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Diversity innovation support scheme for SMEs

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - DINNOS (Diversity innovation support scheme for SMEs)

Reporting period: 2019-10-01 to 2021-03-31

Due to changing demographics in Germany and the UK and associated retirement policies, workplace age diversity is expected to increase. Research has suggested that age diversity can impact innovation on different levels. On the individual level, increased age is associated with a decline of fluid cognitive abilities, which are relevant for the development of innovative ideas. On the organisational level, conflicts, and age stereotypes have a negative impact on innovation. To prevent and even reverse the adverse impact of age diversity on innovation, an innovation support scheme for SMEs was developed and piloted in a previously conducted research project in Germany. This scheme included interventions for individuals and leaders. At the individual level, a cognitive ability training was introduced to reduce the decline of fluid cognitive abilities and in turn, increase the generation of innovative ideas particularly for older employees. Moreover, a leadership training was introduced, emphasizing reducing age stereotypes and associated conflicts and enhance appreciation of age diversity. DINNOS conducts an evaluation of the effectiveness of this innovation support scheme in SMEs from Germany and the UK. We will enable training access to 300 SMEs and up to 400 individual employees in both countries. Because diversity and innovation are key to business resilience, all training materials will be made publicly available after the training implementation. This allows all businesses to harness the benefits of age diversity.
For the first reporting period of the project, we worked on 5 Work Packages.

For WP1 we identified underlying mechanisms linking age diversity and innovation in SMEs. Drawing on the identified mechanisms, we developed a set of measurement instruments to examine the effectiveness of the Innovation Support Scheme (ISS). This set of measurements cannot only be used to evaluate the present ISS but may also be adapted to evaluate other ISSs. The ISS involves two components, which aim to facilitate cognitive or intellectual capacities (cognitive training) and leadership behaviour (leadership training).

For WP2, we set up an individual training component in the form of an online- and computer-based cognitive training tool, which includes several effective game-based exercises to improve cognitive skills. This training involves specific tasks requiring executive functioning and memory. Further, we developed a leadership training component, which is based on the leadership styles of transformational and servant leadership. As research has suggested that leaders can be very effective in influencing mechanisms, which underlie the negative effects of age diversity on innovation the leadership training consists of lecture components and behavioural training exercises to teach leaders how to influence these mechanisms. The leadership training was designed to be delivered in a face-to-face format. However, due to the unforeseen circumstances caused by the Covid pandemic we adapted the leadership training to be delivered in a blended-learning online format.

For WP3 we designed the Randomised Control Trial and worked toward the acquisition of the sample. DINNOS will conduct a sophisticated RCT with an experimental and a waiting-list control group. This design allows a rigorous long-term evaluation of the ISS and is expected to reduce the attrition rate as both groups will receive the ISS. Moreover, to evaluate the ISS we recruited N=324 SMEs and N=130 individual employees in Germany and the UK.

WP4 started with conducting the baseline data collection. Whereas in Germany data collection went as planned, in the UK we observed high attrition. Next, in the UK we implemented a contingency plan to re-attract the participants who have dropped out and devised an updated recruitment plan to attract further participants. In Germany, we randomly allocated leaders to the experimental and waiting list control groups, as planned, and delivered the ISS. In the UK we allocated the existing participants to the experimental group, to avoid further attrition and after the end of the present reporting period, we will launch our updated recruitment campaign.

The WP5 involves the data analysis which will be conducted in both countries after the second point of measurement.

The WP6 involved the development and implementation of a dissemination plan in order to promote the DINNOS project and its results. As part of the dissemination plan, we have set up the project's website to inform interested companies, stakeholders, and participants about the project background and ongoing activities. Further, the website serves as a connection to social media presence on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Additionally, during the acquisition phase, flyers and informational material were distributed via e-mail and newsletters. The digital form of flyers and informational material allows to accommodate for increased remote work due to the Covid pandemic and save important natural resources. Further, in both the U.K. and in Germany, we contacted companies and relevant networks relying on previous contacts of the project partners.
Based on our previous work, we are enabling SMEs to participate in our novel ISS focusing on age diversity as a resource for innovation in SMEs. Through this focus, the project contributes not only to research on the impact of age diversity on innovation but also offers a highly practical and easily implementable, and rigorously evaluated ISS, which will be extensively disseminated and made publicly available to facilitate its use by further innovation agencies and SMEs alike. Moreover, contingent upon the preliminary and final results of the RCT and associated assessment of its effectiveness, the ISS will be incorporated into the business support portfolios of all DINNOS partners, further extending the dissemination of the ISS even after the end of the project duration. Focusing on socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project, we aim to significantly increase the number of innovation agencies engaged in policy experimentation and foster the use of RCTs in the design and testing of innovation support schemes. Through the involvement of the DINNOS consortium and the use of extensive measures to ensure the dissemination and consolidation of the project results, DINNOS will strongly contribute to increasing the number of innovation agencies engaged in policy experimentation. Moreover, the developed set of integrated measurement instruments will be made publicly available after the implementation. Through this cross-national approach and the associated translation and adaptation of all necessary components of the RCT (i.e. measurement instruments for assessing the impact of the ISS on innovation capacity, the ISS itself) to both cultural contexts, DINNOS will ensure that the design and testing of ISSs significantly increase in Germany and the UK. Promoting measures to evaluate the effectiveness of ISSs can be expected to reduce the entry barriers to engage in policy experimentation and conduct further trials adhering to the highest academic standards. Moreover, all results will be made public and promoted through our dissemination activities to the identified stakeholders boosting the impact of the project.
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