SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit

2012 - 2013 Highlights

Professorial Lecture

Is natural gas the fuel of the future or a bridge to nowhere

Speaker:  Professor Jim Watson, Professor of Energy Policy - Science and Technology Policy  Research (SPRU) - School of Business, Management and Economics

Mariana Mazzucato's talk at TED Global 2013

Professor Mariana Mazzucato's much anticipated TED Global talk is now live at TED.com

On 12 June 2013, Mariana (SPRU RM Philips Professor of Science and Technology Policy) delivered a compelling talk at the TED Global conference in Edinburgh titled 'Government - investor, risk taker, innovator' in which she explains how government funding is vital in backing bold technological innovation, from smartphopne microprocessors and GPS to biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. 

Dr Adrian ElyDr Adrian Ely

Low carbon innovation collaboration

SPRU Lecturer and STEPS Centre Head of Impact and Engagement Dr Adrian Ely is part of an international collaboration between researchers in the UK and at leading institutions in China to investigate different models of innovation and their role in low carbon transitions.

Running from late 2013 to 2016, the project will compare government-led, high-tech ‘indigenous innovation’ approaches with emergent, lower-tech approaches in the areas of agriculture, energy and mobility.

The Entrepreneurial StateThe Entrepreneurial State

Prof Mazzucato's new book asks who the real big cats are in innovation

To coincide with the publication of her latest book, The Entrepreneurial State, which debunks myths about the role of the state in innovation, SPRU's R.M. Phillips Professor of Science and Technology Mariana Mazzucato gave a TEDGlobal Talk in Edinburgh on Wednesday 12 June.

Both her book and the talk tackle the same critical issues: how state investment in the past has made innovation possible for the private sector, and how governments need to continue doing this to revitalise economies.

The Entrepreneurial State has also received a glowing review from Martin Wolf in the Financial Times, in which he calls the book "A brilliant exploration of new ideas in business [that] argues that government is behind the boldest risks and biggest breakthroughs".

Sussex Energy Group's research into the implications of changing energy policy

With climate change one of the biggest issues of the modern age, changing energy consumption and moving from a high- to low-carbon economy is more critical than ever.

The Sussex Energy Group uses an interdisciplinary research approach that is the hallmark of Sussex to understand the social, political and economic implications of radically changing our energy systems and moving towards a more sustainable future.

Public debate: Fuel poverty, climate change and social justice, Jubilee Library, Brighton, 20 May 2013

On Monday 20 May, SPRU staff - along with colleagues from IDS, a panel of invited speakers, students attending the STEPS summer school and members of the local community - sat down at the Jubilee Library to discuss the issue of fuel poverty, climate change and social justice. Our panel consisted of Kirsty Alexander (Head of Communications, Nuclear Industry Association) Thurstan Crockett (Head of Sustainability, Brighton and Hove City Council) Doug Parr (Chief Scientist, Greenpeace) and Jim Watson (Research Director, UK Energy Research Centre). In the chair was Alice Bell, research fellow and head of public engagement at SPRU.

Our brief was to consider whether fuel poverty can be tackled without tackling climate change? And will tackling climate change – and other planetary boundaries such as water and land use – and keep the planet safe but make the poor poorer? Considering the panel, we expected nuclear to come up, and considering some recent news, fracking. Perhaps what was most striking was how little we talked about the science of climate change or (despite some attempts from Alexander) possible technical solutions: it was all politics and often about solving surrounding problems of poverty, without even getting on to specifics of climate change policy, or at least not pushing policies on energy and climate change into their own niche, but considering them in a larger context.

All images: Lance Bellers

SPRU DPhil Day/DIG-IT roundtable discussion: 'Inclusive growth and innovation: contradictions vs. opportunities', 1 May 2013

On 1 May, SPRU’s DPhil Day and DIG-IT Workshop events jointly hosted a roundtable discussion titled 'Inclusive growth and innovation: contradictions vs. opportunities' in the Jubilee lecture theatre, introduced by Prof Dick Nelson and featuring Prof Mariana Mazzucato, Dr Matthias Kollatz, Prof Luc Soete, Prof Frances Stewart and Prof Andy Stirling.

