Archive for the ‘UK’ Category

Collaborator Profile: David Irwin (Northhumberland, UK)

April 22, 2012


My name is David Irwin, based in Northumberland. I am a social entrepreneur, and a consultant in enterprise and economic development working with clients such as DANIDA, Department for International Development, Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts, World Bank, Gates Foundation and Esmee Fairbairn Foundation. I work with organisations that wish to develop initiatives, in turn, to help new and growing businesses. I wear lots of hats, including trustee of Sunderland Youth Enterprise Trust, a member of the Investment Committee of Oxfam’s Enterprise Development Program and a Visiting Fellow at Teesside University Business School.

What is exciting you at present?

Most of my work at the moment revolves around helping trade associations in their attempts to influence public policy – in Kenya, Mozambique and Tanzania. Most need considerable help, and governments tend to be capricious, but they can make a difference and the impact can be considerable when they get it right.

Top three tips on collaboration

1. Share information and network widely. Too many organisations, especially in Africa, see information as power – but passing on information is not like giving away money. You share the information, but you still have it as well, so now many more can benefit.
2. Be especially generous in sharing information with the public sector as they often do not have access to accurate information and so base decisions based on perception rather than on reality.
3. Proactively look for opportunities to collaborate rather than waiting – you might wait for ever.

Collaborative projects?

I am particularly interested in what it is that makes some trade associations successful while others are much less successful, not least because identifying the characteristics and features of success will make it easier to offer training programs so that all can benefit. I would be interested in thoughts about what leads to success for trade associations in developed countries.

David Irwin, Partner, Irwin Grayson Associates – – mob +44 7785 901020

Innovation – overused buzzword

April 6, 2011

James Woudhuysen* reports (via Alan Kohler) that the UK government’s 131-page The Plan for Growth, published with Chancellor George Osborne’s Budget speech last week, speaks of innovation no fewer than 86 times. Clearly the Coalition has become more exercised about innovation than New Labour ever was.

Yet for all the rhetoric about innovation in the Budget, both the official concept of it and the sums of money made available for it are very modest. Accountants wrote more of the Plan than did innovators: everywhere one can detect the dead hand of penny-pinchers in the Treasury.

The narrative on innovation as it currently exists is a low-carbon one (58 mentions), drawn up by Vince Cable’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Theirs is a low-investment narrative, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that, in the 2000s, UK business investment as a share of GDP was one of the lowest in advanced economies (p21). 

*James Woudhuysen is author, with Joe Kaplinsky, of Energise! A Future for Energy Innovation, published by Beautiful Books. – go to Amazon(UK).) He’s also a contributor to BIG POTATOES: The London Manifesto for Innovation.

Organising Local Economic Development – the role of development agencies and companies’

September 13, 2010

This significant report (493 pages) was recently completed by an OECD study team.

It’s the first such international study, drawing on 16 global case studies. The sections on the UK agencies sit oddly with the news that the UK Government is winding them back. In any case, it has an interesting section identifying principles for how such agencies should operate. Two that jumped out are:

 The need to aggregate otherwise separate interventions to add value. The report observes that ‘officers are often subject to fragmentation of effort due to the multiplicity of funding streams and policy agencies’. The solution offered is for development agencies to ‘aggregate otherwise disparate efforts, therein overcoming coordination failures and information asymmetries.’ In other words, knock a few heads together!

 The ability to achieve the confidence of external investors. The report argues that this is critical in local economies maintaining their market position. This is a rather charitable observation because the economies of many rural regions are slipping vis-à-vis their urban competitors.

Hard copy is $US182 at

The connected university (BEST PRACTICE)

October 7, 2009

 A new UK report says the UK’s universities are precious national assets. And with the collapse of the UK’s financial services sector, universities are a key to the revival of innovative businesses.

The report highlights the importance of universities as sources of knowledge and skilled employees, as well as centres for regional economic clusters e.g. Cambridge. In the last 15 years, the process of formal knowledge transfer – developing spin-out companies, profiting from patents and licences – has been professionalised. This ‘commercial university’ model has helped promising clusters emerge.

