Innovation and Research Impact – Complementary or Competing Objectives?

November 5, 2013  |  Green Innovation, Innovation, Research impact  |  Comments Off on Innovation and Research Impact – Complementary or Competing Objectives?

This paper came about from having access to a complete set of research proposals on climate change and realising that there were some really interesting ways to analyse these.  Palie Smart and I worked out how best to develop the hypotheses and structure the paper.   When the research and paper started to take shape, Yehuda Baruch and Mark Johnson  analysed the data and helped to make sense of the findings.

Lettice F, Smart P, Baruch Y and Johnson M. 2012.  Navigating the impact-innovation double hurdle:  The case of a climate change research fund, Research Policy, 41, pp 1048-1057, doi:

Downloadable pdf

A summary of the research was also published at:  Lettice F and Smart P.  2012.  Don’t assume that innovation and impact go hand in hand, Research Fortnight, 3rd October, p20.

The impact agenda has become increasingly important within research settings within the UK higher education sector.  But there is a question over whether pursuing both research and commercialisation of that research are complementary or competing activities.  This is what we wanted to investigate.    We had access to all 102 of the proposals submitted to a climate change research fund.  This fund wanted to support innovative research projects that could demonstrate impact (climate change reduction) and future commercialisation of the research.  Of these 102 proposals, 27 received funding.

We considered whether those projects that predicted higher carbon reduction figures would be more likely to be funded or to receive higher levels of funding.  Our analysis showed that this was not the case.   We also assessed the commercial maturity of the projects and anticipated that those that were closer to commercialisation would be more likely to be funded.  Again, this was not the case.  We considered whether the projects funded were more likely to be cleaner production approaches, which aim to reduce or prevent emissions, or end-of-pipe solutions, where emissions are treated.  There have been calls to move towards more cleaner production approaches, which deliver higher benefits and have a bigger impact, so we anticipated that these approaches would be more likely to be funded.  Again, this was not the case.  This suggests that the other funding criteria rather than impact or commercialisation were more important.

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So was innovation more important than impact in the decision-making process?

First, we considered the level of innovation.  We hypothesised that projects with an incremental or continuity approach would be more likely to be funded than projects with a radical or discontinuity approach.  The more radical approaches could lead to higher carbon reduction, but would meet more resistance due to existing technological lock-in and the inability to reverse existing technology trajectories and path dependence.  There was no preference for either type of project.  We also considered whether projects were trying to diffuse existing solutions or create new innovations, again predicting that those that were trying to diffuse existing solutions would be more likely to be funded.  There was no shift towards new innovations in the funding of projects.

The funders requested that the proposals identified the levels of commercial, technical, societal and environmental risk within the projects.  We expected that lower risk projects would be more likely to receive funding.  However, what we found was that the decision makers favoured projects with higher technical, commercial and societal risks.   So in this case, there was some move towards riskier and possibly more innovative approaches.

Finally, we found that the success of the proposal was not based on departmental research standing nor on Principal Investigator gender.  This is contradictory to some other studies that show that funding is not always meritocratic.

The conclusions from this research are that the funders did not show any preference for funding any particular type of proposal.  The results are indicative of a compromise.  It may be that there were not sufficient individual proposals that met both the impact and innovation criteria.  Also, setting potentially competing criteria may make it harder for reviewers to compare proposals and assess claims, and so to arrive at an appropriate balance of funding decisions, particularly given the complexity and variety of the proposals and the uncertainty around how best to reduce carbon emissions.

We propose that rather than forcing the two strands of impact and innovation together in a single funding initiative, they should be seen as complementary strands and could be pursued by separate, but connected, groups of researchers and funding streams.   This would enable some researchers to work on incrementally improving and diffusing existing solutions to achieve faster impact and other researchers to pursue more systemic and discontinuous solutions that may not yet be able to demonstrate impact or where the impact is less immediate.

Greener Suppliers Boost Customers’ Green Innovations and Reputation

June 13, 2013  |  Buyer-Supplier Partnerships, Green Innovation  |  Comments Off on Greener Suppliers Boost Customers’ Green Innovations and Reputation

Chiou T-Z, Chan H K, Lettice F and Chong S H. 2011.  The influence of greening the suppliers and green innovation on environmental performance and competitive advantage in Taiwan, Transportation Research Part E: Logistics and Transportation Review, 47, pp 822-836.


Downloadable pdf

The aim of this research was to find out the extent to which firms are greening their supply chain and implementing green innovations and to see if this led to improved environmental performance and competitive advantage.  The study was conducted in Taiwan using a questionnaire survey with 124 respondents.

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In response to increasing environmental concerns, more organisations are actively seeking to reduce their environmental impact and are introducing ‘green’ products and using eco-design techniques.  These organisations are also increasingly expecting their suppliers to do likewise.  Some of the key reasons given for pursuing these green initiatives are to comply with regulation and legislation and to reduce costs.

Although there are many different definitions for Green Supply Chain Management (GSCM), GCSM can be broadly classified into internal and external environmental management.  The internal aspects are compliance with certification and managerial support for GCSM and the existence of environmental management systems within the organisation.  The external aspects include greening the supplier and involving them in helping the organisation to achieve its environmental objectives.  It can also include green purchasing, cooperation with customers, eco-design practices and green product innovation.  Long term strategic advantage can be achieved by working more closely and in partnership with suppliers, but this does involve significant investment in time and resources for both sides.  Guidance, advice and assistance are important to enable skills and knowledge to be shared about how to become more green.  Some companies have even established their own environmental standards for their suppliers.

Green innovation is often classified into green product and green process innovations.  Managerial support is also an essential part of reducing the negative environmental impact of a product and its associated manufacturing processes.  Green product innovation helps to reduce the negative impact of a product on the environment at any stage of its life cycle. Green process innovation requires adaptation to the manufacturing process that reduces environmental impact during material acquisition, production and delivery.

Greener suppliers help an organisation to develop more green innovations.  These initiatives can help to reduce material and packaging in the product and manufacturing processes.  Suppliers can also be invited to help to improve the product design directly and help to achieve better overall compliance with environmental regulations.

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As well as reducing negative impact on the environment, green innovation helps to improve an organisation’s reputation and competitive advantage.  Green supply chain initiatives enhance environmental performance and help with making cost savings.  The reputational benefits may also open up new business opportunities.  Our survey results showed that for the companies that responded, there was a significant and positive relationship between greening the supplier and developing green product and process innovations.  The results also showed that green product and process innovation leads to improved environmental performance and improved  competitive advantage.  These results suggest that there are new business opportunities, cost savings and reputational benefits for organisations that invest in greening their suppliers and green product and process innovations.  It is therefore worth investing time and effort in such green initiatives.