To take stock of local areas’ innovation assets, the Smart Specialisation Hub was created. With the groundwork complete and shared, we are now turning our attention to developing datasets, analysis and understanding according to the needs of our stakeholders.

An early manifestation of this new direction can be seen in our report, Mapping England’s Innovation Activity, hosted on the Hub’s own website; and if you’ve not taken a look at this yet, please do – we welcome your feedback. Beyond this, we want to deepen understanding to a point where we can really begin to take the pulse of a place.

A more profound understanding of a locality needs to move beyond its innovation assets and outputs, vital though these are. Contextual mapping can offer richer insights: into assets, skills base, absorptive capacity, and physical and human geography. What underlies the data that positions one LEP as particularly advanced in health and life sciences, for example? What plans do local universities have to focus on particular specialisms, or plan and lead joint projects? Are the Local Enterprise Partnership refreshing their Strategic Economic Plan? Is the area ‘sticky’ for graduates, and if not, how can they be attracted back? Is the area well-served for skills provision – not just for its present specialisations, but emergent sectors and technologies too?

Addressing these questions properly is time and resource-intensive. Empirical validation of quantitative and qualitative data is critical, and much of the worth of such work sits in its timeliness. But such mapping is of obvious value: to Government, both local and national; LEPs; universities, and investors, both public and private. Aligning strengths with needs, visibly underpinned by robust methodology and application of insight, can empower a locality with a renewed confidence that their decision-making is informed, sensitive and evidence-based.

The Hub is exploring a proof of concept of this form of deeper mapping and we look forward to sharing more information in due course. As we continue to work with the next wave of Science and Innovation Audits and help LEPs to revitalise their plans, we will have ample opportunity to share and receive insight. And feeding into the forthcoming Industrial Strategy white paper and developing our ties to local government will help lend our deliberations strategic oversight. Through the application of analysis and insight, we believe we can support National Centre’s own core principles to support meaningful, informed university-business collaborations.

We want to hear from you on this topic; if you have datasets to share, insights into the challenges of in-depth place profiling or if you simply have suggestions for what you think such work needs to cover.
Please do get in touch at

by Andrew Basu-McGowan
Policy Manager, Smart Specialisation Hub (NCUB)