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Innovation mapping as an innovation method

This practice uses new and old datasets, analytic methods and visualisation tools to generate timely and granular information about innovation. The information is then presented visually to help policymakers and practitioners understand how and where innovation takes place, who is doing it and how to support it.

Existing ways of measuring innovation rely on official business surveys, economic statistics and patent numbers - these miss out on the work of many innovators, like those in the digital and creative economy, and social and public sector innovators.

As a method, innovation mapping can help people to understand the wider innovation ecosystem, how new technologies emerge, and to monitor how industrial and innovation policy develops at a government level.

Nesta's work on innovation mapping

Through our work in innovation mapping, Nesta seeks to transform innovation policy with new data sources, analytic methods and ways of communicating insights. This is an area where we are quickly developing a track record of original research.

In 2010, Nesta published the research report, Creative Clusters and Innovation: putting creativity on the map, which mapped the UK’s creative clusters. This showed where they are located geographically, which sectors form them, and what their role is in the wider innovation ecosystem.

In 2014, Nesta created A Map of the UK Games Industry. Here, a big data approach was used to measure and map the UK games industry and track its evolution over time. It found that the games industry is much larger than previously thought - almost 2000 games companies in 12 key hubs of game-making activity were mapped across the UK.

Later in 2016, we developed The Geography of Creativity in the UK report,

in partnership with Creative England. This study found that creative industries are increasingly important to local economies across the UK and mapped the 47 main creative clusters, helping to identify that there was a 28 per cent growth in creative employment between 2007 and 2014.

In the same year, Nesta and Tech City, in partnership with GrowthIntel, published the Tech Nation report providing a comprehensive analysis of the UK’s digital tech industries. To gain comprehensive insight into digital employment, we analysed government data, job advertisements, and official ONS data. This data helped map the impact of the digital technology economy on wider business, employment, and economic trends.

In 2017, Nesta launched Arloesiadur (‘Innovation Tool’ in Welsh), a website which combines official, open and web data to provide interactive data visualisations about the state of innovation in Wales. This tool, developed with support from Welsh Government, has garnered interest from innovation policymakers across the world, and been featured in research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The analysis is also being scaled for the EU through EURITO, a three-year Horizon 2020 project.

Nesta’s ongoing work focusses on mapping new sectors in the UK and innovation in other countries, like the United Arab Emirates. To support this, our innovation mapping team continues to grow - with an interdisciplinary team of data scientists, data developers, data visualisation designers and innovation experts at the forefront of using data for innovation policy.

Case studies

Creative Nation

In early 2018, Nesta launched Creative Nation, the latest output in a long line of projects mapping the creative industries in the UK. As part of this, Nesta published a report, an interactive visualisation and an open dataset to maximise the usefulness of the work for many different audiences. The analysis in Creative Nation has helped unlock £64m of investment in the creative industries from the Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The report presents eight key findings based on our analysis of the data, and is accompanied by an open dataset and interactive visualisation to help anybody explore the data.


Arloesiadur is a collaboration between Nesta and Welsh Government to map innovation in Wales. We have used new data to measure and visualise Wales’ industry, research and tech networks with the goal of informing government policies that drive growth.

Economists and policymakers recognise that innovation is one of the main ways to address the big challenges of our time. But to support innovation, we need to understand it first. In Arloesiadur (Innovation Directory in Welsh), Nesta has tried to create this data by using new data sources, data science methods and visualisations about about industrial, tech networking and research activity in Wales. In doing so, we aim to answer big questions about Wales’ industrial and research strengths, its collaboration networks and future economic opportunities.

Nesta tools and resources