What kind of Innovation Capital do we want to be?

The Innovation Capital Programme is at the core of the new Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).  (I am still struggling personally with the identification of a city region of 3m people being  conflated with local, but we live in strange times.)

We are not talking ‘capital’ in the sense of money, but capital in the sense of a ‘leading centre’.  These are not only strange, but also cash strapped times.  And LEPs are shaping up to be nothing if not politically pragmatic institutions.

The ‘vision’ of the Innovation Capital Programme is:

A dynamic place, globally competitive and renowned for business, enterprise and innovation…An Innovation Capital

It is variously described as a roadmap, an agenda, an action plan.  The language perhaps is telling.  A chosen few, The Anointed showing the rest of us the path to the future.

The language of the Innovation Capital Programme reflects its goals and its constituents:

  • Driving growth
  • Faster growing business base
  • Centres of excellence to support growth sectors
  • Driven by the needs of business

No questions about the role of business in our communities.

No discussion about the merits of economic growth.

The faster the better. It is an unalloyed good. No question.

The engagement strategy focuses on businesses, local authorities, universities and ‘partner organisations that make our economy work’.  The cynic could reduce this to a conversation between those who believe in the Gospel of Consumption on how best to lead the congregation to economic redemption.  It is, to say the least, an ‘orthodox church’.

But what would happen if we framed the problem differently?

If instead of asking ‘how can we help businesses to drive the wealth creation that is required for our region to thrive’ we started to ask about how we engage 3 million people in the region in pursuit of their own well-being.

  • What if we opened up the challenge of ‘social progress’ to anyone who wanted to play?
  • What if talked about the role of innovation in terms broader than purely ‘economic’?
  • What if we believed that universities, local authorities and businesses were not the sole experts on the role of enterprise in our communities?

I suspect we would commission some very different activity, from some of the unusual suspects, and we may just get some different results.

Otherwise I suspect it will simply be more of the same.

If we talk about innovation it shouldn’t be about the mediocrity of having a bigger home or a faster car, but about building a wickedly better world.

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