Revised January 13, 2024.

The ICC project addresses both the NSB’s recommendation for urgent action to engage more Americans in the science and engineering ecosystem and the 2022 Executive Order directing a whole-of-government effort to promote the arts, humanities, and museum and library services. It aims to encourage a broader cross-section of the nation to participate in NSF’s mission in use-inspired and translational research.

Potential long-term impacts include:

  1. improved integration of local innovation ecosystems into the fabric of regional life;
  2. nationwide increases in diversity in STEM fields by successfully attracting and retaining students, workers, and researchers who are interested in creative and innovative work;
  3. enhanced global competitiveness through better integration of the three most resilient aspects of U.S. soft power: educational institutions, cultural production, and technological innovation.

The ICC project will also develop strategies to enhance the connections between people with a range of traditional skills and crafts found across the states and territories with modern computational techniques. By emphasizing national priority technologies, such as AI, the project will maximize its impact and complement other TIP programs.

Enhancing and Sustaining Innovation Ecosystems

Engaging all Americans in innovation requires an understanding of the varied cultural contexts and opportunities in which it can occur. These contexts inform how to recruit participants, sustain ecosystems, and increase impact.  They affect innovation in a variety of ways: shaping priorities, participants, management strategies, and how results are accepted and disseminated.   Over the years, a number of experiments have been conducted with structures for research where culture and creativity are explicitly considered, from individual corporate laboratories such as Xerox PARC and Bell Labs to creative cities and innovation districts.1   Studies have also explored how the creative industries, and the humanities and arts more broadly, can provide historical, cultural, and humanistic context for technological undertakings and act as a diffuser of innovation into society.

The NSF Directorates for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP); STEM Education (EDU); and Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) are interested in next generation models for supporting innovation across the country’s diverse regions and populations that take into account cultural connectivity to reduce barriers to engagement of all Americans in innovation, develop and sustain nascent innovation ecosystems, and increase societal impact.  Of particular interest is the interplay between local cultural factors and innovation, and how arts, humanities and creative sector opportunities in rural regions and among smaller organizations or individuals can be paired with technology efforts to generate and sustain new types of innovation outside of existing ecosystems. Opportunities to involve and expand nationwide distributed communities-of-practice (DCoPs2) are also of interest.

Workshops should be organized to increase understanding of culture and creative activity as underutilized sub-systems within our national innovation system. It will apply this knowledge to recommend future strategies and programs. Three perspectives will be used to seed participant engagement with this objective: 1) policy, planning, and economic development strategies, such as those emerging from research on “creative cities” and “innovation districts”; 2) the concept of translational research as a bridge between STEM and non-STEM fields; 3) how considerations of responsibility in innovation are strengthened by engaging the creative sector. 

Supporting U.S. Competitiveness in the Creative Industries

America’s creative industries have been global leaders in cultural production since the mid-20th century. In facing disruption from emerging technologies such as AI, the U.S. has many advantages in cultural innovation arising from the diversity of its people and regions, as well as the industries’ established reach and scale, adding over a trillion dollars in value to the national GDP per year. Within the sector today, professional creative work not only uses advanced technology, but increasingly involves design and implementation of software and systems. Yet, much of what is innovative about the creative sector is “hidden” to federal research agencies: The sector is not organized for or often even aware of the policies designed to support innovation. And, those policies generally fit a model of how scientific knowledge is developed and applied. Workshop participants will be encouraged to surface opportunities for “impedance matching” between the creative sector and federal STEM R&D and recommend engagement approaches that would sustain and enhance creative industry competitiveness. 

Through the ICC project, TIP, SBE, and EDU seek to encourage new research collaborations and ecosystems that incorporate untapped expertise and talent in the creative industries and IHE programs in arts and humanities to innovate in critical and emerging technology areas.  NSF is interested in the opportunities for enhancing innovation in priority-area technologies that would come from addressing these gaps, as well as the opportunity it provides to broaden participation in STEM.  

Strengthening the STEM Workforce

In 2022, the NSB’s Science and Engineering Indicators3 introduced a new definition of the STEM workforce, which now encompasses all workers who use S&E skills in their jobs, rather than only those with STEM degrees. The ICC effort aims to help TIP harness a talent pool that has been largely disconnected from NSF-supported research, education, and entrepreneurship – those interested or employed in careers within the creative industries and the academic arts and humanities. Workshop participants should explore mechanisms that enhance NSF’s efforts to strengthen and diversify the STEM workforce, as well as support regional creative sector needs for training and reskilling of multidisciplinary, STEM-savvy workers.4 They should identify general themes and specific humanistic problems to be addressed through STEM-based collaboration, as well as areas of humanistic interest, expertise and skills that are broadly applicable to categories of workflows in STEM research. This aim aligns with the National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality (NSGEE), which indicates that closing gender gaps in STEM fields “requires that we address its intersection with other fields including the arts (STEAM), design, … and other fields that drive innovation.”
TIP, SBE, and EDU seek to encourage new collaborations to address these workforce needs.  STEM and the arts and humanities are typically encountered as two distinct career paths, only one of which can be followed. Training at institutions of higher education (IHEs) is often siloed and inconsistently resourced. Cross-sector workforce development and multidisciplinary academic programs have the potential to attract and train a more diverse STEM workforce attuned to cultural context and able to incorporate new technologies into innovative cultural products. Such activities can provide vital benefits to the S&E workforce more broadly; for example, closing gender gaps in STEM fields is critical to advancing gender equity and equality, which the NSGEE states “requires that we address its intersection with other fields including the arts (STEAM), design, … and other fields that drive innovation.”  They are recommended by a recent National Academies consensus study, but face challenges in implementation.5

  1. Baily, Martin Neil, and Nicholas Montalbano. “Clusters and innovation districts: Lessons from the United States experience.” Economic Studies at Brookings Institutions (2018). ↩︎
  2. DCoPs are geographically distributed groups of people who share a common concern, set of problems, or topical interests and exchange ideas, share methodology, standardize approaches, and build community capacity.  Examples relevant to the Workshop call include disability innovation groups, open source arts software communities, and technology alliances focused on access and inclusion.  ↩︎
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  4. National Governors Association, “Rural Prosperity through the Arts & Creative Sector.” (2019) ↩︎
  5. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. “Branches from the Same Tree: A National Convening on the Integration of the Arts, Humanities, and STEMM in Higher Education: Proceedings of a Workshop–in Brief.” (2020). ↩︎