Rethinking the State

Rethinking the State is a video project coordinated by Prof Mariana Mazzucato and Caetano Penna that links two research grants (Ford Foundation’s Entrepreneurial Stateand INET’s Financing Innovation). Every week they release a new video with leading international economists voicing their views on topics such as the role of the State in the economy and in the innovation process, the global financial system, the current economic crisis, the side-effects of austerity measures, and alternative growth and innovation policies.

Logo for the GuardianSPRU staff contribute to Guardian Political Science blog

SPRU academics Alice Bell, James Wilsdon and Mariana Mazzucato are among a number of science policy experts contributing to the Guardian's Political Science blog. 

The blog, which also features contributions from several other analysts and science policy makers, aims 'to show how interesting science policy can be and find better ways to talk about it'. 

Professor Mariana Mazzucato interviewed on Schumpterian 'Creative Destruction' by Radio 4

BBC Radio 4 logoAs governments around the world are seeking innovation-led growth to kick start the recovery, BBC Radio 4 looked into Schumpeter's famous notion of 'Creative Destruction'--periods in which radical innovation upset the status quo of markets and entire economies.

Professor Mazzucato provided insights on the myth of the 'entrepreneur', by citing how all the technologies that make the iPhone so smart are state funded (internet, GPS, touchscreen display, and the SIRI voice activated assistant). She also claimed that it is not true that recessions help 'trim the fat' off companies making only the most 'fit' survive: the collaborative EC FP7 funded FINNOV project she directed found that the most innovative companies are those that are penalised the most by the 'credit crunch' because innovation is inherently risky---and banks (and venture capital) fear risk even more during downturns. Mazzucato's new research on finance and innovation is funded by a new grant by the Institute for New Economic Thinking.

A declaration on grassroots innovation

SPRU's Dr Adrian Smith has blogged about the new Declaration for grassroots innovation issued recently in Ahmedabad, India. With colleagues Mariano Fressoli and Hernán Thomas at the Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, Adrian has a new article, Grassroots innovation movements: contributions and challenges, in the Journal of Cleaner Production. He will be presenting the analysis in the paper to INGENIO at the Universidad Politecnica de Valencia on 19th February.

Prof Mariana Mazzucato creates a storm on Dutch industrial strategy: missions not sectors

Mariana Mazzucato in Dutch newspaper NRCSPRU's Professor Mariana Mazzucato was recently invited by the Dutch Ministry of Economics Affairs to give a keynote speech on her opinions of their industrial policy programme that is currently focused on feeding some 'top' sectors. Mariana was quite critical of the approach, which sent the Dutch media into a frenzy:

SPRU article on grassroots innovation in top 10 for 2012

A web article on grassroots innovation by SPRU authors was among the top 10 most visited in 2012.

Leading science, technology and development website SciDev.net commissioned Adrian Smith and colleagues in India and Argentina to write a feature on the topic. Posted in May, the article - titled 'Supporting grassroots innovation: Facts and Figures' - considers the diversity of grassroots innovation for development, some common challenges, and the often overlooked contributions made by this activity.

This is another great example of SPRU research attracting attention and, along with work by many others, it is helping to raise the profile of bottom-up solutions to sustainability. A recent OECD report on Innovation for Inclusive Development cites our work and reflects growing interest in innovation and inclusion amongst multilateral agencies, including grassroots approaches. Hopefully research attentive to the realities of grassroots innovation can help inform sensitive and sympathetic support and lead to increased space and resources for grassroots groups to develop socially just pathways to sustainability appropriate to their communities.

Recent activity from Mariana Mazzucato

SPRU research hold successful food symposium

Food and the Public Good posterOn 26 November 2012 42 people gathered for a one-day symposium under the title ‘Food and the Public Good’ hosted by SPRU researchers Dr Rebecca White and Rachael Durrant . The day comprised thirteen presentations on food related research from academics at all career stages, and from across departments in Brighton and Sussex Universities. The symposium was funded by the University of Sussex’s Researcher Led Initiative (RLI) Fund.