More recently, the ‘connected university model’ has emerged – building clusters, connecting to the national and international economies, bringing together thinking, practice, and finance. Several ways to do this:

  • Ensuring tech transfer organisations are performing at the standard set by leading UK institutions.
  • Recruiting and developing ‘boundary spanners’ – people who can make the linkages.  
  • Better measuring benefits of university-business interaction and communicating them to the public.

 Local government should look at how it applies planning regulations to universities. Physical spaces for business interactions are important. Also a need for a broader dialogue on the role the university in local economic development. 

The connected university (PDF).

Contributed by Professor Roy Green (UTS).

Universities must engage in regions, says OECD

May 14, 2009

 A very interesting OECD report “Higher Education and Region’ has landed on our desk, written by Cockatoo member and ‘Oz-phile’ Patrick Dubarle, Paul Benneworth et al. It should be compulsory reading for every Vice-Chancellor, university academic and regional development practitioner in the civilized world. It draws on findings from 14 regions across 12 countries.

 The basic message is that higher education institutions (HEIs) must do more than educate and research – they must engage with others in their region, provide opportunities for lifelong learning, and contribute to the development of knowledge-intensive jobs.

 The report synthesizes the main developments, and provides scores of examples of best practice. Some that attracted our attention are:

  • The ‘Knowledge House’ in NE England – addresses the reluctance of SMEs to go anywhere near a university by providing a nifty, common entry point to the five universities in the region.
  • University Jaume I in Valencia – helping to transform the SME-based ceramic tile industry.
  • University of Sunderland – helping to make Nissan’s new plant the most productive in Europe.
  • Provincial University of Lapland – reaching out to remote communities.
  • Aalborg University (Denmark) building its education program around Problem Based Learning.
  • Monterrey International Knowledge City (MICK) in north east Mexico.

 The book can be purchased on-line at the OECD – ISBN 978-92-64-03414-3. Patrick Dubarle is now a freelance consultant, living at beautiful Meudon – contact him at

UK universities take lead in recession retraining (BEST PRACTICE)

February 10, 2009

 The Higher Education Funding Council for England is set to approve a £50m rescue package to help businesses and the unemployed retrain at universities during the recession.

The HEFC proposal is for universities to bid for up to £500,000 to run training and skills programs for business and unemployed people – involves £25m from its strategic development fund, while universities would match it.

The projects would focus on short-term skills training. Practical skills training would not have to be accredited – thus cutting the time it would take universities to deliver programs.

Universities would have to propose ways of working either with employers, or with those who have been made redundant to give them the skills they will need to help them find other jobs.

For instance, redundant financial services workers with science degrees could be retrained to pursue careers in sciences instead.

Via Professor Roy Green (Cockatoo member) – Dean, Faculty of Business, UTS, Sydney

Identifying smart localities

January 18, 2009

As a callow youth, I was led to believe that Victoria was the smartest state in the Commonwealth. In an insulated environment, who could ever question Premier Bolte or the Melbourne Sun? South Australians had a serious chip on their shoulders. Queenslanders’ brains suffered from the combined effects of XXXX and sunshine. And occasional forays to Sin City confirmed that NSW citizens were inferior in so many ways. Melbourne was an absolute hot bed of style and innovation.

Fast forward to the 21st Century where we have North Sydney, Noosa, the Gold Coast and Canberra claiming to be home to the brightest and most creative people.

While this might be dismissed as harmless posturing, the fact remains that governments collectively commit substantial sums to ‘smarten up’ their cities and towns. And better understanding how milieux of talent create wealth goes to the heart of industry and regional development policy.

 The UK’s National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) has been studying why certain places are poles of attraction in the economy. Its concern is that because innovation policy has been set at a national level, there is no appreciation of the widely differing innovation performance and needs of regions and localities.

NESTA argues that every region has an innovation system of sorts, but many lack the full suite of assets to stimulate innovation. Even where the assets are present – universities, TAFEs, high tech companies, entrepreneurs, risk capital, R&D institutions – they may not ‘connect’ properly, thus leading to sub-optimal technology flows and commercial outcomes.

The same situation applies in Australia, where we have no method of measuring innovation at the local level, and no track record in connecting the assets that make up local innovation systems.

