Scotland’s businesses are key to fostering innovation for social good - comment

The Scottish public wants innovation to be used to help tackle the major social issues of the day.

Scotlands private sector has the expertise and the experience in areas such as science to develop world-leading innovations. Picture: luvqs/Pixabay.

Scotland’s businesses are central to this and play a key role in creating a national culture that allows for more experimentation and creative approaches to solve critical social problems.

Nesta’s survey, Is Scotland getting innovation right?, published earlier this month, shows that the people of Scotland prioritise new ideas and concepts being used to create social good, regardless of whether they bring economic gain. And dealing with the climate emergency is their number one priority.

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These findings are encouraging but it will take all sections of Scottish society uniting to embrace bold approaches to create a future that is sustainable and prosperous for all.

Lang is calling for businesses to take a lead where their expertise can help. Picture: Grant Collinson.

Local people, businesses and community groups must be involved to help inform and direct innovation towards the areas of greatest need and help ensure progress to a net-zero carbon economy is just and inclusive.

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The public sector should build on this public support and work to better engage people across Scotland in shaping and informing the innovation we want to see to tackle social challenges.

We also need greater transparency on how public money is spent on innovation and should consider what a clearer and more mission-led approach to research and development spending in Scotland could look like.

Expertise

Businesses must also take a central role in this agenda, if Scotland is to transition to a net-zero carbon economy without leaving people behind. Scotland’s private sector has the expertise and the experience – in engineering, manufacturing and technology, in science, forestry and food production – to develop world-leading innovations ensuring a transition that is prosperous and fair.

And innovation is not, and must not be, just about big corporate businesses. Smaller and more agile enterprises are often more in touch with their local needs and are best placed to harness innovation in responding.

Innovations from businesses have already yielded cutting-edge developments in industries like renewables. The strong public showing in support for innovation in this survey is backed by an understanding of the necessary steps involved in achieving this, with 69 per cent of the Scottish public saying allowing people to take risks and fail is what progresses society.

The business sector more than any other is in a position to help Scotland adopt a less risk-averse culture in which experimentation is valued and mis-steps aren’t condemned as failures.

The people of Scotland want innovation to help solve our social problems, which means as a country we have the chance to embrace that appetite and help shape a positive future. But it must have the backing and engagement of everyone. Businesses should take a lead where their expertise can help.

Adam Lang, head of innovation foundation​ Nesta in Scotland