Critical Realism and Early-Stage Support for Innovation : Initial Perspectives
Whilst significant reorganisation of UK Government Policy toward business support has taken place since May 2010, innovation remains a central tenet of the drive for balanced, sustainable economic growth. Against a background of an extremely tight fiscal climate, the tension between prioritising innovation associated with emerging technologies and overcoming widely-accepted obstacles inhibiting access to funding and support services by, in particular, smaller enterprises renders it essential that the limited available resources are deployed as effectively and efficiently as possible. However, recommended standard practice for evaluating interventions utilising public funding is based upon "The Green Book" rational model that assumes a linear process and emphasises the objective, quantitative measurement of input-output driven criteria. Conventional forms of evaluation readily provide a succinct summary of what outcomes have been achieved, which may feed into a process of assessing effectiveness and efficiency, assuming knowledge of a-priori intention(s), but offer little of substance concerning gaining understanding of why or how outcomes have been realised. Hence, it is not possible to purposively adjust interventions to influence outcomes other than by trial and error unless evaluation is founded upon an alternative perspective.
The contention is that a critical realist perspective will enhance evaluation by deepening appreciation and understanding of the significance and effects of causal influences, thereby creating conditions in which it is possible for intervention to improve either, or both, effectiveness and efficiency.
A scheme known as the Advantage Proof of Concept Fund (APoC) which operated in the West Midlands region from late 2008 to the end of 2010 providing grants for enterprises seeking to develop commercial potential prior to launch was chosen as an exemplar. Analysis of empirical data gathered from two sources has provided evidence of visible, observable or detectable outcomes that may enable plausible explanations of the generative mechanisms, powerful particulars and operating conditions that have given rise to (caused) that / those outcome(s).
Empirical data analysis at this point is not an end in itself but serves as a facilitation mechanism preparing the data needed to enable retroduction and abduction to be practiced as part of an evaluation within a critical realist paradigm.
Analysis to date shows that in broad, general terms APoC is seen to have been successful in achieving targeted outcomes when evaluated in a conventional form against pre-defined performance criteria. However, initial indications suggest that there were many other outcomes which have not been identified by conventional evaluation. Additionally, conventional evaluation does not and cannot explain how or why even recognised achievements have occurred.
Ultimately, the purpose of the research is to show that deeper understanding of hidden generative mechanisms, powerful particulars and operating conditions, which can be achieved only by adopting a critical realist perspective, creates the potential for intervention to be enhanced through manipulating circumstances to favour positive causal intervention.
This research is funded primarily through Economic and Social Research Council CASE/EREBUS Award 2010/2011 reference ES/|031030/1 supplemented by a quarterly contribution from the University of Warwick Science Park.
I would also like to acknowledge the supportive supervision and constructive comments provided by Professor Stephen Roper and Dr. Kevin Mole and to thank them for their assistance and encouragement.