Scotland is the ‘king of pilots’, but here’s why that’s a bad thing
On a panel at Scotonomics in Dundee, Ray Bugg, the founder of DIGIT.FYI, Nick Sherrard from Label Ventures and Pauline Smith from Development Trust Scotland discussed why the majority of Scotland’s innovative pilot projects don’t get off the ground for several reasons.
The panel also discussed what innovation particularly was. All three used words such as imagination, ingenuity, invention, and creativity to describe projects that deliver services and technologies for the wellbeing of everyday citizens.
All three agreed there were major obstacles for pilot projects in Scotland such as national communication and long-term investment in communities.
Bugg said that Scotland was leading in sectors such as FinTech, Artificial Intelligence, Space, HealthTech, and AgroTech.
He added: “Scotland is just a very, very exciting place to be at the minute, if you are into the start-up side of technology. I think established technology, not so much.
Sherrard picked up the point of established technologies and this led into discussion on pilot projects not getting off the ground.
READ MORE: Economist tackles Scottish independence currency questions
He said: “As a country that’s full of innovation, there’s a lot of really interesting stuff in social innovation, there is a lot of really interesting early-stage companies, small companies in the creative sector are really but we seem to have some kind of problem on the part of innovation around scaling companies.”
Scaling a company means a company gets to a place in which they can employ a large labour force and make workers wealthier rather than just a small founding team who sell off the company and exit.
Sherrard added: “You can be quite brutal about it if you think about the 21st century, Scotland has scaled Skyscanner perhaps? There’s something in our innovation system which we aren’t getting right. It’s the same with our public sector, there’s lots of great initiatives going on but we are struggling to get them to actually happen in a big way.
“We’ve got a really vibrant scene, but we have been saying that or a while and we need to find ways that we can change this part of the picture.”
Bugg used Telecare as an example of a social innovation project. Telecare is a Scottish Government initiative. It consists of equipment and services which can support people at home or in a community setting, including a care home or supported accommodation to get help or assistance. Telecare can include a call button which can be pressed. It was established in 2015.
READ MORE: Independence economics ‘less important’ than politics, says economist
Bugg said: “Telecare has been in a pilot phase for almost 15 years. It still hasn’t had a full national roll-out and a lot of the times, it’s because you’ve got different health boards and they’re not prepared to come to a gold standard and agree with each other. We see that in local authorises as well when it comes to innovation: ‘if they are doing it in Clackmannanshire then we won’t do that in Falkirk’. That unfortunately is a cultural issue and culture can often get in the way of innovation.
“Scotland’s the king of pilots, and its not a good thing, because pilots have got to mature into national strategy and right now, it doesn’t.”
Smith made the point that communities are in fact doing things themselves and, in a way, skipping the step of having a pilot – which she termed as forward regression, a way of life to be embraced by governments.
She said: “Communities are actually getting up and doing it for themselves now, so I think there is a wide spread of innovative things across Scotland, there might be cold spots and that’s where it needs more government support.
“There’s more power that needs to get down to local governance to make it stronger and build the capacity [for innovative projects] because a lot of it is still volunteer run unfortunately.”
The panel discussion went on to consider the physical barriers of road and rail infrastructure can halt innovative projects progressing, the privatisation of initiatives, the lack of long term investment but plenty of seed and investment, as well as how communities can be at the forefront of ideas more than is recognised by national governments.