Reasons the UK doesn’t need an MIT of the North

Categories: research notes
Categories: research notes

From Twitter headline: Johnson plans to shift civil servants out of London. PM said to be keen to locate new government agencies outside capital

Does UK science and technology need an MIT in the North? Wrong question. Rather, do we need an MIT model at all? Almost certainly not. Here are a few reasons…

1/ There is no shortage of MIT pressers announcing civic-collaborations and glorified consultancy gigs. If their post-hoc evaluation was as good as pre-launch PR, they could account for why their strategies, practices, and people fail to adapt to new innovation settings.

2/ Beyond MIT itself, their model (like all models) privileges certain values, ways of doing science, and ways of distributing the benefits of science. Who gets to decide what values matter in Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool?

3/ Acknowledging an MIT model however is super useful. It shows us there are different ways to do innovation. But again, whose way of doing innovation is going to count in different parts of the UK? Who gets to choose? (see /2)

4/ If we admit there are choices about models, it follows, of course, that innovation is not a universal fix for all social woes, least of all regional imbalances within the UK. Social and economic policy in the UK can not start and end with innovation.

5/ Moreover, the idea of a model of innovation assumes it is appropriate to think about research as a system whose elements (finance, knowledge, people, relations) can be identified, standardized, packaged and shipped across borders. Not trivial.

6/ If innovation is about anything, it is about imagining, and realising all sorts of possible futures. (N.) Britain needs to imagine its own futures. Not follow a Northeast US model that emerged more than half a century ago…

7/… a model that is as implicated as much in societal inequalities in the US as it is in progress and prosperity.

8/ Summary: if the UK does want to scale-up innovation in the north or anywhere else, it needs to ditch imported prescriptions, and build its own way of doing science, technology and innovation, opening up to local cultures, knowledge, people and things.

9/ Some useful perspectives on the MIT model of innovation and the allure of models for policy ($)