Posts Tagged ‘Innovation’

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:

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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.

pollution control


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.

Can Diversity Management Thinking and Practices Help Social Enterprises to be More Innovative?

This paper led naturally from the social innovation paper in my previous blog post and presented me with an opportunity to work with interesting colleagues on a new area for me – diversity management.  We wrote this paper in 2008 and the research question that prompted this work was “what is the potential for diversity management to contribute to innovation in social enterprises?”

Bridgstock R, Lettice F, Ӧzbilgin M and Tatli A.  2010.  Diversity Management for Innovation in Social Enterprises in the UK, Entrepreneurship and Regional Development, Vol 22, No 5, pp1-18.

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We used the UK government definition of a social enterprise, which is “a business with primarily social objectives whose surpluses are principally reinvested for that purpose in the business or community” (Office of the Third Sector, 2006 – now called Office for Civil Society).  The study involved a quantitative questionnaire survey in 2006, with 285 responses from diversity officers across a range of organizations in the UK.

From the survey:

  •  85% of respondents believed that diversity management promotes high performance
  •  83% believe that diversity management fosters creativity and innovation in their organisations

Using a measure of organizational sophistication in diversity management, we found that private organisations were less sophisticated than public sector and voluntary sector firms.  Small firms are also less sophisticated than their medium and large sized counterparts.   So there is plenty of potential for small social enterprises to benefit from improved management of diversity internally and through building and expanding their networks.

The findings from the survey helped to scope the field of diversity management and to set the context for 6 qualitative case studies linking diversity and innovation.  This research showed that there were 3 key themes which emerged from analyzing our interview data: networked diversity, diversity as reconciliation, and diversity and funding.

  1.  Networked Diversity – is an innovative solution for small firms, who generally struggle to leverage diversity management due to their size and skills shortages.  Social enterprises can benefit from professional networks by gaining experience from commercial enterprises in the network and by eliciting corporate support for their social initiatives.  Professional networks provide sources of support and examples of good practice from a range of sectors (commercial and social), allowing cross-fertilisation of ideas and the network can facilitate the development and diffusion of innovative solutions to social challenges in unexpected ways.
  2. Diversity as Reconciliation – Reconciliation is a golden thread that runs through innovation, diversity and social enterprise – reconciliation of the tensions between maintaining the status quo and experimenting with new ideas, reconciliation of diverse individual interests in the context of work and institutional requirements and the reconciliation between social ends and commercial means.  A proactive approach to diversity management can enable the best talent to be identified and recognized from a bigger pool, but it can also bring challenges in managing and accommodating the increasingly diverse demands of this talent.
  3. Diversity and Funding – Finding funding to start or expand an enterprise or to launch or continue a project is a challenge that faces many social enterprises at one time or another.  There are a broad range of funders and funding sources available to entrepreneurs.  Finding, approaching and accessing them is not always straightforward.  Being able to network with a diverse set of stakeholders and to learn from other successfully funded entrepreneurs can be critical to success.

The case studies in our research showed that where diversity was being successfully managed, there was a positive innovation outcome.  For smaller organisations that cannot achieve internal diversity, networking can be an effective way to bring in diverse perspectives and knowledge.  Networks can be used to find examples of good practice, to seek collaborators, to cross-fertilise ideas, to access diverse talent and to access funding sources.

These and related findings were presented at the ‘Operations Management in the Third Sector’ Conference at Leeds University Business School on Wednesday 20th March 2013.

You can find out more about my co-authors at their websites – click through on their names:  Dr Ruth Bridgstock , Professor Mustafa Ӧzbilgin  and Dr Ahu Tatli.  

Secrets of Social Innovation Success – Changing the Lens, Building Missing Links, Engaging a New ‘Customer’ Base and Leveraging Peer-Support

January 18, 2012  |  Social Entrepreneurs, Social Innovation  |  2 Comments

Lettice F and Parekh M.  2010.  The Social Innovation Process: Themes Challenges and Implications for Practice, International Journal of Technology Management, Vol 51, No 1, pp139-158.  doi: 10.1504/IJTM.2010.033133

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This paper came about after meeting Menka Parekh at The Hub in London in 2007 and sharing a mutual interest in all things innovation.  We decided to work on a small-scale project to interview 10 social entrepreneurs and find out more about the social innovation process.  We were also interested to learn whether any lessons could be transferred from general business innovation theory and practice.

world wide web


We used Mulgan et al’s (2007) definition of social innovation as new products, services and models that have been developed to meet social needs.   It was recent then and resonated with our views of what social innovation is.

We then selected a broad range of people to interview from our networks, from start-ups to established and mature organisations and covering both private and not-for-profit sectors or some combination of the two.  We wanted to get a diverse set of views from which to generate common approaches, problems and enablers to social innovation.

From the interviews, we identified 4 dominant and recurring themes:

  1. Changing the Lens:  The social innovators had been able to view the problem in a different way from others, using a different lens and imagining a different solution.  For example, an electric vehicle start-up faced the problem that there is no market for electric vehicles (remember this was back in 2007!), but they re-expressed the problem as “there is a market for desirable vehicles” and set about designing and developing an electric sports car.
  2. Building Missing Links: This is the ability of the social innovators to link up previously unconnected parts of the market or find new spaces in between.  One ethical fashion organization wanted to better connect the markets for fashion with the producers “to reduce poverty and create sustainable livelihoods through trade”.
  3. Engaging a New ‘Customer’ Base: Many social innovations start on the fringes, outside the boundaries of traditional organisations and serve new or niche customer bases.  For example, fairtrade and organic products evolved as niche social innovations and have evolved to become increasingly mainstream offerings.  For social innovators that work with people on low incomes, it can be helpful to frame them as ‘customers’ to ensure that solutions resonate better with their wants and needs.
  4. Leveraging Peer-Support: We found that social innovators need to be part of a network or community of innovators and tap into peer support for inspiration, fresh ideas, moral support and access to partnerships and finance.  Our social innovators sometimes struggled to identify networks to connect with, as social innovations often span boundaries and do not neatly fit into a single category.  One of the interviewees said: “Charity people say we are a business, business people say we are a charity and the government says we are an odd hybrid!”

We did find that many of the problems faced by business entrepreneurs and innovators also apply to social innovators.  But, for social innovators the problems can be made worse by the increased complexity of a broader range of stakeholders and the seemingly intractable nature of some of the social problems being addressed.

Also, see the SIX (Social Innovation Exchange) website for the tools and techniques to help social innovators, which include Scanning the Periphery, Developing a Reflective Approach and Patience, Identifying a Niche Market and Creating or Leveraging a Peer Support System.

These and related findings were presented at the ‘Operations Management in the Third Sector’ Conference at Leeds University Business School on Wednesday 20th March 2013.


Mulgan G, Tucker S, Ali R and Sanders B.  (2007)  Social innovation: what it is, why it matters and how it can be accelerated, Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, Saïd Business School, Oxford University, The Young Foundation, working paper – downloadable from