, we looked at pathways to innovative careers through the Sciences and Arts as part of continued research into ways data, design and experimentation might support inclusive innovation policymaking. We also wrapped up a four-year project on embedding citizen participation in the work of innovation agencies across Europe, exploring what the impact of widening R&I activities might mean in the far future. Finally, as the year comes to an end, we are kicking off an exciting new project in Northern Ireland to develop and pilot a framework for measuring the wider impacts of policies designed to promote inclusion in innovation. Stay tuned for more on this in 2024.

Shaping and informing policy debates

Alongside our projects and partnerships, we’ve been advocating publicly for the changes we want to see in the fields of science, innovation, entrepreneurship and business policies.  In 2023 we’ve shared our ideas at the European Commission, the United Nations, the OECD, and policy institutions across OECD countries. We’ve published a report on net zero and productivity in SMEs, and many blogs, including this piece for Apolitical on sustaining female leadership in the workforce. Members of our team have been invited to join the UK’s Government Evaluation and Trial Advice Panel, and we’ve been working closely with policymakers and other actors across Spain from our base at the Barcelona School of Economics to influence the development of impact evaluation legislation and push for more policy experimentation. 

It has been a rich year of learning and sharing, and we’re looking forward to more of the same in the year ahead! If anything above relates to work you are doing or thinking about, we’d love to hear from you. Do reach out at [email protected]