How much does the UK invest in publicly supported R&D in the Creative Industries? And how does this compare to other sectors?

by Professor Andrew Chitty, CRAIC

When Peter Bazalgette conducted his Independent Review of the Creative Industries in 2017 the nearest he got to an answer to this question was recommending that  “the percentage of Innovate UK’s funding going to projects involving the Creative Industries should increase from the current low level of 2%”.  Innovate UK (IUK) is an important funder of Research and Innovation (R&I), but far from the only one and, at best, that 2% was only an estimate.

In the intervening six years UKRI, the UK’s public research and innovation agency,  which includes the Research Councils and Innovate UK has come into being as a strategic body and launched £250m of Creative Industries R&I programmes: the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC) Creative Clusters Programme and most recently CoSTAR Infrastructure, IUK’s Audience of the Future Challenge and Creative Catalyst.  It has also established, through the AHRC, a powerful Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC).

So when asked recently the simple question above, and having searched in vain for something that even approximated an answer, I decided to see if, drawing on the work of  CRAIC and colleagues, I  could assemble something that would improve on 2017’s Bazalgette guestimate. Rather than take the conventional but inherently complex data-driven approach,  I thought we perhaps already had to hand the information to deliver a preliminary, if not definitive answer, rooted in solid numbers methodology and evidence.

After all to answer the question “what proportion of UK public R&D funding is devoted to the Creative Industries”  we just need an appropriate numerator,  a corresponding denominator and a time period.

The Numerator: The Hard One

In 2021 UKRI published a Deep Dive into the Creative Industries arising from joint working between colleagues at AHRC and the Audience of the Future Challenge Team. The intent was, for the first time, to explore how the UK’s Research and Innovation agency engaged with the Creative Industries across all of its funding councils. The data aspect of the document explored the spend 2015-2021 of each Council and mapped this by relevancy to the nine subsectors of the Creative Industries.

Two caveats here: UKRI spending is not all of the UK’s public investment in R&D spending but it is by far the largest single player; and the Creative Industries is an economic/industrial concept rather than one based on the research disciplines more familiar to UKRI. To tackle the first challenge requires a longer project looking at other R&D investment in the Creative Industries (any takers?); but we solve the latter in the Deep Dive publication by establishing a methodology that could assess the “investment” represented on the one hand by early stage academic research in Computer Science, Machine Vision or the Arts and Humanities that might have application to the Creative Industries at some point, and – on the other – late-stage applied or industrial research involving businesses and universities with much more direct, obvious and immediate application to Creative Industries now.

As this was a first in its kind mapping exercise we believe we could not sufficiently determine the variables to conduct an automated process.  We asked each of the UKRI Councils to provide us with a very long list of projects that might have any relevance to the Creative Industries (we provided them with a very wide and inclusive set of key words).  We then analysed by hand (with a team of four) the information on each of the 1,400 projects supplied, using the publicly accessible database Gateway to Research.  We concluded that 885 of the 1,400 projects were relevant to the Creative Industries in some way. Immersing yourself in data is fun but it’s not or everyone.  (For anyone who might follow this with an automated approach based on text mining we’d advise careful use of the word ‘film’, for example, which has a relevance in chemistry and the biological sciences quite unrelated to cinema!)

Qualified Investment

Relevance is only the most basic requirement to assess any research investment for application to an industrial sector.

To allow us to compare the ‘apples’ of enquiry driven academic research with the ‘oranges’ of business innovation (and all points in between) we have developed a Creative Industries Intensity Scale (CIS), to model, albeit in a simple way, the relevance and likely impact of a project on the Creative Industries as an economic sector. This is absolutely not a measure of value, but rather a measure of where projects sit on the spectrum between being driven by pure research questions at one end (CIS=1) and industry needs and challenges at the other (CIS=4), the outputs of the former being research publications and new knowledge, and of the latter being new (or prototype) products, services or experiences or the data and/or insights to create them.

