Help please! Pro-sustainability industrial strategy

The world needs to shift to a sustainable footing, and I think industrial strategy is one of the levers to pull. I need your help to run a series of events, publish a paper and make some recommendations to the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand. What are the key design questions in formualting an industrial strategy for a sustainable society? What are the current best answers, in practice and in theory? Who knows about them, and how to engage them? What am I missing?

Below I give:
A. Background on why I’m looking at this topic
B. What I am doing
C. A draft framework to populate
D. How you can help

A. Background
A year ago, as I started my sabbatical, I started thinking about what a pro-sustainability innovation strategy would look like. It struck me then that it was a relatively unexplored lever for the shift to a sustainable footing. The reason was obvious: we’d spent decades convincing ourselves that businesses do innovation, and the best role for government was to get out of the way. A friend, James Shaw, asked me to pull something together for the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand. He is co-leader and wants to have an economic policy which brings included an innovation policy for sustainability.

I did a bunch of reading, had first thoughts on diagnosis, direction and design of an industrial strategy. As I went further, I realised that writing an innovation policy means working through lots of other stuff: what sort of society are you trying to generate, how do you think the world works and so how do you try to shift it. My sabbatical went down into these, taking time from the specifics of industrial strategy. I went back to Forum, and my time and headspace was taken up.

But now I’ve left Forum and have the time and headspace to come back to it. In the meantime a rather surprising thing happened: the UK voted to leave the EU, and a new Prime Minister created a new department which has ‘industrial strategy’ in the title.

Whatever direction the UK government’s industrial strategy goes, the fact they will have one is a signal of change – one which I want to amplify. For one thing I need to fulfil my promise to James. For another, working through what makes a pro-sustainability industrial strategy will force me to connect my head-in-the-clouds ideas to feet-on-the-ground substance. There’s a chance to contribute to real change happening around the world.

But what do I mean by pro-sustainability industrial strategy? Well, its easy to get in a tangle, with this OECD publication spending 4 pages comparing and contrasting. For now, I’m going to tweak the one they get to in two ways. First, I’m not just thinking of governments, but also cities, companies, civil society organisations and more. Second, I’m making the sustainability component explicit. So, here’s my working definition:

Any type of intervention or policy that attempts to improve the business environment or to alter the structure of economic activity toward sectors, technologies or tasks that are expected to offer better prospects for economic growth or societal welfare than would occur in the absence of such intervention which contributes to putting the world on a sustainable footing.

B. What I’m doing
Obviously, I’m a generalist and there are many people who have been thinking and acting in this area for a while. The part I can play is bringing lots of great stuff together, and making it useable for James and others (without having to get paid – I’m a free resource on this!). I’m doing this as an Associate Fellow of the Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP) in Cambridge – which means I can access that network of academics and policy people.

What I’m planning to do:

  1. Have a draft framework of overarching design questions for formulating a pro-sustainability industrial  strategy and innovation policy. (DONE – see section C. below).
  2. Test and populate that framework (now-April):
    • Interviews with key thinkers and practitioners
    • Desk research
    • Events where people can give their answers to ‘What are the key design questions in formulating a pro-sustainability industrial strategy?’. CSaP has already agreed to run some for their practitioner network in London. I’m exploring having other events with other bodies to reach out to different stakeholders.
    • If I get time, figure out the technology, and if there is demand, I will try to have an electronic way people can populate the framework, wiki-like.
  3. Apply the resulting populated framework to diferent contexts, at least New Zealand but I hope others too (April-May).
  4.  Publish a paper for CSaP on the key design questions in formulating a pro-sustainability industrial strategy (May).
  5. Provide recommendations to James on New Zealand (May).

Simples! Well, not quite. I’d love your help  on who to interview, what to read, whether the framework is robust, what should populate it and who else might want to run an event populating or applying the framework (more specific requests in section D. below).

Also, more fundamentally, there are a bunch of leap-of-faith hypotheses (an idea taken from Eric Ries’ Lean Start Up – review forthcoming):

  • Governments have realized they need an industrial strategy.
  • They are willing to tilt that industrial strategy to sustainable outcomes.
  • There are forms of industrial strategy and innovation policy which can deliver on sustainability goals.
  • There is existing best practice and best thinking to draw together.
  • The people with that best practice or thinking are willing and able to share those with others.
  • It is possible to come up with New Zealand recommendations in London.
  • It is possible to write a generic tool which allows people to locate themselves in their ecosystem, and so come up with context-specific recommendations. And that a framework of ‘key design questions’ can fulfil that need.
  • Looking further ahead, to diffusion, there is a next wave of adoptees, in New Zealand or elsewhere, who would be willing to apply a framework.
  • There are institutions, places and events where the next wave of adoptees  come together to share latest best practice.
  • It is possible to bring the findings to these places.
  • I have the competence, connections and time to bring this all together.

As per Lean Start-up, I will be testing these hypothese as I go. I’ll also have regular ‘Perserve or Pivot?’ moments, to give myself licence to do better things, not just do things better.

C. A draft framework to populate
Below is my first stab at the overarching framework that needs to be populated. I’m seeing it as big questions (e.g. what does sustainability mean in this context?) underneath which there will be a number of sub questions (e.g. which of the Sustainable Development Goals are most applicable?).

Screenshot 2017-01-11 11.50.32.png

D. How you can help
As I say, I see myself as a generalist pulling things together. If it’s already been done – wonderful! I can get on with something else! Please point me in that direction. If it hasn’t been done, then I need help on content and process.


  • For you, what are the key design questions in formualting an industrial strategy for a sustainable society?
  • What are the current best answers, in practice and in theory?
  • How can I improve the framework to populate?


  • Who should I interview?
  • What should I read?
  • Who else might want to run an event populating or applying the framework?
  • How can I test and improve my leap-of-hypotheses?
  • How might I need tp pivot, to do better things not just do things better?

If you thoughts on these, or anything else, just stick them in the comments or contact me via twitter, email or other channels.

Thank you in advance!


2 thoughts on “Help please! Pro-sustainability industrial strategy

  1. Pingback: Video: Industrial Strategy for a Sustainable World (April 2017) | David Bent

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