The impetus for the symposium came from their experiences in building a food research network, aka the Brighton-Sussex Food Research Network (BSFRN), which they embarked on in January 2012. The network currently has 49 academics on its email list from about 15 schools and units across the two universities.

'Best Paper of the Year' award for two SPRU staff

Dr Martin Binder (Research Fellow) and Dr Alex Coad(Senior Research Fellow) have won the 'Best Paper of the Year' Award from the International Society for Quality-of-Life Studies. Their winning article, 'Disentangling the circularity in Sen's capability approach: an analysis of the co-evolution of functioning achievement and resources', appeared in the journal Social Indicators Research, vol. 103, no.3, pp.327-355. 

Paper presentation at international innovation conference

SPRU Research Fellow Dr Vandana Ujjual presented her paper 'Dynamic Capabilities in Emerging Markets: How R&D Affiliates Undertakes Capability Building and Competence Creation in Host Locations' at the 10th annual GLOBELICS International Conference, 9-11 November 2012 in Hangzhou, China. 

The theme of the conference was Innovation and Development: Opportunities and Challenges in Globalisation.  

Dr Sylvan Katz gives keynote address at 12th annual STI conference in Montréal

Dr Sylvan KatzDr Sylvan Katz

SPRU Visiting Fellow Dr Sylvan Katz made a keynote presentation at the 12th International Science and Technology Indicators (STI) conference, held in Montréal, Quebec, Canada from 5-8 September.

Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) policy is partially informed by evidence-based measures. Many traditional measures such as National Wealth (GDP per capita), R&D intensity (GERD/GDP) and scientific impact (citations/paper) are derived from population averages whose validity assumes adherence to the Central Limit Theorem.

When an innovation system is represented by a complex network from which evidence-based measures are derived there is a significant likelihood that Central Limit Theorem does not hold and population averages no longer characterize the system. Scale-Independent measures are derived from power law distribution and correlations that characterize complex networks. The keynote presentation and accompanying paper discuss the theory and practice of using scale-independent to characterize emerging properties of real-world complex innovation systems.

Dr Katz's paper that accompanied his presentation - titled 'Scale-Independent Measures:Theory and Practice' - is now available to download from the STI site, along with a PowerPoint presentation including the notes used to give his keynote address.

SPRU at party conventions

Mariana Mazzucato appeared at the Labour Party conferencein Manchester on Monday 1 October with Lord Adonis and Vicky Pryce as part of a debate titled 'Growth for What?'.  

SPRU staff were also present at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton from 22-26 September:

  • Gordon MacKerron spoke at a fringe meeting organised by the Nuclear Industry Association on the future of nuclear power and infrastructure development.  Other participants were Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson, head of UK nuclear projects for EDF, and Stephen Tindale, ex-Head of Greenpeace UK. Gordon’s theme was that the economics of nuclear power are untested in recent UK history and that great uncertainty therefore attaches to the extent of imminent nuclear investment. So a low carbon future in the UK will depend, more than Government currently thinks, on progress in renewables and (also with much uncertainty) the development of carbon capture and storage technology. A good debate followed..
  • Jim Watson took part in a panel debate hosted by the Royal Society, Royal Academy of Engineering and the British Academy, titled 'To Frack or Not To Frack', which discussed shale gas in the UK.
  • Paul Nightingale spoke at a fringe meeting organised by the Work Foundation with Will Hutton (Chair, Big Innovation Centre) Birgitte Andersen (Director, Big Innovation Centre) Roger Williams MP (Science & Technology Select Committee) and Prateek Buch (Acting Director, Social Liberal Forum). Paul attacked the current government focus on increasing market entry and supply side constraints, highlighted the very long tail of marginal, undersized, poor performance enterprises in the UK economy, and stressed the considerable social costs of excessive market entry and churn. The audience contained many "entrepreneurs" and a lively debate followed.

