Beyond the Cluster: Creative Clusters as an Instrument for Inclusive Innovation

Ethnographies analysing the microprocesses through which inclusion occurs told through immersive heritage projects from StoryFutures.

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The study follows three immersive heritage projects from StoryFutures Immersive Storytelling Fellowship programme. Through an open innovation process, ‘immersive fellows’ were nominated by companies within the cluster to collaborate with academics in an R&D process and build a prototype.

As an expert practitioner, the researcher engaged in action research to explore how inclusive innovation processes can benefit creative cluster initiatives and support greater diversity & inclusion in the production of digital heritage. Through detailed production ethnographies it analyses the microprocesses through which inclusion and exclusion occurs in the production chain.

The theoretical framework brings cluster theory together with existing models of inclusive innovation, usually associated with the Global South, to explore how ‘developed’ economies can address inequality through creative technology.

This initial study offers important insights for further embedding diversity in creative clusters. By paying detailed attention to where diverse voices fall away in the production chain, interventions can be made to improve inclusion participation, process and product.

The thematic focus and R&D priorities set by academic partners encouraged greater diversity of content at the proposal stage demonstrating that the university as a cultural intermediary can play an important role in inclusive innovation.

Initial findings suggest that SME membership as the basis of participation in cluster programmes may be presenting a barrier to inclusion but mechanisms to support under-represented voices can be facilitated through collaborations.

The immersive fellowship, conducted under virtual conditions due to Covid-19, had positive outcomes in terms of building ‘cognitive proximity’ between academia & industry and within the group. The creative cluster became an important unit of imagined identity. This challenges the conceptual significance of geographical & other forms of proximity for clusters. Further research will explore how cluster policy can build on these findings to support inclusion by creating optimal conditions for cognitive proximity amongst under-represented groups.

Angela Chan


Angela Chan is a doctoral researcher in geography with StoryFutures at Royal Holloway, specialising in creative clusters and inclusive innovation. She has worked across the television industry for twenty years in documentary making & commissioning roles. Most recently she was Head of Creative Diversity for C4 and has held similar roles at the BBC and Pact. She currently guest lectures at Royal Holloway in Media Arts and has previously presented at the Techne conference on partnering between industry and academia. She will be presenting a paper at the Pathways Beyond Economic Growth seminar series in January 2021.