Shedding light on the knowledge economy


A three-year, £1.5m research programme into the "knowledge economy" is being launched by a leading British think-tank.

The investigation – believed to be the biggest of its kind in the world – is set to identify what the knowledge economy is and how advanced nations can use knowledge and information to spearhead economic growth and competitiveness in the 21st century.

To programme by The Work Foundation is being led by Ian Brinkley, formerly chief economist at the TUC, and will run until spring 2009.

It also has the backing of British Chancellor Gordon Brown, who said: "Vital to the future prosperity of advanced economies is understanding how to generate success and economic value from knowledge.

"Britain can be one of the great global success stories in the coming age, but only if we establish ourselves as a world leader in knowledge, science and skills."

He added: "This exciting and important project will identify the ways in which the knowledge economy can boost the performance of the British economy, and the steps we must take in the years to come to become the leading location in the world for knowledge-based industries."

The phrase "the knowledge economy" has been in circulation in policy, media and business circles since the late 1960s, yet many people use it without knowing exactly what it means, or they mean by it.

"The term 'knowledge economy' tends to mean different things to different people," said Brinkley.

"Sometimes, it is used to reflect the fact that the British economy no longer revolves around the production of solid objects, like cars or coal, any more; at other times, it captures a feeling that higher education qualifications are now a mass commodity; and sometimes, it is used to note that many people now spend their days tapping at computers and talking to each other. In short, it has become a blank canvas," he added.

The foundations planned to write the book on the knowledge economy, identifying its nature, how knowledge affected the business of value creation, and how knowledge is transforming the nature of work, for individuals, firms and the state, Brinkley explained.

The programme will be cover different strands, including: what is the knowledge economy, mapping the transformations ahead, what does Asia's rise imply for "knowledge capitalism" and what does the knowledge economy imply for work, employment and welfare.

Others will include: what is the optimal framework for R&D and innovation, what kind of financial system does the knowledge economy require, what does the concept of "service" mean in the knowledge economy and what framework of intellectual property rights is needed in a knowledge economy.

The project is being sponsored by ten leading organisations, including Rolls-Royce and Microsoft.