The Global Network of Innovation Districts is a group of leaders from 23 innovation districts—including representatives from the Innovation Quarter—focused on developing individual districts and advancing the innovation district model. The Global Institute on Innovation Districts (GIID) designed the Global Network to connect worldwide district leaders in a way that allows them to share their unique perspectives, support, insights and inspiration.
GIID Communications Director Jack O’Sullivan opened up on the significance of the organization (formally launched in March 2022) and Innovation Quarter’s role in it.
Innovation Quarter (iQ): Where did the idea of the Global Network come from and why was it important to launch it?
GIID: Global Institute President Julie Wagner first formulated the concept of developing a global network while working with a group of districts at the Brookings Institution. Julie collaborated with ambitious, curious leaders in districts across the world who were creating the highly complex, multi-sectored, mixed-use geographies that are the essence of innovation districts. These leaders found it helpful to connect to one another because they faced similar challenges and opportunities. Innovation districts are not like the formulaic science parks of the 20th century—they involve a far larger group of organizations and stakeholders to advance bespoke strategies and programs to create dynamic innovation ecosystems.
“Innovation districts are not like the formulaic science parks of the 20th century—they involve a far larger group of organizations and stakeholders to advance bespoke strategies and programs to create dynamic innovation ecosystems.”
The Global Network helps district leaders learn more about their districts’ strengths and opportunities, as well as how to showcase them and earn investment capital. It enables leaders to share what has accelerated—and hindered—their work and offers support as they push for new forms of economic development in response to the pandemic. It is driving robust empirical research, developing tailored peer learning sessions across districts and advancing the practice of innovation districts across the world through the development of detailed tactics and strategies.
iQ: What does the future of innovation districts look like? How are you hoping to steer/shape that future?
GIID: Districts are set to become engines of their regional and local economies, cultivating and growing unique cluster strengths that help reinforce a region’s competitive advantages in more inclusive and environmentally sustainable ways. Many districts are well on their way to achieving this goal, but many more are just beginning to identify and leverage their unique strengths.
“A top priority for the Global Network is to strengthen the resilience of districts, given the important role that they play as engines of economic growth in their local and national economies.”
Additionally, innovation districts are showing how they can promote more resilient economies. The Global Institute conducted qualitative research on 12 districts during the pandemic. This work showed that innovation districts can pivot quickly to respond to external shocks: organizing their leadership across actors to enable progress, harnessing talent and public spaces in new ways and engaging with communities through new approaches to promote inclusion. A top priority for the Global Network is to strengthen the resilience of districts, given the important role that they play as engines of economic growth in their local and national economies.
iQ: What have you learned so far from the Global Network?
GIID: It’s clear that districts are eager to learn from each other. They have, in just a few months, experienced “a-ha” moments around topics such as why governance matters, particularly during the early stages of a district’s development. Some are using the work of other districts to motivate change within their own districts. The example of their peers is creating a new type of “action forcing event.” In such cases, younger or less experienced districts are becoming bolder in how they plan, more deliberate about who comes to the table and more strategic in conceiving how to finance their districts.
“Younger or less experienced districts are becoming bolder in how they plan, more deliberate about who comes to the table and more strategic in conceiving how to finance their districts.”
Additionally, the Global Network has generated scale. This permits The Global Institute’s researchers to invest resources to amass exceptional data from globally renowned sources, such as The Lens, Clarivate and PitchBook.
This research is generating empirical evidence to identify and explain the most effective strategies for developing an impactful innovation district. We’re finding that key factors include the role of proximity, the interdependency between the districts and their regions, as well as the multiple pathways that districts employ to generate impact on science, technology and the economy.
iQ: Why did you want the Innovation Quarter to be a member of The GIID’s Global Network?
GIID: The Innovation Quarter has emerged as a strong district model. Its success highlights what smaller, post-industrial U.S. regions can achieve through leadership, intentionality and patience. The area’s transformation, from outmoded manufacturing locale into 21st century knowledge- and tech-intensive district, is instructive for similarly situated cities which adopt an innovation district strategy to move up the value chain of competitiveness.
“The [Innovation Quarter’s] transformation, from outmoded manufacturing locale into 21st century knowledge- and tech-intensive district, is instructive for similarly situated cities which adopt an innovation district strategy to move up the value chain of competitiveness.”
Moreover, the Innovation Quarter’s work on its physical space stands out as global best practice—the district’s development team continues to spearhead the physical transformation of the district through highly mixed, integrated spaces. The Global Institute’s 2020 research into its Steering Committee—of which the Innovation Quarter is also a member—highlighted this work, using the example of how the Bailey Power Plant was redeveloped from a disused, coal-powered industrial asset into a burgeoning locale of innovation and the district’s center of gravity.
iQ: What have you learned from the Innovation Quarter?
“The Innovation Quarter helps others appreciate that the power of districts lies in their distinctiveness and diversity.”
GIID: The leaders driving the Innovation Quarter are pioneers in the world of innovation districts. They have come to understand how to transform the physical landscape carefully to match changing markets. Additionally, they have recognized how to painstakingly execute ideas, from bold, district-wide visions down to the design of building entrances. Leaders in the Innovation Quarter are often called on, in global meetings and forums, to share their reflective remarks that can powerfully educate others in the field. They also offer a different form of governance which highlights how governance must match the ambition of its district and its leaders. The Innovation Quarter helps others appreciate that the power of districts lies in their distinctiveness and diversity.