Let’s experiment: Testing a new approach to innovation in the EU

Christian Bason, CEO, Danish Design Centre, pleads for a Europe of more political courage, willing to take a more radical ‘trial and error’ approach to innovation and growth.
Christian Bason

We need to use our regions and countries as living labs to test out new innovation processes. That does not mean bigger budgets; it means being smarter about the way we use EU funds.

Disruption is the new black. Markets and technologies are increasingly unpredictable and complex. Companies have no guarantees that their business models are going to be viable in the future. Change is a more or less permanent requirement — and one that can be difficult to digest for employees.

For a CEO, navigating in these conditions is no easy task. Decision-makers at European level and in Member States need to acknowledge these changes and translate them into new political measures and instruments.

We need to foster the generation and faster spread of new knowledge. Without this knowledge — whether it’s about new technologies, potential new business partners or new management methods — companies struggle to address opportunities, disruptions and constraints in their environment.

We need public investment in new technologies and methods. As the lead risk-taker and most long-term investor in modern society, the State needs to have the political courage to actively support key technologies and approaches that will fuel business innovation in the long term.

We need to try out new experimental, practice-based learning. In complex situations, only the systematic testing of possible actions can tell decision-makers which solutions will work. At the Danish Design Centre, we strive to put these notions into practice. Our PLUS programme[1] pairs together innovative businesses with design agencies to explore how to generate faster and more profitable innovation, business development and growth. We are also looking to reach out to public organisations to identify how service design can pave the way towards a more user-centred governance. Similarly, selected countries or regions of the EU could be treated as growth labs; as prototypes for the development and implementation of business policies.

We need to gain insights and scale up. The new insights we can gain about how to initiate innovation processes and how these unfold in relation to different markets and technologies must benefit all relevant stakeholders to trigger new behaviours. This requires a collaborative approach to dissemination of new knowledge, involving government departments, agencies, regions, municipalities, private foundations, etc.

Let us work together in Europe to turn our most challenged Member States and regions into the world’s leading growth labs.
Danish Design Centre’s ‘Scale by Design’ approach

EU programmes such as Horizon 2020 present powerful resources for conducting such action-oriented, longitudinal research at micro-level. And it goes without saying that the institutional and geographical reach of the EU can be a huge asset in any endeavour to ensure the rapid scaling and spread of new knowledge.

Sometimes, the only way to improve things is to really — really — try something new.

Let us work together in Europe to turn our most challenged Member States and regions into the world’s leading growth labs.

‘Innovation presupposes an element of novelty and experimentation’ — EPSC Strategic Note, Towards an Innovation Principle Endorsed by Better Regulation, Issue 14, 30 June 2016.

[1] run in cooperation with the Confederation of Danish Industry, the Technical University of Denmark and the trade organisation Design Denmark