Over several decades, North East England has borne the burden of a reputation of ‘underperforming’ economically. Certainly, in bald statistical terms, business density is more sparse, there are fewer business start-ups, and ambitions for business innovation, investment and growth are lower.
Laudable strategies and action plans have been produced over the years to tackle under-performance – but statistical indicators have proven to be difficult to shift. A problem with using national metrics is that they do not necessarily compare ‘like-with-like’. But a risk remains that accepted narratives which point to failure and disappointment might dampen future potential in those areas which are performing less well economically.
If the use of national and regional statistical metrics represent something of a ‘blunt instrument’ when applied to areas which have particular characteristics, we need strong evidence to demonstrate that this is the case. Certainly, the North East of England is a varied region with great expanses of rural areas in Northumberland, a major metropolitan area centred on Tyneside and Wearside and the mixed fortunes of towns on the former Durham coalfield.
This new study, to be undertaken by Professor Tony Chapman, Sarah Green and Dr Tanya Gray of Policy&Practice aims to help develop a deeper, stronger and sustainable culture of innovation in the ‘context’ of localities to ensure that achievement is fully recognised and built upon by:
- Assessing contextualised starting points for businesses success, identifying factors which helped or hindered achievements.
- Adopting open-minded definitions of ‘innovation in context’ (including invention, technical product/service innovation, complementary business interactions, repositioning business from client perspectives, etc.).
- Exploring aspects of place-based entrepreneurial inspiration, the opportunities and support structures which facilitate business.
- Recognising that area boundaries are permeable and that indigenous and endogenous growth drivers produce potential for serendipitous interactions if negative perceptions are challenged.
- Understanding that places have different starting points and that success cannot be assessed with standard metrics and adopt an action-oriented outcome framework which learns from effective practice, locally, nationally and internationally
The first phase of the work will be funded by Research England and Durham University’s Strategic Priorities Fund. From April, North East Local Enterprise Partnership will continue support for the second phase of the project.
The project will conclude and report in December 2021.