Innovation - 25 'vital and viable' priorities

Research from the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University has identified the Top 25 priorities that can influence high street vitality and viability. This resource introduces the 'Innovation' priority - why it matters, and what you can do about it.

Date added 17 August 2021
Last updated 17 August 2021

What are the 25 vital and viable priorities?

Research from the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University has identified the Top 25 priorities that can influence high street vitality and viability.

The framework was created by experts from a range of disciplines and other stakeholders to foster cross-disciplinary knowledge and broadening real-world understanding of the changing nature of the high street.

The 25 priorities are practically orientated and, given their ability to be controlled or influenced at a town level, are fairly internally focussed. For each of the priorities you will find an introduction to evidence that describes the priority, suggests what it covers, discusses how it might be implemented and the level of control associated with it.

Additionally, you will find suggestions of what the priority could mean for implementation during the COVID-19 recovery stage.


Factors included in Innovation

Opportunities to experiment; retail Innovation







21st out of 25

3.64 out of 5



21st out of 25

3.12 out of 4

Potentially controllable

25 Priorities

25th out of 25


High priority



Innovation refers to transformation that is not just dependent on traditional investment and development but includes place leaders and partnerships being creative and experimenting in their approaches to town centre development.  This approach could include encouraging pop-up shops, festivals, events, and community use of redundant retail space.


Why does it matter? (Influence)

Innovation in town centre development is key for at least two fundamental reasons. Innovation often result in resilience and being able to respond to long- and short-term challenges (Wrigley et al. 2015). Through an innovative approach, towns centres can react to retail spaces that have become vacant as a consequence of, for example, online shopping. Being creative is a must to find alternative uses for these spaces (e.g. community exhibitions, pop-up markets, etc.). Innovation allows flexibility and temporary solutions (such as pop-up stores) that are quick to implement and give a sense of what works in making the centre more attractive, without huge ‘planification’ and investment. Innovation is not just about the survival of the high street, but it is also key for prosperity and healthy town centres (Wrigley et al. 2015) that are able to satisfy the needs of the visitors, and of different groups in society with varying skills, interests, and motivations. It allows the creation of a centre that fulfils different functionalities (e.g. music, exhibitions, sports, restaurants, shops, etc.). Bringing a creative dimension to the town centre, it will benefit both existing and new businesses while strengthening both the town centre and the local community (Wrigley et al. 2015). Furthermore, it gives character to the town centre, it can encourage the creation of an identity that makes it unique and special. Innovation is about creating new opportunities, and this is in itself, a chance to boost capacity by involving and engaging different stakeholders in the town centre (e.g. businesses, artists communities, youth groups, markets associations, etc.) (Wrigley et al. 2015).

What can you do about it? (Control)

High streets are experiencing fast pace changes, and data and research about initiatives and development plans that work are often limited or unavailable. In this context of uncertainty, practitioners who are left in charge of developing policies of their town centres and high streets, must be creative and innovative in their approaches (Wrigley et al. 2015). When data are available (e.g. demographics, footfall, questionnaires about motivations and interests, etc.) these should be used to inform short term initiatives and long-term development plans.

Innovative approaches should reflect the needs of the community and work with them in the design and implementation stages. Place leaders should focus on attracting skills and resources that are able to bring added value to their innovation plans (e.g. creative skills and young people). Not all centres possess the same capacity to adapt. Supportive local structures (e.g. flexibility, partnerships, collaboration) can be an asset to a centres’ capacity for reorganisation and creation of growth (Wrigley et al. 2015). To transform a town centre in an innovative way, there needs to be collective action and formal engagement of property owners, big retailers, independent shops, community groups, council, etc.

Technology can play a key role in creating channels of communication and offering opportunities for innovation on the high street (BIS, 2010). There is great potential for online tools and connectivity to inform and attract town centre users and visitors (Wrigley et al. 2015). Ultimately, innovation is about creating new and interesting uses of vacant or underused spaces and festivals, markets, galleries and pop-ups are all good examples of short-term initiatives that can bring life and identity to a community.

Innovation and COVID-19

COVID-19 has created a need to rethink town centres, not only in relation to public spaces that aid social distancing, but also indoor spaces and venues that might need reinventing or reopening. Recovery will need new ideas; it will not be possible to revert to old ways of working. Be open to new ideas, technology, partnerships, business models and ways of using data.

Place-based innovation is not necessarily replicable from high street to high street and is usually successful where it meets some identified local need. Partnerships need to be particularly strong and plans clear to allow for experimentation. Work together and with the community to deliver change, but place managers should have courage where change is based on evidenced need and local resistance is based on outdated assumptions. Innovation and change are accepted as an important tool for enabling survival, with a willingness to experiment embedded as a core principle in local governance mechanisms. Open data and knowledge of the place form the basis of evidence-driven strategy. This reduces the risks associated with innovation. Retailers, service providers and hospitality sector businesses adapt models based on the changing desires of customers.

See also

Adaptability, Functionality, Non-retail offer


BIS. (2010). Healthy high street? A healthcheck for high streets and town centres.

Ferreri, M. (2016). Pop-up shops as an interruption in (post-) recessional London. Cities interrupted: Visual culture and urban space, 141-156.

Wrigley, N., Lambiri, D., Astbury, G., Dolega, L., Hart, C., Reeves, C., ... & Wood, S. (2015). British high streets: From crisis to recovery? A comprehensive review of the evidence.