Inclusive Innovation: Definition, Conceptualisation and Future Research Priorities

Richard Heeks, Mirta Amalia, Robert Kintu, Nishant Shah


There is increasing policy, practice and academic interest in “inclusive innovation”.  In simple terms, this is the means by which new goods and services are developed for and/or by those who have been excluded from the development mainstream; particularly the billions living on lowest incomes.  However, there are many competing perspectives on inclusive innovation, which this paper resolves into an integrated ‘ladder’ model of different levels of inclusive innovation.

Research has so far lagged practice and there is need for a more concerted effort at knowledge-building for inclusive innovation.  Based on a three-country interview study with 37 policy-makers, strategists, private sector and NGO sector representatives – and founded on a review of existing literature on inclusive innovation – this paper reports findings about research priorities in inclusive innovation.  Respondents identified a set of eleven priority research topics, which are categorised as stakeholder-, systemic- or process-oriented.

These priorities provide evidence-based guidance for future research on inclusive innovation.

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Educators’ guide

Synopsis questions

  1. What is inclusive innovation? How can we conceptualise it? [Section A]
  2. What are the key stakeholders and processes involved in inclusive innovation? [Section B]
  3. Summarise what you see as the three key research priorities emerging from prior literature. [Section B]
  4. How were the research priorities presented in the paper produced? [Section C]
  5. Identify three significant characteristics of inclusive innovation today. [Section D]
  6. What does the paper identify as the research priorities for inclusive innovation? [Section D]

Development questions

  1. Setting aside that provided in the paper, can you find evidence that the idea and/or practice of inclusive innovation is growing?
  2. What are the pros and cons of giving something a new label, like “inclusive innovation”?
  3. In what ways can inclusive innovation be seen as good and bad for socio-economic development?
  4. Given the research methods used, how reliable and how generalisable are the research priorities identified?
  5. Should inclusive innovation be a higher or lower priority than other topics in international development research?
  6. If you had a funding pot of US$300,000, what inclusive innovation topic would you research?