He who pays the piper calls the tune
Funders of research and innovation, from Research Councils to Innovation Accelerators and Investors shape the focus and trajectory of innovation. Responsible Innovation asks funders to think more deeply about what they fund & to change the criteria for development and success they insist upon......
Much has been written about the success or otherwise of funding streams in shaping innovation to be more responsive to societal needs. Heated debates about 'picking winners' in research and innovation funding, the lack of patient capital and nature of socially responsible investment among many other issues are ongoing.
There is by no means a simple cause and effect equation possible, but increasingly it is being recognised by many that innovation is already skewed by the way funding pathways are chosen, the criteria for success and the questions asked and not asked in relation to funding and that the current mode has not been as successful as desired and many believe that a radical new approach is needed.
The UK Research Councils and European Commission funding streams which provide the lion's share of cash for University research have been giving considerable thought to how the process of funding can become more responsive to societal needs and some examples of that thinking are featured below.
Ideas for a changing role for institutional investors and venture capitalists are less advanced. Our past research with investors showed a significant interest in 'doing the right thing' but what that might look like in terms of high tech innovation is still up for debate. Certainly both parties felt they would be more responsive if only the other was more forthcoming.
Companies were saying "they have never once asked us for any information other than returns, we would happily give it to them"; while investors felt 'I think they are scared to talk about innovation in some areas because they are worried we will react badly, but it could provide the key to some future values for the company, so we really want to know how these technologies can help them."
Responsible Innovation proposes that funders ask more probing questions and broaden the criteria for funding. It also asks that that organisations seeking funds are more open about wider benefits and potential risks, and provide good evidence to their funders that they have considered these issues in advance.
"They probably have it under control", explained an investor to us, "but we don't know what they are doing, so can't factor either confidence or risk into our analysis. This needs to change for the good of both parties."