Study on Frugal innovation and reengineering of traditional techniques

Innovation is often an exclusive activity – involving the investment of huge sums of public and private money to create high specification products and services for elite customers. Frugal innovation, on the other hand, is inclusive. It is about getting more value from far fewer resource inputs, and through creativity at every stage of the innovation process, reaching out to a customer base that might never have been reached by that product or service before. It is about getting more from less for more people. The concept is currently most often applied to practices and experiences in emerging economies where financial, material and institutional constraints have spurred new types and approaches to innovation. Yet, it may be more relevant for Europe than commonly anticipated so far.

In their “Study on frugal innovation and reengineering of traditional techniques“, therefore, Fraunhofer ISI and NESTA, together with external experts, will establish what Europe can do to better capture the potential of frugal innovative activities at various levels.

  • First, by establishing if and in what way frugal innovation could be a central success strategy for and on the European market. 

  • Second, by analysing European firms' situation on emerging markets where frugal innovation remains a main driver of growth. 

  • Third, by finding how frugal innovations can help address concerns with regard to resource efficiency, waste reduction and the preservation of cultural heritage 

Overall, the project pursues three main objectives:

  1. To outline how frugal innovation can contribute to smart growth in terms of business opportunities for the European industry on both the European and international markets and by increasing European industries' and R&D actors' participation in frugal innovation related opportunities worldwide.
  2. To outline how frugal innovation can contribute to inclusive growth by increasing access to technology through simplification and more affordable prices in both the EU and in emerging economies, by (re-)valuing local innovations by individuals and small businesses as well as by offering solutions to community needs.
  3. To outline how frugal innovation can contribute to sustainable growth by inducing a better and more efficient use of natural resources, playing a role in the circular economy and helping to preserve cultural and natural heritage in the European Union as well as globally.

Methodologically, the study will be based on workshops with different background and expertise, literature studies, desk research as well as a broad range of face to face interviews with diverse stakeholders to be translated into eight to ten case studies of particular relevance for Europe.