For example, the locational decisions associated with the roll-out of Howard’s Technical Colleges, and earlier efforts with Cooperative Research Centres and regional universities, have been criticised for a lack of connection to other regional assets and actors.

For a nation with massive locational issues, we really must get a handle on this. However the economic literature on regional innovation measures is rather obscure. Accordingly, we are proposing to undertake a research study to develop some simple and measurable indicators. What we want is a user-friendly mechanism that explains how North Sydney rates against the Monash and Parkville Precincts.

It will also shed light on what additional capacity might position Daylesford, Torquay, Cairns, Tamworth, Angaston or Albany as diamonds of the future. If your council is interested in understanding how your community rates in the innovation stakes, please contact us ASAP.

Britain’s Most Enterprising Community = Scarborough (BEST PRACTICE)

November 12, 2008


Each year, the British government, through its Make Your Mark campaign to promote entrepreneurship, honors the UK’s most enterprising community.


It recognizes a community for its work in improving the local business climate, stimulating enterprise, and creating stronger community connections. Scarborough, located in North Yorkshire, was honored for its Scarborough Renaissance Partnership and its ‘Waking Sleeping Beauty’ initiative.


The Partnership sought to diversify the local economy from their historical concentration in the fishing and tourism industries – it invested in a number of programs, including a major push to support the creative and digital sectors, via investments in regional Wi-Fi networks and support for the Creative Coast enterprise network. These industries now account for 19% of the local economy. (Interesting precedent for other nations? – Editor) 

Go to Enterprising Britain awards

UK analysis re Innovation in Services

October 17, 2008


A new study via the UK Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform examines the drivers of innovation in five key service sectors – retail, logistics, construction, environmental, Internet-delivered content services.

These five sectors represent 25% of the UK economy, so innovations could have a huge spin-off effect. The study describes three big changes affecting service industries (1) The convergence of manufacturing and service innovation where many firms add a “service wrapper” (2) The growing role of users and consumers in the innovation process (3) Growing concerns about sustainability and the environment.

The study says businesses must innovate in all aspects of their operations. And government agencies must enhance investments in critical areas such as ICT and waste management, support advanced training in innovative business processes, and expand the availability of finance to smaller service businesses.

Go to Supporting Innovation in Services. Source NDOE (This 116 page report is a very useful treatment of the issues – Editor)

‘Design’ now all-important

July 24, 2008

Dr John Howard (Canberra-based consultant/policy analyst) says design and creative practice are major components of industry and innovation policy. John has done excellent work in this field, and this month he launched Between a hard rock and a soft space: design, creative practice and innovation.” The international overview is worth sharing:

§          UK leads the world in its recognition of the creative industries. The Cox Review of Creativity in Business examined how to exploit creative skills more effectively (UK Treasury 2005). The Design Council is important – now runs a program ‘Designs of the Time’ (DOTT) and a new program, ‘Designing Demand’ helps SMEs become more competitive – offers flexible, structured processes, using expert Design Associates with business experience.

§ New Zealand has launched a design strategy and is looking to breed a cohort of design-led firms — brand builders based on ideas grown in New Zealand.

§ The German Design Council (Rat für Formgebung) is a world leader in competence centres for communication and know-how transfer in the design field. Runs competitions, exhibitions, conferences, consulting, research and publications.

§ The Swedish Industrial Design Foundation (SVID) improves awareness of the importance of design as a competitive tool, and encourages the integration of design methodology.

§ The Indian Government released a national design policy in 2006. It includes a ‘Mark of Good Design’ – only well-designed products can carry the mark. The aim is to ensure that the words ‘Designed in India’ come to mean good value. India is seeking to become a global design hub. Currently a roll-out of design-led business and academic centres.

§ Taiwan has a robust design policy, supported by a growing number of design schools.

§ South Korean students outnumber all other nationalities in most graduate design programs in the United States, and Samsung is an upcoming innovator.

§ China is shifting its manufacturing base from OEM to original design manufacture and brand-manufacturing operations. In 20 years, China has opened 400 specialist design schools to train designers and build design capabilities.

§ Singapore is creating centres to bring business and design and creativity together.

Thanks to Hari Argiro (Adelaide CC) for pointing us to John Howard’s article.