Gordon MacKerron warns against a nuclear "binge" to satisfy climate change targets

Professor Gordon MacKerron (Director of SPRU) spoke to Responding to Climate Change (RTCC) about the "unrealistic" and "undesirable" idea of nuclear power playing a major role in a low-carbon future at the International Low Carbon Energy for Development Conference (LCEDN), held on the Sussex campus from 10-11 September:

New publication from SPRU members investigates the destabilisation of existing industry regimes

SPRU staff Bruno Turnheim and Frank Geels have published a new paper on ScienceDirecttitled 'Regime destabilisation as the flipside of energy transitions: Lessons from the history of the British coal industry (1913–1997)'


This paper investigates a neglected aspect of the transitions literature: the destabilisation of existing regimes and industries. It presents an analytical perspective that integrates four existing views on destabilisation and conceptualizes the process as a multi-dimensional and enacted phenomenon involving technical, economic, political, and cultural processes. This perspective is illustrated with two historical cases of the British coal industry (1913–1967, 1967–1997). These cases are also used to articulate five lessons regarding the overall destabilisation process and five lessons regarding the economic and socio-political environments of industries. The conclusion section translates the historical lessons into insights with relevance for the contemporary challenge of climate change and transitions to low-carbon energy systems.

Sussex Energy Group reports for the UK Energy Research Centre

Professor Jim Watson recently led the Sussex Energy Group in producing a report titled 'Carbon capture and storage: realising the potential?', the culmination of a two-year project funded by the UK Energy Research Centre. 

Speaking on the report, Professor Watson says: "We still don’t know when CCS technologies will be technically proven at full scale, and whether their costs will be competitive with other low-carbon options. So it is vital that the Government’s commitment to these technologies leads to several full scale CCS projects as soon as possible. Only through such learning by doing will we know whether CCS is a serious option for the future, and how the technical, economic and legal uncertainties currently facing investors can be overcome."


Recent activity from Mariana Mazzucato

Mariana Mazzucato joined SPRU as RM Phillips Professor of Science and Technology in November 2011. Here is a selection of her recent activity:

FINNOV: Finance, Innovation and Growth

Mariana's three-year FP7 EC FINNOV project had its final event in UK Parliament on February 1-2. David Willetts (Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills) spoke, as did many other very high profile speakers.


Mariana has also recently contributed to various pieces in a range of print, broadcast and online media:

More information and news on Mariana's recent activities can be found on her website.

Sussex Energy Group: Leading the way to a low-carbon future

What needs to happen to put us on a sustainable energy path? Answering this question is a key challenge of our time - and it is the passion that drives the researchers at the Sussex Energy Group (SEG), one of the UK's top energy research groups.

Everyone knows about climate change but there are many additional reasons for moving away from fossil fuels like oil, coal and gas, such as ensuring our energy needs can be securely met and preventing prices from skyrocketing so high that they create economic crisis or more widespread fuel poverty.

Making the change to a sustainable energy path is one of the most complex tasks society has ever faced, requiring technical ingenuity, behavioural change and virtually unprecedented political commitment - and all ways that achieve economic efficiency. The complexities and uncertainties involved are similarly great, and conflicts of interest abound.

To meet these challenges SEG undertakes academically excellent research that is also directly relevant to the needs of policy-makers and practitioners. Working together with groups in government, business and civil society, SEG provides comprehensive research and consulting services to those involved in energy provision and energy policy. Its work covers three main areas:

  • identifying and evaluating routes to sustainable energy
  • understanding how technological change happens and how it can be managed
  • understanding how government can regulate and direct complex and uncertain transition processes.

SEG has a staff of 16 full and part-time specialist researchers, and 14 doctoral students. Led by Dr Jim Watson, it is a core partner in the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and is part of the UK Energy Research Centre. The Group receives support from a range of government departments, agencies and private sector firms as well as core funding in the form of a 5-year grant from the UK's Economic and Social Research Council.

For further information go to the Sussex Energy Group website.