Government language on innovation fails to connect with most voters

MPs and the public share the view that the UK needs more innovation – new ways of doing things, new ideas, new technology, creativity – shows new research from Nesta, the UK’s innovation foundation. Speaking to the Innovation Population explores the public’s views about new ideas and technologies and makes recommendations for how policymakers can better communicate with voters on these issues.

But the research also suggests that only one fifth of the population responded positively to the idea of innovation as an abstract concept. To reach a majority, the government needs to talk about the benefits of innovation and address the challenges.

In a poll commissioned alongside Speaking to the Innovation Population, MPs were asked about support for current government innovation spending. Of the six areas government currently funds, the majority said they wanted to increase support for four and maintain the current level of spending for two; science and engineering research was revealed to be the top priority for MPs, with seven in ten wanting to see greater investment in this area.

Similarly, Nesta’s report shows that 70% of the public think the current level of government spending on new ideas and technologies is about right or too little. They also say it is the role of the government to plan for the future by driving innovation and mitigating any negative impact.

Speaking to the Innovation Population also found that the public value innovation most where there are tangible benefits such as improving quality of life, job creation and efficiency. Conversely, the public’s main concerns about the effects of innovation are the potential loss of social skills, privacy and losing jobs to technology.

The report highlights a public fear that if Britain fails to innovate it would lose business to other countries (49%), experience a loss of jobs (43%) and not prepare children for the future (36%).

To drive innovation, policymakers must be able to speak to the public in the right language and address their aspirations and concerns about innovation, the report argues.

Stian Westlake, executive director of policy and research at Nesta, explains: “More often than not we should be ditching words like ‘innovation’ altogether. The public sees the need for new ways of doing things, new ideas, new technology and creativity and want government to take responsibility for driving it.

But addressing public aspirations and concerns of innovation is crucial; how you speak about could make or break an innovation policy that needs to garner the support of the individuals, schools, public services, charities, entrepreneurs and businesses to be a success.”

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