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Announcing winners of the IRC Open Call

May 14, 2024

Insights & Reviews

The IRC is pleased to announce the recipients of our first Flexible Fund Open Call, delivering evidence and insights to support the Research and Innovation system. See below for more information about the projects and their teams.

Projects Funded via the IRC Open Call Round 1

UK Doctoral Graduates’ contributions to innovation

Project summary:

PhD holders are argued to make substantial economic, social and cultural contributions, and to present an important channel of knowledge transfer from science to industry. Yet, the evidence base regarding PhDs’ contribution to innovation is relatively undeveloped.  

The primary goal of this project is to create a longitudinal database of UK PhD graduates that allows identifying their direct and indirect contribution to invention. While the UK accounts for a comparatively low share of overall patent applications in Europe (about 2.9%, EPO), a high proportion of its research papers is cited in patents (about 10%, Elsevier). A longitudinal database of UK PhDs’ research and inventive outputs would thus provide an estimate on the extent to which graduates support invention through their research. 

This project will adopt the methodology developed by DOC-TRACK, a European-wide effort to investigate the performance of PhDs and create a new open access PhD database thus permit comparative studies on doctorate holders’ performance. At its core, this methodology relies on an Electronic Doctoral Theses (EDT) repositories, matched to publication and patent data. Academically, this project will contribute to streams of research concerning science and its relationship with innovation. 

Project team: Cornelia Lawson, Xin Deng (MIOIR, The University of Manchester) 

Trusted Research & Innovation: An investigation of knowledge leakage

Project summary

The Trusted Research & Innovation project is an investigation of knowledge leakage. To support a robust innovation ecosystem, the UK seeks to access and create innovative knowledge by attracting research collaborations and recruiting top talent. However, the risk of knowledge leakage, especially in international research collaborations, is viewed as a significant threat to the success of UK research. Concerns about this knowledge leakage are at the core of the UK government and UKRI’s focus on Trusted Research and Innovation (TRI). However, we have very little understanding of where this leakage occurs, what technologies it affects and how businesses respond.

This project aims to develop evidence and insights into knowledge leakage to support innovation and innovation policies. Better understanding leakage is crucial for balancing the tensions between the need to foster knowledge flows and research collaborations with the need to protect against knowledge leakage. The project aims to provide industry-specific insights with a focus on knowledge leakage in sensitive technologies. The project will help better safeguard investments in our research & innovation ecosystem, while informing risk assessment and TRI support initiatives. This will support the development of a proportionate response to the TRI threat and evidence-based policymaking.  Ultimately, by better understanding knowledge leakage, the project seeks to support the knowledge flows crucial to the UK’s innovation ecosystem.

Project team: Dr Nicola Searle, Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor), ICCE, Goldsmiths, University of London

UK Firms’ R&D Internationalisation: A Comprehensive and Statistical Review (FFOpen006)

Project summary:

The project aims to provide a comprehensive overview of cross-border R&D by UK
firms, analyzing how they have adapted to major economic shocks particularly in
response to Brexit and COVID-19. This involves examining the innovation
collaborations with foreign partners and the variation in innovation efforts across
different industrial sectors, with a special focus on green and digital technologies. The
research will develop a major data infrastructure to integrate various complex
databases, including firm financial and ownership records and patent data. This will
allow for an in-depth exploration of the UK’s role in global innovation, identifying trends
in R&D internationalization, and assessing the comparative advantages in key
technological domains. Key contributions of the project include enhancing
understanding of firm, technological, and sectoral heterogeneity in R&D practices. The
findings are expected to inform UKRI’s strategic themes, such as building a
sustainable future and advancing data-driven social sciences. The project aims to
influence R&D policy by providing insights into the effective alignment of government
policy goals with the realities of international R&D activities.

Project team: Dalia Ribaudo, Aston Business School and Professor Jun Du, Aston Business School

Beyond Smart Specialisation: Seeking Evidence of Network Weaving Effects of Green and Digital Place-Based Innovation Policy

Project summary:
The investment and activities of the UKRI provide the cornerstone of our national innovation performance and wider scientific base. With numerous industrial and economic transitions on the horizon (Devolution, Levelling Up, and so on), the historical importance of enabling diverse routes of learning, discovery, and technological progress is paramount to re-industrialisation and achieving social benefit. However, as highlighted in this funding call by the Innovation and Research Caucus, numerous contextual hurdles exist to unlocking UK Economic Growth, such as designing complex policy agendas, investing in R&D, technologies with high-growth potential, and regional characteristics. Making effective decisions requires coordinated and multidisciplinary insights to understand the complex factors embedded in the rapid development of industrial and nested technologies (Magro & Wilson, 2019).
This study aims to explore the notions of smart specialisation, twin transitions, and the role of network weaving agents within place-based innovation policy. While previous reports have demonstrated numerous contextual challenges of designing regional innovation policy, there remains a need to explore further how policy-mix scenarios and sectoral adjacencies may influence the route for technology specializations, twin transitions and the technological convergence of R&D and innovation activities across adjacent sectors. While some studies have inferred a need for further empirical work within this realm, few studies explore this complexity.
Project team: Dr Stephanie Scott, University of Durham, Dr Farzana Chowdhury, Durham University Business School, Dr Bettina, Becker Durham University Business School, Dr Efpraxia Zamani, Durham University Business School

Building winners: the policy levers for impactful innovation (FFOpen009)

Project summary:

Innovation is a driver of growth and productivity. However, not all innovations are equal and innovative activity is uneven in the UK. Our project aims to foster better innovations in different places and their adoption by non-innovating companies. We will explore questions such as what some of the most impactful innovations are and, perhaps more importantly, how can policymakers help the delivery of impactful innovations?  

