Research councils focus and restrict their funding to those at higher education establishments. Whilst this currently makes sense for basic/fundamental research, why is this exclusive to this group of organisations? It is understandable that higher education institutions need funds, but there should be opportunities for the rest of society to access more funds to innovate and work on societal challenges too. Especially as so many businesses, charities and individuals are innovating and delivering valuable solutions to many of the challenges that research councils pose.
The best ideas will come from opening these challenges up to not just academics, but experts, innovators and anyone with valuable ideas from all over. There are many ways to easily engage and increase diversity and innovation in the UK. All of these begin with opening up opportunities to more people, rather than attempting to create more innovation in the same way it’s always been done and expecting a different outcome. We should look to countries such as the US, who’s university and research funding models and cultures have proven to create world changing innovation!
In so many cases organisations, charities and individuals or groups and communities in society are already providing novel, creative and impactful solutions to many of society’s problems. We are missing opportunities to capitalise and accelerate such impactful activities, when we could so easily propel them if they were only given more opportunities and access to resources and support.
There should be more funds available for anyone in society with an idea to apply, whether idea-only competitions such as this, or actually funding individuals to lead the projects they suggest. This is especially true as more and more talented former university researchers move to industry where pay and benefits are often higher and the opportunity to work on real-world problems and create impact is often greater (due to larger resources and the constant need for industry to innovate so their competitors don’t overtake). Such individuals should be encouraged to start UK businesses, or where they wish to, lead projects in their spare time, or at the very least be able to apply for innovative grant funding ideas without having to work at a university.
The UK government needs to adapt and innovate to meet the rest of the world – education is being disrupted with online and self-directed learning – how will we fund these talented individuals who don’t come from universities. We need to be providing opportunities to tap into and enable experts in these spaces to be able to innovate – this is what will make the UK a global leader and progress against its industrial and other challenge areas much faster. The current methods exclude such talent, industry and charities leaving them providing their knowledge and expertise elsewhere.
For example, those working as software engineers in big tech companies in the UK should be able to apply for funds and grants looking for innovative solutions to problems that require software engineers. Someone working as a community engagement manager at a charity would have excellent ideas and knowledge for how to improve collaboration in society. A patient suffering from a disease will have amazing ideas for how to improve treatment programmes and the diagnosis pathway. We need to be bringing groups together and increasing diversity of ideas.
If the government wants to innovate then the first step is to realise the old traditional methods and processes are often the very methods that stifle innovation. They need to be forward thinking and to do this they need to be opening opportunities up beyond the usual organisations, encouraging cross sector, cross disciplinary and diverse groups to collaborate.
This is particularly true with technology, where so many are turning to online education and building their own tools, and especially as “no code” platforms increase and will allow non-technical organisations such as civil service and charities to utilise technical solutions.
I propose the often suggested moonshot or scientific/innovation challenge funding be delivered through new inclusive and innovate funding council that anyone can apply to and that anyone can be awarded funds to build and lead such projects. The same level of due diligence, review, detail and project planning should be required; a project management office should also support the delivery of such projects. It’s time we became a more modern, inclusive society.
All government and research council funded projects related to real world impact should be required to have an advisory board comprised of relevant industry, academia and end users, and more citizen engagement should be a requirement of such projects. This way, we have greater assurance that solutions will be of real value to those who they are meant to help, and even just the opportunity to input and be heard will be of huge value to society.
Technology should be capitalised on (whilst ensuring everyone has access to technology and training to be able to use this – can use volunteers to deliver training en masse) – e.g. apps can be used to allow residents to vote online, suggest ideas, report issues, propose solutions etc. with their local and national government. If we want an engaged society, then we have to provide more convenient and accessible methods for people to engage. An app with even just opinion voting and reporting issues would be much more efficient than the current systems – old websites with multiple report forms and no ability to see what other members of the community are struggling with. These also focus solely on reporting issues, whereas councils would do much better to provide platforms for community members to provide solution ideas as-well and even funding for those already working on improvements or those with clear plans and ability to carry out such solutions.
Further, such technology should be used to allow the government to make more data-driven decisions, utilising insights and feedback from a cross-section of society to deliver change that is maximally impactful.