Creativeworks London’s (CWL) researchers from the Place Work Knowledge research strand have been actively attempting to assess and evaluate the impact of the successful CWL creative voucher scheme. Innovation voucher schemes, and their many variants, have become very popular innovation policy instruments in the last 18 or so years. Starting in The Netherlands in 1997 there are currently hundreds of active voucher schemes in different sectors of the economy across Europe and the United Kingdom.
Most of these voucher schemes are modelled on the original Dutch scheme and are aimed at catalysing innovation in some capacity. Generally, these vouchers allow small, medium and micro-sized enterprises (SMEs) from different sectors of the economy to purchase services from public knowledge providers such as HEIs (higher education institutions) or R&D (research and development) organisations in order to promote collaboration and stimulate the creation of small-scale innovations at firm-level. The logic behind them is that SMEs do not get to interact with large knowledge providers like universities because they cannot afford to, making them inaccessible. These schemes allow them to gain access by subsidizing the fee that it may cost.
The CWL creative voucher scheme has now come to an official end, sadly, and the time to take stock is upon us. As one can imagine this has led to a number of avenues for research. One question that has repeatedly come up through the research process – in this as well as other innovation voucher schemes – is whether or not these types of schemes can have any real impact in the longer term. In fact, in policy circles, the common consensus about voucher schemes aimed at the creative sector is that they have short term but no real lasting impact. In light of this Dr. Tarek Virani (Queen Mary, CWL) has put together a position paper as part of CWL’s Working Paper Series. The paper compares important elements of Nesta’s Creative Credit scheme – a scheme that many view as pioneering regarding its use in the creative sector – with that of CWL’s creative voucher scheme. In comparing these two types of innovation voucher schemes, it becomes apparent that two interrelated factors play a large role in determining whether long term effects might be realised: first, the variance in their designs and rationales; and second, the important role of brokerage.
Both of these voucher schemes were designed differently. Where Nesta’s scheme was primarily a business-to-business (B2B) venture, thereby not engaging with knowledge based providers like universities, CWL’s scheme is about knowledge exchange where collaboration between universities and industry is at its core. A CWL voucher has to deliver a collaborative project that is jointly worked on. This allows those involved to have equal footing regarding how they work with each other as opposed to having an employer – employee or transactional relationship which seems more indicative of Nesta’s scheme. This has an impact on whether or not long term effects may occur because it implicitly asks whether or not the partners in the collaboration will continue to work with each other after the completion of the CWL voucher project. Thus, long term effects are defined through the working relationship between SME and knowledge based provider.
Of course this avenue of thinking flags up the always tricky question of what we mean by long term impact. Although the paper doesn’t delve into this debate it does suggest that in order for long term effects to be realised through these types of collaborative schemes, consideration must be given to what these effects might look like and then designed into the scheme.
The full paper is available here.