Nesta Innovation Lab

Nesta Innovation Lab's Code Club programme Code Club, a network of after school coding clubs for children aged nine to 11 run by volunteers
Case Study

“To incubate and scale disruptive innovation for the public good.” 

Helen Goulden, Executive Director, Nesta Innovation Lab

  • Methods
  • Partnersh- ips
  • Resources
Location in government

National government

Where it is based

London, UK

Mission statement

“Supporting innovators to develop ideas that can solve big social challenges.”

Annual spend

£15.4 million (2013/14) (£4.9m from government, £10.5m from other sources)

Size of team


Example of impact

Nesta Innovation Lab’s People Powered Health programme involved developing new approaches for managing long-term health conditions that have been shown to have the potential to save the health system in England £4.4 billion.1


Nesta Innovation Lab works with individuals and organisations to generate, develop and test radical new ideas to address social problems. Through developing and applying leading edge innovation practices and methods, it supports innovators in the public, private and social sectors, and links innovative projects to advocacy and policy change to transform whole systems.

What it does

Nesta Innovation Lab supports innovators working in fields like health and ageing, opportunities for young people, public service reform and digital arts and media, and work with organisations from across different sectors, from front line public services and early-stage social entrepreneurs to government agencies, established non-profits and commercial businesses. 

The Nesta Innovation Lab works through three main approaches:

  • Grant funds: supporting a portfolio of innovations that work towards a common goal.
  • Challenge prizes: applying open innovation to social problems.
  • Practical programmes: cohorts of organisations supported through a structured innovation process to develop and implement innovations that address a shared goal.

In 2013/14 the Innovation Lab ran 30 funds, challenges and programmes across its priority fields and covers all parts of the UK. From a total 3,341 proposals, the team awarded grants to 69 innovations, with an average value of £145,000, and continued to provide practical support to an additional 70 innovations that had received grants in previous years. They held 102 events reaching 4,624 delegates with a major focus on developing innovation skills and their web pages received over 450,000 page views.

Interesting features
  • Partnerships:  Although Nesta is now an independent charity it continues to work with government departments and agencies. Over half of the Innovation Lab’s work is designed and co-funded with government bodies. Being outside government also enables the Innovation Lab to have a much broader set of collaborations.
  • Resources:  Funding is one of the main things the Innovation Lab does, providing grants to what are often early stage ideas. Grants come with practical support that can cover everything from help with recruitment, skills development, and advice on financial and business models, connecting to potential customers or collaborators, finding mentors and supporting evaluations.
  • Method Nesta’s Innovation Lab has developed distinctive methods to go beyond interesting pilots and projects and influence wider systems change, by shaping key policy priorities. The ability to iterate between micro experiments and macro policy conditions, practical demonstrations and advocacy, has become increasingly important as they tackle more complex challenges.

Learn more
Read the full case study on Nesta Innovation Lab in the i-teams report.

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  1. Nesta (2013) ‘Business Case for People Powered Health’. Available online: [Last accessed 15 May 2014]

Photo Credit: Nesta Innovation Lab's Code Club programme. Image courtesy of Nesta

This page was last updated on

Friday, June 27, 2014 - 16:16