UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy


Report highlights importance of international collaboration for innovation at city level

23 September 2020

A new report co-authored by Dr Ellie Cosgrave from UCL STEaPP, in collaboration with The Business of Cities and Nesta, reviews the innovation benefits for cities and subnational governments of international collaboration.

Network Effects report cover

The report, Network Effects, explores how cities and subnational governments (SNGs) can improve their capabilities and capacity for innovation by expanding their networks internationally.

Combining findings from a literature review, case studies from across the globe and interviews with experts in the field, the report presents an overview of the history of international collaboration between cities and SNGs, the current picture and the potential for these partnerships as a source of innovation. The report concludes with a number of insights, models and recommendations both for UK cities and SNGs, and those around the world.

Covid-19 has added a level of urgency in transforming the innovation and delivery capacity of cities, regions and local governments across the world. The report emphasises that in a global system with numerous shared challenges, including economic disruption, fiscal strain, inequality, political polarisation and climate change, innovation at subnational levels must be served by agile collaboration internationally. The report also acknowledges that whilst networking support a SNG’s innovation potential, there is a need to streamline and be more strategic about what type of networking activity to engage with.

The authors found that there are considerable opportunities for boosting innovation through international collaboration at an SNG level but that the landscape is complex and there has been little guidance on how to navigate the process or on the benefits. The report highlights that in order to pick opportunities that offer the most benefit, there is a need for clear understanding of the fast-moving landscape, as well as the choices and opportunity costs, and the future value proposition.

How cities and SNGs can maximise the value of international partnerships for innovation

Based on the insights from the broad range of case studies of international collaborations reviewed for this report, and the reflections of experienced senior practitioners and expert observers worldwide, the authors make three sets of recommendations for officials in SNGs looking to maximise the value of international partnerships for innovation:

Take a ‘whole of place’ approach to international engagement, by:

  • Understanding their existing international commitments, and regularly reassessing their value and objectives.
  • Taking a more integrated approach that looks beyond political boundaries, siloes and timescales.
  • Avoiding treating different collaboration networks as optional or interchangeable.

Concentrate on collaborations that are innovation-ready, by:

  • Ensuring credible leadership and expert facilitation to negotiate international differences and tease out innovation potential.
  • Setting clear shared objectives, commitments and responsibilities.
  • Creating the profile and appetite to engage a wider stakeholder base, including citizens, business, investors, universities and other levels of government.

Pursue national-level policy partnerships to unlock capacity for internationalisation, by:

  • Identifying the national players and resources that can enable a more systematic and innovation-focused collaboration agenda.
  • Connecting international collaboration to national strategies, for example: creating more centres of productivity which distribute innovation capacity.
  • Seeking to access personnel and development opportunities operating at a national level with specific international collaboration expertise.

Network Effects was co-authored by Dr Ellie Cosgrave (Associate Professor of Urban Innovation and Policy, UCL STEaPP), Dr Tim Moonen (Managing Director, The Business of Cities), Jake Nunley (Head of Research, The Business of Cities) and Oliver Zanetti (Senior Researcher in Innovation Policy, Nesta).

The full report can be downloaded on the Nesta website.