Realising Wales’ potential as an innovation nation

As the Welsh Government prepares to publish its new Innovation Strategy for Wales, the Learned Society of Wales presents ideas to contribute to Wales realising its potential as an innovation nation.

Over the last eighteen months, the Society has convened six roundtable discussions led by Professor Rick Delbridge FLSW, bringing together innovation experts, practitioners and leaders to help inform and improve innovation policies and practices in and for Wales.

Innovation is a much used and sometimes misunderstood term”, said Professor Delbridge. “At its heart, innovation is about creating value. And that value might be cultural or social as well as economic. Innovation is not just about new technologies and scientific breakthroughs, it is crucial to addressing societal challenges and improving public services.”.

Alongside specific developments in Wales, the roundtables reflected on the recent developments at UK-level, including the UK Innovation Strategy, the UK Government’s commitment to uplift investment in research and development, and to increase the proportion of investment outside the Greater Southeast of the UK.  The creation of a UK government Department for Science, Innovation and Technology in the last few weeks is further recognition of the importance of research and development to the economy and society.

The UK level developments present a relatively promising context for research and innovation activity. However, the loss of access to EU Structural Funds, which have been significant in supporting the development of Wales’ RDI capacity and collaborative potential, and the lack to date of equivalent replacement funding schemes within the UK Government’s Shared Prosperity Fund programme is a major challenge for innovation in Wales. In the future, actors in the Welsh research and innovation ecosystem are likely to need to be more effective in securing competitive funding.  The ambition and implementation of the Welsh Government’s new Innovation Strategy will be crucial to Wales realising these opportunities.

Kellie Beirne, Chief Executive of Cardiff Capital Region City Deal, and a member of the roundtable group added “Crises or challenges are adrenalin for innovation and solving some of the most intractable problems be they societal, economic or net-zero. Innovation is a choice. Seeing the opportunity is not the same as seizing it. The renewed focus has to therefore be on innovation as a verb – not a noun.”

The key conclusions identified in the discussions include:

  • The need for a better narrative of, and for innovation, which captures and contributes to a distinctive culture of innovation.
  • Investment is required to address capacity and capability issues, coupled with strategies for developing, attracting and retaining talent.
  • Better coordination of opportunities, facilitation of connections, and recognition of the importance of intangible assets, including clusters, could help to catalyse activity
  • The potential offered by the Innovation Commons to do things differently, and bring the Five Ways of Working into innovation practice.

The roundtable discussions brought together leading innovation practitioners, facilitators and thinkers. The reports  provide a valuable insight into the key issues within innovation practice and policy in Wales and beyond.

There are many examples of successful activities in the Welsh R&D ecosystem, and a clear appetite to further develop capability and capacity to share the wide-ranging benefits of innovation throughout the nation” said Professor Hywel Thomas, President of the Society. “We look forward to supporting the Welsh Government to realise the ambitions of the Innovation Strategy for Wales”.

The overview and reports from each of the roundtable discussions are available on the Society’s website.