It found that people are pretty pro innovation but that they find the abstract concept hard to get their heads around.
Discussing innovation in practical terms – as new ideas leading to improvements in healthcare or energy supply – is far more accessible.
Five different innovators
Nesta identified five types of person based on the findings of a ComRes poll they commissioned:
- innovation futurists
- innovation romantics
- innovation creatives
- innovation realists
- innovation sceptics
The good news is that everyone except the sceptics are pretty supportive of innovation but only the futurists and romantics see it as intrinsically valuable. The rest are interested in what it can do for them and others – such as improving healthcare, energy, agriculture or education.
The polling also found that the largest group – the innovation realists – want to have more opportunity to discuss the ethics of new innovations, i.e. we should talk not just about what we ‘could’ do but what we ‘should’ do and people want to be part of that conversation. Or as David Willetts put it at the launch ‘what is possible is not always desirable’.
Practical stories makes research and innovation more accessible
This is all interesting stuff for those of us who set out to talk about science, demonstrate its value and encourage its development and use for the benefit of humanity. It suggests that when we set out to make the case for investing in and supporting research and innovation, we need to tell practical stories about how research can benefit individuals and society in tangible ways.
Interestingly in the discussion, medical research charities got a mention for being particularly good at this. They tell stories about the value of research in developing new treatments and improving healthcare, bringing the abstract concept of supporting innovation alive and encouraging individuals to discuss their feelings about new innovations.
It also suggests we as a society need to have a more open discussion about how we exploit these innovations, having a genuine public debate to decide what we could and what we should do.
Moving from niche to mainstream
And it does hint that if we can talk about innovation in this tangible way, supporting research and innovation might move from a niche conversation that just “innovation futurists” like to talk about to part of the mainstream conversation about how we improve services and deliver benefits to society.
Similarly conversations about whether we should invest in research and innovation might move from a focus on the financial returns to a more nuanced conversation about how and where we should encourage research and innovation to improve our living standards
Lots of interesting food for thought as we head towards a general election and a comprehensive spending review.