ISC Summary

ISC Summary

For 10 years the Innovation Studies Centre (ISC) at Imperial College Business School worked with leading firms and many others to understand more about how innovation happens and how it can be applied in practice. Founded in 2003 with a grant from the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council), the research has led to several high-profile projects which, as Director Professor David Gann explains in the video below, have had a major impact on policy and practice in the UK.

The first impact dates back to the ISC’s early focus on the construction industry and looks at how to manage large-scale infrastructure projects with multiple partners and elements. This was first used by Laing O’Rourke, a long-term ISC collaborator, on the development of Heathrow Terminal 5, completed in 2007, which increased Heathrow’s passenger capacity by around a third.  ISC researchers analysed various aspects of the project including working practices, technological innovations, learning from similar projects, incentives and digital tools shared across the partners that record information on each phase of the process. From this, the Centre developed a model to improve collaboration methods amongst the various companies involved, allowing them to deliver a so called ‘mega-project’ on time and budget.

rail tracksUsing this as a template for success, the ISC model has since been applied to the construction of the Olympic Park for the London 2012 Games, and is currently being used by Crossrail in the development of the 37-station project linking Greater London from east to west which is expecting to service 200 million passengers per year. Reflecting on this partnership with the Innovation Studies Centre, Paddy O’Rourke, Non-Executive Director explained that ‘this long-term relationship has been fundamental and integral to the successful progress of Laing O’Rourke’s strategic agenda which is transforming the Group into an Engineering Enterprise.’

The second major impact emerging from ISC research has been in partnership with Arup (an international engineering design firm). For companies to innovate, they need to understand what resources they already have and the knowledge that individuals or teams possess, so they can bring this together to develop new products and services. But in large organisations it can be a huge challenge to identify where knowledge exists. Examining Arup’s existing knowledge management tool, ISC researchers developed a visual map that more effectively showed where expertise was located and how it could be used. Arup adopted these changes which, as Director of Global Research Jeremy Watson explained, ‘have added considerable value to Arup…. Our work with Imperial has been mutually rewarding, offering us timely solutions to “real-time” issues, expanding our understanding of our own organisation, as well as increasing our capacity to absorb and implement new ideas.’

Running alongside the practical application of Imperial research has been a similar influence on policy-making in the UK. The ISC prides itself on delivering evidence-based research and this has frequently been utilised by Government in shaping innovation policy in the UK. One major aspect of this has been the secondment of Dr Keith Smith to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills from 2007-2012 as Head of Science and Innovation Analysis. During that time Keith was responsible for undertaking all forms of research and analysis of innovation policy, supplying advice and support to Ministers on translating research into business success. Keith was also heavily involved in drafting Government strategy including the 2011 Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth. Vince Cable, Minister for Universities and Science, came to Imperial College Business School to launch the Industry Strategy in August 2012 which was hosted by Professor David Gann, as Director of the ISC. ISC members, as a result of such interactions have worked closely with Government, helping to promote the value of innovation research to the UK economy.

For 10 years the Innovation Studies Centre has worked at the intersection of science, industry and policy, to ensure that its evidence-based research has long lasting impact. From the showcase of construction projects to Government policy, the ISC has shown how academic research can and should have a tangible effect on the economy – whether helping companies to better manage their internal resources or enabling such firms to work in partnership to create major improvements to the urban environment. As the work of the ISC draws to a close, its results have laid the foundation for several research Centres at Imperial that are taking its learning forward. The research is focused around particular problems including the role of digital platforms in the urban environment, using innovation evidence in policy-making, and the role of entrepreneurship in building economic capacity. Continuing to work with industry and policy, these Centres guarantee the legacy of evidence-based research fostered by the Innovation Studies Centre.