Is the UK getting innovation right?

A survey of perceptions of the impact of innovation and technology
Brexit Innovation Research and development Sustainable economics Weather United Kingdom

Following an election that seems to have settled the question of Brexit and has returned the first significant majority any government has enjoyed in a decade, public and political attention is likely to turn towards the pressing domestic issues that have felt neglected in recent years.

For this study, we set out to better understand public attitudes to innovation at a time of great technological and social change. Surveyed in Autumn 2019, we found participants preoccupied with an uncertain future, with two thirds finding a lack of long-term vision for the future of the UK outside the EU.

Main findings:

  • People want innovation to be used to tackle inequality – but don’t see it having that effect at present.
  • A majority (55 per cent) are prepared to limit certain types of innovation where it is likely to lead to inequality or disadvantage certain groups, and suggested implementing safeguards to protect the most vulnerable against unintended consequences.
  • People are keen to see innovation benefit the whole country and are willing to make some trade-offs to see this happen. For example, if there is a trade-off between reach and impact, 81 per cent of people would rather see innovation that has a smaller impact on a greater number of people over that which has a deeper impact on fewer people.
  • People believe government investment should focus on helping all parts of the UK become more prosperous, with 67 per cent willing to see some areas grow more slowly than they otherwise would as a result.
  • They also believe we should be investing in innovation that has a positive social impact, even if it doesn’t necessarily contribute to economic growth too. Top priorities included making the UK’s population healthier, improving the UK economy, making the UK safer and addressing the causes of climate change.

Key recommendations:

  • Direct research and development funding to tackle the challenges that really matter to people, like climate change, inequality and poor health.
  • Increase the impact of innovation at a local level by devolving more of the UK’s research and development budget to cities and regions, spreading the benefits of innovation across the UK.
  • Become more transparent about how public money is spent on innovation and how these decisions are made, to justify to the public how innovation policy is improving people’s lives.
  • Involve the public in meaningful conversation about the future and the role of innovation by making greater use of new 'participatory futures' methods.
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