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Accelerating Innovation in the Context of Covid-19

29 July 2020

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Reported by Kate McNeil, CSaP Communications Coordinator

How can we accelerate innovation? What can we learn from efforts to accelerate innovation during the covid-19 pandemic?

In the final session of CSaP's 2020 virtual annual conference, we were joined by Raspberry Pi's Dr David Cleevely, Professor Robert Miller, the Royal Academy of Engineering's Dr Hayaatun Sillem, and Conservative MP George Freeman to explore how government and industry can support the acceleration if innovation.

Opening the session, Dr Cleevely framed the discussion by noting that the UK is about to face some significant challenges, such as climate change, and while we have very little time to innovate and prepare for responses to those crises, there remain some "pretty big" questions to consider including: What kind of education and training to we need to accelerate innovation? What role should governments play in this process? How can we ensure that investments flow to where they are most needed? How does innovation actually happen?

Exploring these questions in the context of the covid-19 pandemic, Dr Sillem of the Royal Academy of Engineering noted that there is much we can learn from the experience of some of the people who've been at the heart of the extraordinarily rapid innovation that's been taking place during this period. During the crisis, we have seen the creation of new products, and the rapid scaling and retrofitting of existing innovations. Dr Sillem attributes the success of this rapid innovation to four key elements: the power of a unifying vision; teams made up of effective and capable people; short timelines that encouraged self-disruption; and collaborative approaches to working with regulators.

As we work to apply these lessons on how to accelerate innovation to issues of climate change and sustainability, the Whittle Lab's Rob Miller has stressed that the winners in a zero carbon world will be companies and countries who can adapt to technology change more quickly and have the capability to innovate. He suggests that small teams containing both academics and industry professionals; the removal of bureaucracy; clear goals; and speeding up the innovation loop through the use of in-house supply chains coupled to design systems are fundamental to accelerating the pace of innovation in many sectors.

Looking to the future, Member of Parliament George Freeman suggests that innovation will be key for the renewal of the UK's society and economy. In supporting the acceleration of innovation, he suggests that the government could adopt a bolder vision of Britain as an innovation nation while empowering risk takers and incentivising success.


This virtual seminar was part of CSaP’s 2020 Virtual Annual Conference Seminar Series, which ran throughout the months of May and June. To learn more, please visit our annual conference events page.

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash