The Inclusive Technology Prize aimed to encourage innovation in products, technologies and systems that give disabled people equal access to life’s opportunities. It ran from October 2014 to March 2016 and was open to UK applicants.
This case study is part of a report we published in April 2018, exploring how “super nodes” support DSI initiatives to grow and scale. You can read the full report here.
Super node: Nesta
Issue to be resolved
There are over 12.2 million people with a limiting long-term illness or impairments in Great Britain. The prevalence of disability rises with age. Many disabled people rely on assisted living technologies to support them in their everyday lives. However, the development and manufacture of aids, adaptations and products has not kept pace with the use of new technologies, materials and design and manufacturing processes seen in other areas.
The Prize aimed to incentivise technological innovation from individuals and small businesses to improve or develop assistive living aids, adaptations, products and systems that would make a real difference to the lives of disabled people.
The Prize’s objectives were to:
- generate public and media interest in, and excitement about, accessible technologies and their ability to make life easier and more inclusive;
- facilitate the co-creation of new products, services and systems that meet needs as defined by users themselves;
- champion a spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation by supporting disabled people and amateur designer/makers to become assistive technology developers and entrepreneurs
- forge new partnerships between technology users, developers, manufacturers, buyers and providers;
- build a dynamic and vibrant market for accessible, functional, flexible and desirable assistive technologies.
Designed and led by Nesta and run in partnership with Leonard Cheshire Disability, with support from the Department for Work and Pensions, Innovate UK, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills and Irwin Mitchell, the Inclusive Technology Prize sought to champion innovative assistive technology and encourage co-creation with disabled people.
Role of the super node
The team conducted a period of research and design that closely involved a range of stakeholders, including funders, practitioners and technologists, and most importantly end users themselves. This included six focus groups with people with disabilities. Through t 50 this process, they designed a prize that invited innovations improving life for people with a range of disabilities using a range of technologies. They also found that users did not think it was essential for designers to be living with disabilities, but rather for them to co-create with people living with disabilities. Finally, it was important to create a prize fund which incentivised innovators, but which was not so large that it scared away individuals or small organisations.
The team received 203 applications. 25 semi-finalists received £2,000 each and light-touch capacity-building support. From these, 10 finalists received £10,000 each and more intensive capacity-building support. One winner and two runners-up received £50,000, £35,000 and £15,000 respectively. The runners-up funding was provided during the course of the project by a private foundation that approached Nesta; it was not envisaged at the start of the project and demonstrates the project’s success. An evaluation of the project was carried out afterwards, including surveys, interviews and data analysis.
While there was no direct follow-on project, it established the Challenge Prize Centre as an effective player in this space. Now, the Centre is running a much larger prize, the Mobility Unlimited Challenge (mobilityunlimited.org). This $4m global prize supports radical improvements in the mobility and independence of people with lower-limb paralysis through smarter assistive technology. Many lessons from the Inclusive Technology Prize were integrated into the design of Mobility Unlimited, including the commitment to co-creation.
- Co-creation is essential.
- A broad range of skills and expertise is needed for successful project implementation.
- Guidance, timeframes and structures need to be clear from the beginning.
- Incentives and capacity support are important, especially to smaller organisations and groups.