On Friday 22nd April, our Stakeholder Engagement Manager, Ross, represented the Hub at a BEIS organised workshop reviewing progress of the Wave 2 Science and Innovation Audits (SIA). The working group included all the active Wave 2 SIAs, a selection of Wave 1 consortia and other interested parties. The event was an opportunity to share background and progress on the audits, as well as a bit of “group therapy” around the challenges the process has thrown up.
There was a heavy university presence, which was to be expected, as universities are not only critical assets and actors in science and research, but also play an important role in innovation. However, it underscores a Wave 1 concern about the relative focus on the “S” (science) versus the “I” (innovation).
The Wave 2 consortia presented in turn which allowed comparison and demonstrated both running themes, and differences in focus and issues. Health care – particularly with a digital or data component – and med-tech featured across several SIAs, as did advance manufacturing and enabling technologies such as digital capabilities and cognitive computing.
There was agreement that the SIA process had been an interesting exercise. The audits had been and useful mechanism in bringing various innovation actors together, particularly the East of England and Innovation South consortia, that are both broad geographic areas. These are using the SIAs to galvanise a regional identity and build a narrative to present to Government that can stand alongside the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine.
Although the was an obvious focus on demonstrating strengths, finding cross-cutting applications was also important. The consortia welcomed the opportunity to identify and champion their capabilities, as well as assembling an evidence base to support future investment. The Off-Shore Renewable Energy SIA – markedly different from other SIAs being principally sectoral – could dig deeper into a well mapped and studied industry to find applications that had previously been missed, explore future applications and unearth strong innovation case studies.
The discussions also highlighted challenges that the consortia had experienced. Again, there were many similar issues that had been encountered. Despite the convening power of the audits it has been difficult to get all potentially valuable parties involved, particularly industry. Further, gathering responses to consultations and maintaining engagement was a challenge – not always helped by the lack of a direct link to funding.
There are broad political challenges as well. Vested interests and pet projects are part of this and need to identified and appropriately dealt with. The consortia bring together several parties with a range of interests that create complex relationships that need to be managed and consequently finding consensus can be difficult.
… and The Audits Process
The tight timeline for delivering of the audits was an issue for most of the consortia and there was an almost universal problem with lack of resource for delivery.
The most consistent issue was data. Obtaining, collating and analysing data has been a challenge. There is a lack of granularity both by sector and geographically. Further, data is recorded and tagged differently by different providers, making collation and comparison difficult. New areas of development are hard to separate out and data is not necessarily recorded for them, and there is the perennial issue of private sector R&D data not being available.
It is clear to the Hub, from the feedback and discussion at this workshop and conversations we have had with LEPs and SIA consortia, that the audit process has been valuable to those areas going through the process. The collaborations initiated and strengthened through the development of SIA consortia and the evidence collated endorse the mechanism. From a national perspective, the audits are adding to our understanding of UK capabilities and crucially identifying data gaps and needs.
The Hub and others can use this information to complete the picture, target our analysis and develop truly comparable insights of our regions. This, in turn, will help to direct both local and national investment in innovation and growth.