Mapping innovation ecosystems to community resilience

My focus on mapping and measuring the innovation ecosystem comes from a few perspectives.

First, measurement helps us navigate market disruptions. This is particularly evident in regional areas that are at risk due to being reliant on a smaller number of industries. Traditional modes of employment are changing even as advances in technology open new opportunities.

I experienced this disruption first-hand when our 80-staff, $10 million per year family manufacturing company went out of business. There were 2,500 printed circuit board companies in the United States when my parents started the company in the 70s. There were only 250 remaining when the company ceased operations at the turn of the century. For those in both disrupted and emerging industries, mapping and measuring raises awareness, provides easier access to new networks, and allows us to see where we are having the most impact and where there are needs.

A second driver is to justify the investment made into innovation. A significant amount of capital is spent on innovation by corporations, universities, the finance sector, governments, community groups, and individuals. Overall, we know that innovation investment has value, but it can be difficult to correlate outcome to investment. Measuring and reporting outcomes helps inform decision-making and allows others to learn and make more rapid progress than those who came before.

Finally, and the emphasis of this post, is that measuring and mapping allows us to better focus effort on complex challenges facing society. Technology has played a big part in reducing poverty in developing countries through access to basic services, information, and communication. However, technology has also contributed towards an increase in the wealth gap disparity in high and middle-income countries. Enhancing our ability to deliver entrepreneurial outcomes can come at a cost of the marginalised or disadvantaged.

In a previous post I outlined three models to measure innovation ecosystems.

The Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Diagnostic Toolkit by the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs presented 65 indicators of an innovation ecosystem based on eight determinants and performance and impact factors.

The Kauffman Foundation’s Ecosystem Vibrancy Model has 12 indicators in four areas of density, fluidity, diversity, and connectivity.

Finally, the Regional Entrepreneurship Development Index lists 77 individual and institutional indicators in three main areas of entrepreneurial attitudes, aspirations, and abilities.

When I wrote the post, I was challenged with ways to intentionally align these models with social impact that is focused on the local community in which innovation is applied:

“Innovation and measurement frameworks are morally neutral. Ecosystems defined by these models are designed to facilitate entrepreneurial wealth, but there are no variables to measure how that wealth is applied. My concern is that if we are not intentional about assessing how innovation is applied, we will re-create established inequalities in new ways and call it progress.”

My question led me to research community resilience. Specifically, how community resilience is defined and how it is measured. My search uncovered a 2012 Resilience Profiles Report by the Queensland Council of Social Service (QCOSS), which mapped and measured 71 indicators across six domains of community resilience. These six domains look at areas of health and safety, economics, housing, culture, governance, and overall demographics:

  • Healthy, safe, and inclusive communities,
  • Dynamic, resilient, local economies,
  • Sustainable, built and natural environment,
  • Culturally rich and vibrant communities,
  • Democratic and engaged communities, and
  • Demogoraphy

To test the alignment between innovation ecosystem and community resilience frameworks, I correlated the 71 indicators in the QCOSS resilience profile report against the 77 indicators in the Regional Entrepreneurship Development Index (REDI).

REDI Entrepreneurial Attitudes indicators appear aligned with:

  • Lifelong learning indicators and Community connections indicators in Domain 1: Healthy, safe, and inclusive communities,
  • Citizen engagement indicators in Domain 5: Democratic and engagement communities,
  • Diversity indicators in Domain 6: Demography, and
  • Cultural diversity indicators and Values indicators in Domain 4: Culturally rich and vibrant communities.

This makes sense, as innovation happens at the cross section of diverse ideas and requires a significant amount of inherent community trust and goodwill for rapid execution.

REDI Entrepreneurial Abilities variables aligned with:

  • Economic Activity indicators and Skills indicators in Domain 2: Dynamic, resilient local economies.

REDI Entrepreneurial Aspirations variables aligned with

  • Income and wealth variables in Domain 2: Dynamic, resilient local economies.

These too can be expected, with attributes such as education, talent, and income being relevant to innovation and resilience.

What is more interesting is what is missing from innovation ecosystem frameworks. Indicators not generally considered in innovation ecosystem frameworks include availability of other community services, personal health and well-being, aspects about the built environment such as housing or transport, other culture attributes such as sport or the arts, and demographic details of population and income support.

Indicators such as employment are considered but often only as outcomes rather than the influence of current employment conditions on innovation. Unemployment can be a driver towards innovation, but it can also be a detractor from lack of talent and capital.

So should community resilience indicators be incorporated into innovation ecosystem frameworks? Some might say that considering community impact would be a distraction to companies seeking to rapidly scale their business in a fast-paced, highly competitive environment. While some reports such as Startup Genome identify the contribution of technology to inequality, most reports celebrate high startup valuations and recommend job creation through a focus on a smaller number of high-growth potential companies. A consideration of local social impact appears to be at cross purposes with improving innovation outcomes.

And yet by not considering indicators of community resilience as part of innovation ecosystem frameworks there is a risk of embedding and exasperating systemic inequalities in fast-growth ecosystems. There is an assumption that entrepreneurial activity equals jobs and growth, but there is a concern that it means jobs and growth for only some aspects of society. What would it look like if social impact scores were shown against reports comparing innovation ecosystems?

Thankfully, my current focus, collection of professional roles, and PhD research mean that the question is not rhetoric but one I can have a crack at answering.

I am currently measuring the innovation ecosystem with an initial emphasis on Queensland, and preparing for a broader engagement across Australia. I am keen to connect with others globally who are working on similar focus of innovation ecosystem mapping and measurement, and welcome perspectives on incorporating a social impact.

If this is you or you know someone in this space, please reach out and connect.

American & Australian, playing in the cross-section of people, business and digital, with a passion for discovering how we all tick