Innovation and inclusive growth - an imperative for cities

With Patrick McVeigh / 22 August 2019

Our Lead for People and Places Patrick McVeigh looks at how to unlock the potential for innovation to create more inclusive growth in the cities of Aotearoa and the world.

Last month I had the chance to speak at the 2019 Asia Pacific Summit in Brisbane. Held every two years, the Summit is one of the largest gatherings of Asia Pacific leaders and city Mayors, with more than 1,000 attending. This year the programme was focused on cities, and structured around four city-related themes – Innovation, Mobility, Liveability, and Sustainability.

Speaking on the ‘Innovation’ theme, I talked about the role that innovation plays in facilitating inclusive growth in cities across the Asia Pacific. This important topic hasn’t yet had enough attention from policymakers, the private sector and city officials.

Innovation supports growth and productivity

It’s well known that innovation plays a critical role in supporting economic growth and lifting productivity. Cities are key hosts of the innovation economy and are magnets for the talent and investment that are essential components for an effective innovation ecosystem.

Over recent years many cities in the Asia Pacific and the world have invested proactively in developing their innovation ecosystems. They’ve facilitated new innovation hubs and precincts to provide a base for businesses and entrepreneurs.

In New Zealand we now have innovation hubs in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, as well as in many of our regional centres such as New Plymouth and Dunedin. This infrastructure for innovation, when combined with wider programmes and services, is going to be essential for local economic growth. 

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Innovation plays a critical role in supporting economic growth. Image source: Unsplash

Growth – but also inequality

Alongside this heavy investment in boosting innovation within cities, another urban trend is also clear – greater economic disparity that if a feature of many cities.

Since the end of the Global Financial Crisis, city economies around the world have become increasingly polarised. While many have seen increasing GDP and employment growth, the benefits of this growth haven’t been felt by all communities. The gap between the rich and the poor is now wider than at any time since World War II.

In the US the Brookings Institution and the commentator Richard Florida have shaped the policy discourse on this important issue. Brookings has made the case for ‘remaking’ economic development and promoting strategies to promote growth from within, based on supporting existing firms and industries to grow, facilitating trade and export development, investing in people and skills, and connecting local communities to employment.

Meanwhile in the UK the leader on this issue has been the RSA – Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce – with their Inclusive Growth Commission.

samuel zeller p7E7GWWX0eg unsplash smallGrowing need for strategies to  promote growth from within. Image source: Unsplash

Within this context, innovation and innovation ecosystems have an important role to play in supporting an inclusive growth agenda. The OECD has explored the concept of inclusive innovation and how this can be used to enhance the welfare of lower income and excluded groups.

The OECD provides a framework with six priority actions. These include, for example, using technology to enhance access to services for lower income and excluded groups, developing credit and finance mechanisms to support inclusive growth outcomes, and creating joint programmes with collaborative governance involving communities.

Initiatives in Auckland and the regions

Initiatives of the kind advocated by the OECD need to be pursued together with wider efforts to enhance city innovation ecosystems.

In Auckland, for example, the innovation precinct in Wynyard Quarter, in the form of GridAKL, has continued to grow and develop. There have been increased efforts to leverage the investment in the precinct to support the wider inclusive growth agenda.

Specific GridAKL initiatives include Digmyidea, the innovation challenge launched by the city’s economic development agency ATEED, which is designed to encourage the growth of Māori tech entrepreneurs. Another is Te Haa, a new innovation space in Manukau that focuses on supporting entrepreneurship, social enterprise and the creative and cultural industries in South Auckland.

Outside Auckland, we’re also seeing inclusive growth programmes emerging from regional innovation hubs. The Get Social programme, for example, facilitated by Manifold in New Plymouth, supports the formation and growth of social enterprises. Down south, the Te Aroha initiative, run by Innov8hq in Dunedin, supports community initiatives that unlock local potential.

New Zealand’s corporate sector is also showing a greater awareness of the importance of inclusive growth. Datacom for example has been actively partnering with the public and not-for-profit sectors to stimulate local economies through innovation and technology-based tools and methods.

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Greater awareness of the need for inclusive growth. Image source: Unsplash

Democratising innovation

Those initiatives and more will be needed if we are to successfully harness innovation as a tool for inclusive growth. But to get more transformational results, we also need to see a greater democratisation of innovation. This will require a more systems-based approach, one that integrates inclusive innovation objectives with wider social and economic policies.

There also needs to be a focus on open access and connected networks, to remove barriers to innovation ecosystems in less prosperous places and communities. This will require greater investment in innovation infrastructure in those places, to ensure that these communities have access to the tools, resources and finance they need.

Finally, and echoing the advice from Brookings, there is an ongoing need to ensure that communities and residents of less prosperous places have the skills, qualifications and training that prepares them to participate in the innovation economy, now and as we advance into the Future of Work.

 About the author


Patrick McVeigh

Patrick has more than 25 years’ experience working across the public and private sectors in strategy development, policy formulation, research and evaluation, scenario planning and visioning. He has delivered a broad range of projects in a variety of subject areas and locations, bringing high-level political understanding and finesse. Patrick is a hands-on practitioner who focuses on the client’s needs.

Patrick’s strong consultancy background is based on eight years’ experience in public policy and economic development roles in London, where he worked with clients in local, regional and central government.

Before joining us at MartinJenkins, Patrick spent five years at ATEED (Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development), where he led the organisation’s business, innovation and skills activities as well as the wider economic insight and analysis programme.

Patrick has a BSc in Town Planning Studies, a Post Graduate Diploma in City and Regional Planning (Distinction), and a Post Graduate Diploma in Social Science Research Methods — all from Cardiff University.

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