Entovation International
Building The Knowledge-Driven Economy
The UK Gets "On Message"

David J. Skyrme

It was less than two years ago that Debra and myself visited the UK's Innovation Unit (part of the DTI - Department of Trade and Industry) to discuss knowledge and innovation. They listened politely, but left us with the impression that it was not relevant to their mission and we were "off message" (certainly they never called us back!). What a difference year (or so) makes! A new government and the publication last week (17th December) of a UK Competitiveness White Paper called "Towards the Knowledge-Driven economy" (downloadable from http://www.dti.gov.uk/comp/competitive/summary.htm

Knowledge - "The Big Idea"

Newspaper reports that Trade and Industry Minister Peter Mandelson* has been heavily influenced by Peter Drucker and a visit to Silicon Valley. The White Paper clearly identifies the need "to create an economy that is genuinely knowledge-driven", and that the UK's distinctive capabilities "are not raw materials, land or cheap labour" but "knowledge, skills and creativity". Examples of Britain's leading position in media, entertainment and financial services as knowledge-driven industries. It stresses the importance of innovation.

It identifies a key role of business as the "need to identify, capture and market the knowledge base that drives all products and services" and government's role as:

  • investing in CAPABILITIES - to promote enterprise and stimulate innovation
  • catalyse COLLABORATION - to help business win competitive advantage
  • to promote COMPETITION by opening and modernizing markets.

75 Commitments

The report is well structured, well written and contains good analysis. It even has ENTOVATION style radar charts to plot Britain's position along various competitive benchmark indicators! To back up the analysis the government makes 75 specific policy and action commitments. These include:

To Build Capabilities:

  • a 1.4bn ($2bn) investment in the science and engineering research base through the Wellcome Trust.
  • reward universities for interaction with business
  • develop entrepreneurial skills starting with schools, students and university researchers
  • creation of an Enterprise Fund

To Catalyse Collaboration:

  • fund 'Fit for the Future', a campaign on sharing best practice
  • support for regional competitiveness activities
  • create an environment for creation of business clusters

To Promote Competition:

  • reduce burdensome regulation
  • crack down on uncompetitive behaviours
  • press for removal of international trade barriers
  • make the UK a global hub for electronic commerce

It also lists ten actions that government will do to improve its own innovation. One of these is the setting up of an Enterprise and Knowledge Management Unit in the DTI (hooray!). In addition there will be a strong move to government services on line and the Future Unit will "champion the knowledge-driven economy".

It sees the transfer of best practice as perhaps the single most important action. Britain must "learn from the best in the world". If we did this could boost the economy by over 60bn.

Achieving Change?

As with many enterprise programmes, the White Paper recognizes that changing the culture is key but difficult. The UK needs to create and entrepreneurial culture; there is a need to "shift the business mind-set", and that business failure should not attract the stigma it currently odes. This is how I, as a participant in the global knowledge economy, judge its impact - by actions (of UK government department and UK institutions) - not words.

Generally the White Paper is "on message". Occasionally a few phrases or actions listed in the White Paper "jarred". It talks of financially supporting high technology industry but does not specifically say "know-how" industries. It dismisses in two paragraphs the vital needs for creating and converting ideas into commercial products and services. It talks of building capabilities in science and engineering, but not management.

The phrase "on message" comes from the government practice of giving all Labour Members of Parliament pagers, which display the party line on key policies and news developments to keep their followers "on message". So perhaps these pagers will in future keep displaying "tell them about knowledge innovation"!

*Since first writing this piece, Peter Mandelson has resigned from office.

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Reprinted from I3 Update - 26.