Designing research ecosystems: part 1.


Sam Wilkinson, Sustainability, Head of Applied Research & Innovation

Setting the scene for our innovation ambitions.

The UK government recently released its Innovation Strategy. At this unique time of national and global change, there is also great opportunity for positive, transformative industrial change ahead. The strategy provides an ambition to position the country as a ‘research superpower’ to address these challenges and opportunities.

A global Britain.

Alongside a cluster of developments in national research and innovation policy, it gives an insight into the mind of government around how innovation is central to the economic, social and environmental vision for the future.

Towards plans to make the UK a global hub for innovation by 2034, the strategy is accompanied by some key announcements:

– The establishment of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA).

– A confirmation of the UK’s associated status within the EU’s flagship €95+ billion Horizon Europe research programme, ensuring our continuing involvement until 2027.

– Restated plans to increase annual public investment in R&D to £22 billion, aiming to bring total investment to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.

– The creation of a new National Science and Technology Council to provide strategic direction.

– The Research and Development (R&D) Roadmap from July 2020.

– Forthcoming strategies on AI, Digital, Food, Sector Visions, pathways to Net Zero, and the ‘Levelling Up’ white paper.

The Innovation Strategy has core support mechanisms that are structured around four implementation pillars:

Pillar 1: Unleashing business.

Aiming to boost the conditions for businesses to innovate, with actions primarily on finance such as supporting Innovate UK, tax incentives, and venture capital through the British Business Bank. It also includes measures around infrastructure, regulation, IP, trade, procurement, and research commercialisation…

Pillar 2: People.

There will be a focus on more teaching, apprenticeships, and diversity, to develop the UK’s workforce and attract talent around core areas of innovation.

Pillar 3: Institutions and places.

Initiatives like the creation of ARIA, further support for the research councils and Catapult Centres targeting R&D investments for regional economic growth are included. There is also £127 million added to the Strength in Places fund.

Pillar 4: Missions and technologies.

Centring on outcome-focused ‘innovation missions’, with the ‘families’ identified as being critical on the path to solving these missions.

Critical technology ‘families’:

  1. Advanced materials and manufacturing.
  2. AI, digital and advanced computing.
  3. Bioinformatics and genomics.
  4. Engineering biology.
  5. Electronics, photonics, and quantum.
  6. Energy, environmental and climate technologies.
  7. Robotics and Smart Machines.
All of these ‘mission-based’ technologies will impact on the future of the built environment directly through how we design, construct, operate and inhabit it.

Innovation missions are likely to focus on issues such as the climate and biodiversity crises, demographic change, threats and opportunities from AI, cyber, and space, and public health challenges – complementing broader sectorial challenge funds such as the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

In part two, I will examine how we at Hoare Lea are unlocking the strategy’s potential.