The Government, science policy, and products - from concept to consumer

9 May 2024


image credit: Su Ford, Centre for Science and Policy

The Government, science policy, and products - from concept to consumer

Reported by Jacob Bradbury, CSaP Policy Intern (April-July 2024)

UK National Technology Adviser, Dr David Smith, delivered CSaP's Annual Cleevely Lecture last month. He discussed the importance of products as a deliverable of innovation, and the steps that the UK is taking through its newly announced Science and Technology Framework to deliver security for innovators.

In his talk, Dr Smith described his role as being a systematic voice for science and innovation in government, while encouraging a joined-up approach from basic science to innovation to products that will change the world. Giving an insight into the journey of product development, he discussed how innovation was being supported by government, and the origins and importance of products.

Listen to the lecture here

Thinking of products as deliverables of innovation

Dr Smith described the language of products as a result of good science and innovation. Reflecting on their importance in everyday life, he argued that products shape society, and that government should have a role in the whole life cycle of products.

"Science isn't useful if it stays in science in terms of having a direct impact on people's lives. Scientific papers are not changing the price of bread.”

A strategy for supporting innovation

Dr Smith explored the history of supporting innovation and the challenges that government faces to deliver that support. Often this strategy has been unclear and inconsistent in its organisation, but it has been consistent in the actual funding delivered for innovation. Dr Smith argued that UK industry needed a reliable system to advance the cause of UK industry and give industry confidence.

How products come about

Dr Smith described his experience of delivering products to market that had made a considerable difference to peoples’ lives. He remarked on how good the UK was at designing products, and that we should be as proud of that as we are of our world-class science. Products arise from two routes, one ‘Incremental’ and one ‘Disruptive’, though these routes are often blurred. Products that arrive by an incremental route often improve on certain aspects of an existing product, such as reducing the size of a mobile phone. Dr Smith explained that government has limited power to shape incremental product development other than through regulation and taxation.

However, products arising from disruptive routes have a unique opportunity to be shaped by government. Dr Smith outlined how these products are visionary and changing the landscape for the user by being the newest and best solution to a problem.

What products, designers and manufactures need

Dr Smith argued that all great product designers needed a good science base, something that the UK provides. A strong science base needs government intervention, which is delivered by funding of organisations such as UKRI.

Incremental product development needs good infrastructure. It needs a depth of talent, sensible taxation, and support for export, but it broadly looks after itself. However, Dr Smith argued that in addition to these factors, disruptive product development is different and needs ‘patient money’. Funding that will wait for the innovator to get to the end of the perilous journey of innovating. According to Dr Smith, this is where taxpayer’s money really makes a difference.

What government is doing today

Dr Smith went on to outline the UK Science and Technology Framework, which represents government’s strategy to build on existing strengths in science, technology, finance and innovation. This is the basis for Dr Smiths remit within government to guide government innovation policy today. The Framework sets ten key actions to be achieved by 2030:

  1. Identifying critical technologies
  2. Signalling UK strengths and ambitions
  3. Investment in research and development
  4. Developing UK Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) talent and skills
  5. Financing innovative science and technology companies
  6. Developing procurement strategies
  7. Brokering international opportunities for the UK’s STEM industry
  8. Access to physical and digital infrastructure
  9. Developing ‘pro-innovation’ regulation and standards
  10. Nurturing an innovative public sector

Dr Smith closed the lecture by stating that his overarching role was to be that systematic voice for science and innovation in government, and to encourage a joined-up approach, from basic science to the innovation and finally to products that will change the world.

Jacob Bradbury

Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge

Dr Dave Smith

Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT)

  • 24 April 2024, 5:30pm

    2024 CSaP Annual Cleevely Lecture: Dr Dave Smith, National Technology Adviser

    The Government, science policy, and products - from concept to consumer: After six months as the first full time National Technology Adviser, Dave Smith will reflect on how UK government investment in the science base supports our private sector and how the Science and Technology Framework guides government innovation policy today.