Solving the data puzzle

Measuring an area’s strengths is a vital piece of the puzzle. But how profound can such measurement be? The Smart Specialisation Hub was set up (in part) to take stock of local areas’ innovation assets. That groundwork is now complete and being rolled out on our website and to Local Enterprise Partnerships. Therefore, we can turn our attention to developing our data sets, analysis and understanding into a nuanced and detailed offer according to the needs of our stakeholders.

Mapping data and other assets

An early manifestation of this new direction can be seen in our report, Mapping England’s Innovation Activity. If you haven’t taken a look at this yet, please do – we welcome your feedback. But beyond this, we want to deepen understanding to a point where we can really begin to take the pulse of a place.

A more profound understanding of a place needs to move beyond its innovation assets and outputs, vital though these are. Contextual mapping can offer richer insights: into assets, skills base, absorptive capacity, and physical and human geography:

  • What underlies the data that positions one LEP as particularly advanced in health and life sciences, for example?
  • What plans do local universities have to focus on particular specialisms, or plan and lead joint projects?
  • Are the Local Enterprise Partnership refreshing their Strategic Economic Plan?
  • Is the area ‘sticky’ for graduates, and if not, how can they be attracted back?
  • Is the area well-served for skills provision – not just for its present specialisations, but emergent sectors and technologies too?

Addressing these questions properly is time and resource-intensive. Empirical validation of quantitative and qualitative data is critical, and much of the worth of such work sits in its timeliness. But approached properly, this sort of mapping is of obvious value: to Government, both local and national; LEPs; universities, and investors, both public and private.

Aligning strengths with needs, visibly underpinned by robust methodology and application of insight, can empower a locality with a renewed confidence that their decision-making is informed, sensitive and evidence-based.

Our next steps

We are exploring a proof of concept of this form of deeper mapping to gauge interest and feasibility and we look forward to sharing more information in due course. As we continue to work with the next wave of Science and Innovation Audits and help LEPs to revitalise their plans, we will have ample opportunity to share and receive insight. In addition, feeding into the forthcoming Industrial Strategy white paper and developing our ties to local government will help lend our deliberations strategic oversight.

Next week, one of our Stakeholder Engagement Managers, Viola Hay, will be reflecting in these pages on currently open calls for European Structural and Investment Funds. We are happy to support these in any way we can, whether through facilitating project development meetings, validating Smart Specialisation approaches or endorsing projects of merit.

But in the context of gaining access to these and other streams, the need for evidencing strategic fit – and truly understanding your geography in this way – is readily apparent. And our sensitivity to these needs, and ability to address them, will form part of our next phase of work.

Get in touch

As always, we are happy to help and to hear from you. Please contact us with comments, suggestion and queries, and follow us on Twitter for the latest updates and thoughts on current innovation policy.

About the author

Andrew Basu-McGowan is the Policy Manager for the Smart Specialisation Hub, a role he assumed in April 2016. Andrew’s chief focus is on forging the collaborations and policy links that drive connected localities and regions, and promoting the role of universities in building diverse and resilient economies.

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