NESTA - National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts
- Prof James Simmie (Department of Planning), OISD: IAU
- Dr Juliet Carpenter (Department of Planning), OISD: UPM
- Andrew Chadwick (Department of Planning), OISD: IAU
- Prof Ron Martin (Department of Geography, University of Cambridge)
- total grant value: £124,276
- time duration: February 2007 - July 2008
The overall aims of the research were to:
- examine why the economic performance of British regions and cities has been diverging over the long-term, and
- explore the relationships between divergence and the differential ability of cities to generate new economically valuable knowledge.
The specific aims of the research were to:
- assess the innovative performance of the 63 city-regions in Great Britain with core populations of 125, 000, using the Fourth Community Innovation Survey (CIS4) which covered the period 2002-2004;
- analyse the CIS data to select a sample of six of the most innovative and six of the least innovative cities in Great Britain for detailed analysis;
- for these 12 cities, illustrate the relationships between their sectoral development pathways and the absorptive capacities and innovation underlying and driving them, through the collection of long term secondary data;
- undertake more detailed historical analysis for two of the most contrasting cities, Cambridge and Swansea, using qualitative in-depth interviews.
The study adopted an approach based on evolutionary path dependence, focusing on the dynamics underlying the long-run structural changes in spatial economies. The approach assumes that local innovation systems are the key driving mechanisms underlying change in spatial economies because they are the primary source of new commercially valuable knowledge. Underpinning the ability to innovate is the collective absorptive capacity of the firms, institutions and organisations located in a particular city. This provides the asset base for the identification, assimilation and exploitation of new knowledge. This capacity is itself path dependent on the distinctive structures and pathways that emerge in specific urban economies.
The research showed that local economies' capacity to absorb new knowledge, grow and regenerate is developed over time. Industrial growth, decline and renewal results from historic combinations of knowledge assets and innovation. In turn, the sectoral and structural pathways followed by cities and regions determine their long-term success or failure. Furthermore, the study found that:
- New ideas and new development pathways appear more often in cities without long industrial histories.
- Once started, new pathways tend to continue through a growth phase followed by a loss of momentum and decay unless their dynamism is renewed.
- Knowledge assets (such as universities and R&D infrastructure and the dynamism of their local innovation systems) drive a city's ability to develop new industrial pathways.
The research revealed a number of implications for policy:
- It is necessary for policy makers to think large-scale and long-term using an evolutionary economics approach to understanding change and innovation.
- In leading areas such as Cambridge, there is widespread scepticism among private sector firms about the relevance or efficacy of public policy on innovation.
- While public policies targeted specifically at local innovation have little apparent impact, several firms noted significant effects arising from the consequences of other kinds of policy, such as local land use planning (negative impact) and large-scale town expansion schemes (positive impact).
- Strong local social networks and ties can be a barrier to developing new relationships with outside players that are important in innovation.
- The need for international knowledge networks is paramount.
- Encouraging and enabling innovation is a long-term goal.
- Simmie J, Carpenter J, Chadwick A and Martin R (2008) History Matters: Path dependence and innovation in British city-regions, NESTA Research Report, July 2008 http://www.nesta.org.uk/history-matters-path-dependence-and-innovation-in-british-city-regions/
- Martin R and Simmie J (2008) Path dependence and local innovation systems in city-regions, Innovation: Management, Policy and Practice, 10, pp 183-196
Prof James Simmie
tel: +44 (0) 1865 483889