Torridge and North Devon District Councils required an overarching innovation strategy to bring together vision statements, strategies and related documents published in previous years. These strategies highlighted the challenges faced in Northern Devon as well as the key ambitions of creating greater levels of innovation within the business base and to support innovative companies with growth potential to create more high quality employment opportunities in the local area.
At the time, a number of projects were awaiting final funding decisions, such as the Northern Devon Innovation Centre and the Petroc Centre for Technology and Innovation Excellence, so an overarching innovation strategy would be valuable to ensure any future associated activity was delivered in a coherent form. The plan would identify gaps in the innovation landscape in Northern Devon and would identify a high level action plan to fill those gaps.
The district councils required specific outputs including, among others, an articulation of the innovation opportunity through sector analysis, an assessment of the number of innovative companies in Northern Devon and those capable of growing and providing high value employment opportunities, an analysis of existing business support and require future support to assist the proposed Innovation Centre operator. It was also important for the councils that stakeholder consultations were central to the strategy development process.
Our work began with an outline of the purpose of the study, which was to coordinate the efforts of all stakeholders to ensure that innovation is enabled, encouraged and supported in Northern Devon to help deliver sustainable economic growth. The strategy went on to clearly define an ‘innovation ecosystem’ and set the basis for what innovation means in the context of this strategy. A baseline analysis of the local economy was undertaken to set out the existing position of Northern Devon compared with the Heart of the South West and national averages. Analysis of economic parameters ranged from business base data to innovation funding and activity to skills and labour market data. HJA also carried out a policy review to examine the broader context in which innovation activity takes place. We reviewed national, regional, county and district level policies to gain an understanding of this on a wider and more local scale.
A significant aspect of developing the strategy was through consultations with local stakeholders. This helped us gain a greater understanding of various aspects involved in the innovation ecosystem in Northern Devon. Findings from the consultations were combined with research and data intelligence to gain an understanding of the various channels contributing to the innovation ecosystem. These channels were participants, physical infrastructure, resources (business support, skills, training, and finance) and culture, collaboration and knowledge exchange. For each of these facets of innovation, HJA analysed the existing landscape and identified clear priority areas for action.
The strategy was finalised with an action plan framework which set out the next stages for project development by local stakeholders and the Innovation Board as well as a plan for the governance and monitoring of progress towards creating an innovation ecosystem in Northern Devon.
Since the publication of the Innovation Strategy for Northern Devon, the Northern Devon Innovation Centre and the Petroc Centre for Technology and Innovation Excellence have been built and are in operation.