SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit

Research Themes

Our research is driven by a desire to tackle real-world questions, whilst also contributing to a deeper theoretical understanding of how innovation is shaping today’s world.Our research is broadly clustered around the following four themes.

Science, Politics and Decision Making

Whether it’s President Obama pledging to “restore science to its rightful place” or President Xi Jinping calling for “innovation with Chinese characteristics”, the emphasis that leaders place on science and technology makes designing effective policies a priority worldwide. At the same time, scientific advice to inform policymaking is in high demand. From climate change to cyber-security, food technologies to fracking, controversies continue to erupt at the boundaries between science, politics and society.

Our research helps policymakers – and wider democratic debates – to set directions and priorities for science and innovation policy, and enables them to navigate uncertainties and controversies. We apply a deep historical understanding to how the choices made about science and technology shape our societies. SPRU researchers also work on the politics of expertise, and on issues of foresight, research assessment, metrics and impact in today’s research environment.

A particular focus of our work is the governance and policy challenges surrounding chemical and biological weapons, including issues of dual-use technology. The Harvard Sussex Program, co-hosted at SPRU for over 25 years, uses technology as the lens through which to view issues of conflict and vulnerability, and understand forms of innovation that arise from the security landscape.

Energy, Sustainability and Development

How do we meet the world’s growing need for water, energy, and food in an equitable manner without compromising the environment or future generations? Despite increasing reference to ‘sustainability’, ‘low carbon economies’ and ‘green growth’ in policy debates, global progress remains slow. We need to urgently find ways to facilitate both growth and sustainability, whilst also addressing environmental degradation and poverty.

Since the 1970s, SPRU has been at the heart of international debates about the role of science, technology and innovation, in fostering sustainability and development. Through the Sussex Energy Group (SEG) we combine academic research with practical application in the critical area of energy policy.

Our research seeks to identify pathways to facilitate global transitions to a genuinely sustainable future, looking specifically at key areas such as energy, food, agriculture, and water. Our aim is to help organisations, industries and policy makers ensure that appropriate technologies and innovations are developed and deployed to produce positive effects.

Economics of Innovation and Industrial Policy

Modern capitalism faces great societal challenges. In an era of financial crisis and austerity coupled with serious global issues such as rising unemployment, climate change, poverty, it is critical to address the pressing challenge of reigniting and redirecting economic growth and driving the innovation needed for sustainable, inclusive growth.

Historically, the study of the Economics of Innovation has acted as a central pillar within SPRU’s diverse research portfolio, providing key theoretical and empirical tools for policy areas such as industrial policy, innovation policy and development policy. For more information see: History of Economics of Innovation at SPRU.

SPRU’s current research focuses on advancing the economic theory of innovation, whilst also resetting the foundations of orthodox economics and advancing the fields of evolutionary and institutional economics. We seek to understand the structure and dynamics of innovating firms and industrial systems, how to enhance innovation capabilities of firms and other stakeholders in developed and developing countries, as well as how to steer structural changes towards sustainable growth.

Our research addresses policy-relevant issues including fostering inclusive growth and innovation, the feedback relationship between finance and innovation and mapping complex patterns in firm and market dynamics. Our key concern is to help strengthen innovation and industrial policies around the world. Our work is currently focused on four main areas: Industrial Policy, Economic Development and Growth, Firm Growth and Industrial Dynamics, and Financing Innovation and Financialisation.

Technology and Innovation Management

High growth firms such as Google or Apple often create value and grow because they are innovative. Conversely, innovation is disrupting existing industrial structures across a range of sectors, private, public, manufacturing and services, requiring organisations to change their behaviour. Innovation, and the benefits it generates, does not happen easily or automatically. It needs to be managed, which involves a set of skills and knowledge that are significantly different from the standard management toolkit.

In an increasingly competitive international environment, understanding how to effectively manage technology and innovation has become critical to success.

SPRU is a global leader in research and teaching in the area of innovation management, with its impact in this field ranked second only to Harvard.* Our work focuses on enhancing innovation in all types of organisations, and across all sectors, and involves developing and delivering tools to improve the management of innovation within organisations and between organisations and their suppliers and customers.

Key areas of our work include: technology strategy, new technology based firms and sectors, complex systems and products, high-growth new ventures, innovation in business model, infrastructure sectors, healthcare and biopharmaceuticals and services, and the management of knowledge and intellectual property.

One of SPRU’s strengths is our pervasive interest in the direction of technological change (not just its pace and impact), and understanding the varied pathways through which STI may develop and how that can be strategically managed.