As part of my annual review (the RD5 to help determine my target degree), I need to write a transfer report on my research. This transfer report is important as it sets the context to the research, reviews literature and methods in relation to previous research and also details a 3 year plan of action. For me, I have ample information on all parts but one and this part needed a bit of digging to uncover themes important to me (and more importantly, important to the current research). That section is the context. As my research proposal was already set, and was created by my supervisory team in response to a call put out by Skills Development Scotland, there was always going to be a purpose. However, the purpose of completing the research needs to lie within current policy and practice in order for it to be relevant and useful in context. More importantly, I need to understand the context of the research and the circumstances that have led to the development of a research proposal like the one I am working on now. So this is where I started and this is what I wanted to find out. I share some of the things I found out with you in this blog post to help you understand my research background and why it is important to be carried out.
So my research is about innovation, right? Why is innovation important?
Innovation is important to employers as it helps them respond to change and needs of the labour market, gaining a competitive advantage over other organisations. The economy and labour market are always changing so organisations need to be ready for that change with the creation and implementation of ideas (innovation) being forefront of strategies to address such need. However, competitive advantage must be sustainable over time in various contexts otherwise as time goes by and contextual circumstances change, suitability will break down and organisations will need to build new resources to address such change. These resources are now always easy to obtain.
When did Scotland recognise the need to improve innovation?
From the Community Innovation Survey that was carried out on Scotland (between 1998-2000) Scotland’s innovation performance appeared to be in line with the rest of the UK (Michie, Oughton, & Frenz, 2001, p.1). However this survey focused a lot on the actual ability to innovation rather than activities that contribute to innovation. By 2005, only 56.3% of firms were actively involved in some form of innovation, reflected in innovation performance rates of Scotland (Freel & Harrison, 2007). This was predominantly in knowledge intensive sectors such as business services who were capable of being able to innovate and highly focused on products and services delivered to define whether the organisations were able to innovate. However, after the 2008 recession and a long period of unemployment and low growth, the Scottish government saw the need to improve innovation and set goals towards sustainable growth. This is when the Scottish Government stepped in.
What is the Scottish Government doing about improving innovation within organisations?
The Scottish Government believed that innovation was essential to economic growth and that investing in innovation would help to create new products, service and jobs to stimulate economic participation. To do so, the government created a strategic framework to help utilise Scotland’s skills base and improvements on innovation itself (The Scottish Government, 2009, p.3). Such a strategic framework responded to the 2008 recession, putting innovation at the heard of economic development to match skills supply produced with demand needed. In the 2009 Economic Recovery Plan, investment in innovation was therefore placed at the individual level of innovation, not in organisations alone and placed individuals at the centre of organisational innovation ability.
As The Scottish Government believed success depended highly on the strengths and talents of people, resources and infrastructure and how these are managed, improvements in these areas were the focus of the creation of the 2015 Economic Strategy. Economic performance depended highly on improvements in human capital and the productivity of the workforce to ensure the workforce were able to perform using their own body of knowledge, skills and attributes needed to add economic value to the organisation (The Scottish Government, 2015, p.7). A particular focus of the current agenda was the fostering of an innovation culture whereby organisations can provide the most appropriate culture to encourage individuals to innovate (The Scottish Government, 2015, p. 15). Evidence such as Alasoini, 2015; Al-Hakim and Hassan, 2013; Bertels, Kleinschmidt and Koen, 2011; Harbi, Anderson and Amamou, 2014 put forth idea that organisations play an important role in the ability for individuals to innovate and that organisations can also support this through the provision of training and development (De Saá-Pérez, Díaz-Díaz & Ballesteros-Rodríguez, 2012). Organisations can also support innovation development by formulating HR strategies directed towards the individual being at the heart of gaining a competitive advantage (Sanders & Lin, 2016, p.32-41).
But that is from a policy point of view, what are polices based on?
Research is important to help support policy development, especially in areas of practical relevance. Research into innovation practices helps to fill knowledge gaps in support of policy development. The Scottish Government supports the link between research and business and has a series of innovation centres to help apply research knowledge from the academic sense into business practise (The Scottish Government, 2015). The current Economic Strategy encourages businesses to engage in innovation research and development as part of daily activity and the Government has pledged to support fostering relationships through the university-business collaboration. Such research can then influence policy on the individual and collective level (Damanpour & Aravind, 2011, p.424).
The Scottish Funding Council set up Innovation Scotland, a strategy to increase efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability for support for innovation and entrepreneurship between universities and businesses in Scotland. The strategy’s main aim was to establish a single knowledge exchange organisation to improve the academic landscape for business. From this, the Innovation Centre Programme was launched, forming a partnership between Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scottish Universities aims to enhance innovation and entrepreneurship across the Scottish economy. Research expertise can be applied to solving problems in the workplace, providing training and skills to training the next set of knowledge exchange and research practitioners. So you can see how the government realise the importance of fostering university research and business relationships and act accordingly to do so.