We will combine quantitative and qualitative expertise to answer these questions. Firstly, we will analyse patent data to identify widely adopted patents (our definition of impactful innovations). Secondly, we will interview creators and users of impactful innovations to better understand their experiences, challenges, and perceptions of support and assess the help they received. 

Our findings will be useful to several UKRI stakeholders with the ultimate beneficiary being businesses and individuals that innovate. We aim to deliver actionable insights for Research & Development (R&D) funders such as Innovate UK, The Catapult Network and other policies of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT). We will also consider the geographical aspect of innovation, contributing to the Levelling Up agenda of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC).  

Project team: Dr Anastasios Kitsos, Aston University, Dr Dalila Ribaudo, Aston University, Dr Chloe Billing, University of Birmingham, Dr Charlotte Hoole, University of Birmingham Robin Polding, Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, Tyler Rickard, Department for Science, Innovation and Technology and Mara Sankey Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Effect of parenting engagement on research productivity: A comparison of productivity cost pre- to post-pandemic’

For academic-parents the COVID-19 lockdowns of 2020-22, the onset of these increased personal-responsibilities (exacerbated mainly by the closure of formal childcare centres and schools), were met with corresponding increase in work responsibilities caused by the sudden shift to online teaching, reduced access to research facilities and other disruptions to research activities. As a result, academic parents, especially women, suffered from a loss of research productivity and competitivity than their academic peers who either do not have children, or have children who are significantly older. The effect of this disruption, especially as it pertains to the research careers of academic parents, is unlikely to be contained to the COVID-19 lockdown years (2020-22) and will manifest over a longer period of time. For academic-parents, means that the hallmarks of a successful academic career necessary to achieve a workplace promotion – research productivity, attracting competitive funding and/or establishing collaborative relationships – will be delayed or else lost entirely. This study aims to estimate the productivity lost by academic parents because of the pandemic, and understand the challenges faced by academics who are parents and/or caregivers towards developing evaluation strategies to sensitively accommodate for time lost to research productivity and visibility as a result of the pandemic.

Project team: Gemma Derrick, University of Bristol

Dynamics of place-based innovation – What is the role of business support in helping firsttime rural SME innovators overcoming innovation barriers in Scotland?

Project summary:

Addressing ‘Determining the constraints to UK economic growth’, this research project investigates how first-time-innovator rural small businesses could overcome known innovation barriers in rural Scotland. Selected small businesses are non-land-based firms with up to 49 employees, operating outside of agriculture, fishery, and forestry. We investigate what the role of business advice could be to support these first-time rural innovators. 

This research delves into how business support interventions need to be tailored to rural firms and what types of business support enables placemaking in rural areas to leverage place-based innovation and contribute to “levelling-up” considering the complex interplay between firms and their social, economic, political, physical or spatial contexts (including the natural environment).   

Applying the theory-of-change approach, our research will investigate the root causes for undeveloped, or lack of, innovation by first-time rural innovators, which is critical for producing actionable insights for rural socio-economic development. This pioneering research will add needed insights to demonstrate how innovation dynamics can be fostered addressing socio-economic contexts and contributes to design of business support strategies for place-based innovation support. 

Project team: Dr Inge Hill, The Open University, researchers from University of Warwick’s Enterprise Research Centre, Open University colleagues and business support practitioner, Dr MacIntyre. 

Catalyst for Change: Transformative and Inclusive Strategies in Social Science Commercialisation

Project summary:

This project seeks to promote inclusive innovation in the commercialisation of UK university research. Building on existing work point to the lack of diversity and inclusion in innovation and commercialisation, our project seeks to develop a novel approach to mainstream equality and inclusion at all stages of the innovation process. Adopting a process design approach, that brings together key stakeholders to co-produce new innovation tools, that center the needs of a wider range of users. In so doing, our project will provide unique solutions for integrating inclusion into the business practice in order to make EDI part of “the business-as-usual approach” in innovation. This ambitious project will thus provide evidence of the multiple ways in which inclusion can provide new opportunities for growth in the UK economy.

Project team: Prof Roberta Guerrina, University of Bristol, Professor Anne Laure Humbert, Oxford Brookes University, Dr Jeff Pilgrim-Brown, University of Bristol and Julian Jantke, SHAPE Catalyst

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