We then used the CIS to qualify the monetary investment into any project with projects scoring 4 on our Creative Industries Intensity Scales (applied, business-led or collaborative R&D programmes involving industry partners) are assessed at 100% of budget whilst the lower CI scoring projects (scores 3,2,1) are assessed at 50%, 25% and 10% respectively.

Thus, just as one might use a qualification approach for a business development (sales) pipeline based on percentage likelihood of conversion at different stages, we created a qualified investment model for UKRI’s investment in Creative Industries R&D based on industry engagement we could analyse by funding council, CI subsector and geography. This was the main objective of the Deep Dive publication.

However, the total qualified investment in the Creative Industries over 885 projects – £251,091,000 – also represents a robust evidence-based numerator for our calculation of % R&D spend in the Creative industries for this period 2016-2021 (restricted to UKRI). As stated previously, UKRI is not the only public funder of Creative R&D in the UK but it is by far the largest and this does allow us an answer, albeit to a more restricted question.

Denominator – easier, some timing differences

So how much has UKRI invested across the same period in R&D Grants across all sectors? This is a much simpler issue to address with just two caveats.   Firstly, UKRI only came into being midway through the period (01/04/2018) requiring evidence from both UKRI and its predecessor bodies.  Secondly our Deep Dive evidence was based on calendar year end points (01/01/2016 and 31/12/2021) whereas the UKRI (and predecessor) accounting periods are financial years so the appropriate period starts in 2015-16 and ends in 2021/22.

Inspecting Research and Innovation Grant Funding expenditure (only), across UKRI (2018/19-2021/22 but excluding Research England) and predecessor Councils (AHRC, EPSRC, IUK/Technology Strategy Board, MRC, NERC, STFC, BBSRC, ESRC) produced a total R&I Grant Funding figure of £29.627bn over the seven years.

Bringing this into line with the six calendar year period of the Deep Dive data is necessary but imprecise. Taking the six years 2016/17 – 2021/22 renders a total spend of £26.122bn, averaging the ‘shoulder years’ at the beginning and end of the seven-year period: £25.474bn. Thus, it seems best to report our denominator as a range between these two figures.

The Answer – or at least an answer

We have a revised question – What proportion of UK Research and Innovation’s spending between 2016 and 2021 is invested in the Creative Industries?

A numerator of qualified CI research and innovation grant funding over the period of £251.1m

And a denominator with UKRI overall spending on R&I  spendign from £25,474m to £26,122m

And AN ANSWER  of 0.96% to 0.99% which for all useful purposes could be robustly expressed as 1% or around 1%.

So what?

Between 2016 and 2021 UKRI devoted around 1% of its investment in R&D to Research and Innovation in the Creative Industries.

  • This doesn’t tell us about the trend within the period, or from 2021 onwards. 2018 saw the launch of both the Creative Industries Clusters Programme and the Audience of the Future Challenge so one could imagine that within this period there was an upward trend.  We can and will explore this.  The 1% figure also doesn’t tell us to what extent (if at all) any upward trend extends beyond 2021 though that data will soon be available.  We will explore that data too using the same methodology.

It doesn’t answer the secondary question at the top of the article – how does this compare with other sectors?

  • Comparisons (even with other innovation intensive sectors) are invidious. Though figures for other sectors are readily available I doubt that UKRI and HMG’s engagement with Creative Industries R&D will be helped by lobbying based on crude sector comparisons, particularly if these are made by figures or organisations that neither obviously understand or conduct R&D.

However, the 1% should give pause for thought for policymakers at sectoral and national level over the way they think about research intensive sectors.

  • Is the ROI of public R&D investment in each sector the same?
  • What is the rationale for large disparities?
  • Is the increasing entanglement between the Creative Industries and technology a reason for the Creative Industries to be considered as a research and innovation intensive sector in its own right, rather than an adopter of other people’s ‘tech’ (which I fear is how it is still thought of by many)?