Research into improving innovation can also set grounds for future research (Volberda, Van Den Bosch & Heij, 2013, p.1). In particular, research about individual innovation within organisations is vital for policy makers, both in terms of creating suitable policy for employees and policy development for the wider community. This can focus on how to improve characteristics and behaviours that underpin the capability to innovate and determine where gaps lie for organisation themselves (Tavassoli & Karlsson, 2015, p. 1888). My research lies exactly here and it is why my research is important. My research will have practical value to both policy makers and skills support agencies to improve innovation capabilities amongst employees within the organisation as well as supporting the organisation to set the appropriate culture and strategy in support of innovation development.
But is innovation a REAL focus of Scottish Businesses?
Well actually, it is. Innovation is a main focus of the Scottish Enterprise Business Plan for 2016-18, focusing on how innovation driving growth and competitiveness for organisations. The amount of innovative activity then to increase jobs and prosperity for the organisations functioning to support Scotland to become on of the best performing nations of 2020. The current strategy aims to improve the systems around processes that support Research and Development (R&D), transferring knowledge from research into practice.
But don’t business need help to do this?
Again, quite often, yes. Evaluations need to be carried out to demonstrate effectiveness of research results and key stakeholders (including universities and external organisational) play an important role in this. For example, in 2014, the Scottish Government set up The Fair Work, Skills and Training portfolio in recognition of the importance of employability and skills within the workforce. Skills Development Scotland then play an important role in the initiative by delivering workplace training opportunities (such as Modern Apprenticeships), pre-employment training and careers guidance service to help reduce gaps in the labour market. Working with key stakeholders and funders can help inform policy and deliver services for performance improvement and benefit organisations in the following ways:
- Skills agencies can put individuals at the front of economic development and improvement, delivering programmes for this purpose;
- Skills agencies can deliver services in line with labour market needs, including training programmes in areas of high demand;
- Provide support to individuals and organisations to carry out training, including opportunities to learn in the workplace.
- Skills agencies and key stakeholders can match learning providers with demands so training can be developed to match labour market demand, bridging the gap between skills needed and skills acquired;
- Skills agencies can work within the current Scottish Economic Strategy to ensure they are working towards goals, addressing problems most in need;
- Skills agencies can support research in certain areas, provide funding and support to researchers to ensure research is work-relevant
So where does the current research fit in?
Well, it fits in with all topics discussed above. Firstly, the 2015 Economic Strategy highlights innovation as a main area of improvement, and my research does too. Innovation is part of the 2016-18 Business Strategy to help businesses innovate and the product of my research will do too. My research is also part-funded by Skills Development Scotland (a key stakeholder) who support the research by providing access to further materials and guidance to ensure my research is practical and work-ready. However, Skills Development Scotland also work within the current Scottish Economic Strategy and help to identify areas of need within research, encouraging universities to work with them to carry out such research. This was one of the starting points of the project I now call my own. My research was developed as Skills Development highlighted a research need and encouraged universities to write proposals in certain areas. Successful proposals (one created by my supervisors) are then delivered as PhD studentships through the Scottish Graduate School of Social Sciences. This is the route I am current studying now.
Alasoni, T. (2015). Two decades of programme based promotion of workplace innovation in Finland: past experiences and future challenges. European Journal of Workplace Innovation, 1(1), 37-54.
Al-Hakim, L. A. Y., & Hassan, S. (2013). Knowledge management strategies, innovation, and organisational performance. Journal of Advances in Management Research, 10, 58–71.
Bertels, H. M. J., Kleinschmidt, E. J., & Koen, P. A. (2011). Communities of practice versus organizational climate: Which one matters more to dispersed collaboration in the front end of innovation? Journal of Product Innovation Management, 28(5), 757–772.
Damanpour, F., & Aravid, D. (2011). Manager Innovation: Conceptions, Processes an Antecedents. Management and Organisational Review, 8(2), 423-434.
Harbi, S. El, Anderson, A. R., & Amamou, M. (2014). Innovation culture in small Tunisian ICT firms. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, 21(2008), 132–151
Michie, J., Oughton, C., & Frenz, M. (2001). The Community Innovation Survey, an Analysis for Scotland. The Scottish Government, Edinburgh. Retrieved from: http://www.gov.scot/Resource/Doc/981/0007446.pdf
Volberda, H. W., Van Den Bosch, F. A. J., & Heij, C. V. (2013). Management innovation: Management as fertile ground for innovation. European Management Review, 10(1), 1–15.