NESTA grant: the influence of science fiction on innovation and technological development – deadline 28 Feb 2012

0. Executive Summary
NESTA invites proposals for funding for a research report outlining the influence of science fiction on the trajectory of technological development.
One grant of between £3,750 and £7,500 will be available to fund the production of a research report covering the area in a fresh and comprehensive way.
The deadline for applications for the grant will be at 12:00pm on Tuesday 28th February 2012, with interviews of applicants scheduled in the week of 5th March 2012.

1. About NESTA
NESTA is the UK’s national endowment for innovation. We exist to increase the UK’s capacity to innovate, to help generate great ideas and to bring them to life. We are independently funded with an endowment originally provided from the National Lottery. We are working towards becoming a charity in 2012, marking a new phase for the organization.

We work in four ways: Generating new knowledge and insights about how innovation happens in the economy, society and public services, and making this knowledge available and accessible. Working with businesses, entrepreneurs, public bodies and social enterprises to help them develop the skills, methods, tools and capacity to innovate. Linking diverse networks of people and organisations, and using our convening power to open up new possibilities and to help with implementation and diffusion of innovations. Helping fund innovative ventures, projects and programmes, particularly ones focused on solving compelling problems. We do this as an investor, a grant-giver, and through programmes that combine a mix of types of support.

2. Background
Since time immemorial, humans have sought to understand the future. In the modern age, a particular focus of prediction has been the progress of science and technology, and the effect it will have on society and the economy.

The track record of future-gazers leaves much to be desired – History is littered with failed predictions and false prophets. The work of psychologists such as Philip Tetlock and Daniel Kahneman has highlighted reasons why prediction is so problematic: a range of cognitive biases make people unusually prone to mistakes when predicting the future, and blind to their own inability to do so. Inventors, entrepreneurs and innovators themselves are also notoriously error-prone when predicting the impact and context of use for their innovations, as exemplified by Thomas Alva Edison and the phonograph (which he expected would be used as a Dictaphone rather than for music reproduction), or IBM’s Thomas Watson gross underestimation of the market for computers in 1943.

Science fiction literature presents an alternative window into the future. Authors within the genre have, over the years, imagined the effects of technological innovation, in some cases with uncanny precision – from cyberspace to the taser, from robots to computer worms, and from submarines to satellites, they have anticipated a range of technological developments.

Science fiction has also played an important role in highlighting the risks and the social and ethical consequences of technology. William Gibson outlined the shape and culture of an information economy in his Sprawl and Bridge trilogies, while “hard” science fiction authors such as Charles Stross and Iain M Banks have described vividly the societal implications of radical new technological developments, helping readers to imagine what it would be to live in such futures. And commentators such as Margaret Atwood and Frederic Jameson have investigated the relationship between science fiction and how the world is perceived.

Science fiction has also played a significant role in shaping technological innovation. Historian of technology George Basalla highlights ‘technological dreams and fantasies’ as an important source of new ideas for innovation. Neal Stephenson argues that science fiction produces compelling visions of the future, and inspires young fans to pursue scientific or technological career in order to realise them. Isaac Asimov did in fact suggest that an interest in ”high quality science fiction literature” could help identify young minds with an aptitude for scientific creativity
In some respects, science fiction may provide richer, more interesting, and therefore more inspiring narratives of the future than explicit attempts to discern technology trends. In the words of Martin Rees, “it’s better to read good science fiction rather than second-rate science.”
NESTA is seeking to fund a piece of research surveying the influence of science fiction on innovation and technological development.

3. Work required and outputs
NESTA seeks to fund the production of a piece of research that surveys the influence of science fiction on innovation and technological development.

We would anticipate the work would cover: The direct impact of science fiction on those undertaking technological development, and the extent to which it has influenced research, product design, or the ambition and direction of innovation

The influence of science fiction on the demand for innovation The influence of science fiction on the social status of innovation The creative processes and techniques that science fiction writers use to imagine and flesh out possible futures.

Given the relatively small scale of this project, we would expect it to be undertaken mainly through synthesis of existing literature rather than original research. It is of course likely to require analysis of work across a range of disciplines. Proposals that include interviews with science fiction writers are particularly welcome.

The final format of the report will be agreed with the grant recipient when the grant has been awarded, but should include a full bibliography and a list of references. We would anticipate the report being in the region of 30 to 50 pages in length, excluding references and bibliography. It should be written in a clear, concise style and should be accessible to an informed but non-specialist reader. The final delivered report should be publishable without editing or revision.

The Policy and Research team at NESTA will be the clients for this work. The team will work with the chosen contractors to agree an approach and hold regular meetings to agree assumptions and to provide updates on progress.

NESTA would like to receive the report in autumn 2012, although we will agree an exact delivery date as part of contract negotiation. We anticipate that this work will take around six months and that there would be regular update meetings and bidders should factor this into their timetable.

4. How to apply
Submissions should comprise no more than five pages, not including and appendix for CV(s). They should cover:
a) A proposed methodology for tackling the research question
b) Details of experience in this area
c) Details of track record of effective project management
d) Explicit planning to meet the deadlines of the project, including an assessment of the risks to its delivery and interim outputs
e) Contact details for two references who can attest to the ability of the proposer to meet these criteria
f) Outline of budget for the project, including estimates of researcher time. The budget should fall into the range £3,750 to £7,500. (Value for money of proposals will be a criterion of award selection.)

Submissions should be single-spaced, in 11 or 12-point font and on A4 paper. Full CVs of the person or people who will be working on the project and a description of the applicant’s or applicants’ organisation should be provided as additional appendices.

The closing date for proposals is Tuesday 28th February 2012 at 12:00pm GMT (noon). Your entire proposal including all supporting documentation should be e-mailed, as a single document, to . Interviews will be scheduled for the week of 5th March 2012.

NESTA will evaluate the proposals received and notify its final decision by Monday 19th March 2012. In the course of the selection process, NESTA may seek clarification of proposals.