Lots of things seem to have happened, but are we really better off?
22 March 2018 by David Bott
The week started on a positive note. I took part in a NESTA “conversation” on innovation for environmental sustainability. It was a sparsely populated meeting, with Jack Frost (now of Johnson Matthey Fuel Cells, but once of the office next door to me in BP), David Fisk (the RAEng Professor of Sustainability at Imperial), Fred Stewart (currently at NESTA) and Adrian
Smith (SPRU) all taking chunks out of the policy wonk from DEFRA. Fred kicked off by pointing out that the Government was long on rhetoric about sustainability but didn’t have coherent policies much less any real implementation actions. We had a spirited discussion on procurement, where the “no thinking” option is to buy at the lowest price from a proven supplier but where we could all think of examples of visionary use of new input to an organisation had led to new outputs and increased added value. The question we couldn’t resolve was what made the difference as to the path taken.
Next came a slightly bizarre meeting with a couple of consultants from Carbon Limiting Technologies who felt they ought to talk to me but had nothing to say. Luckily, I had arranged to meet them in Starbucks, so I got a coffee and could use the free Wi-Fi, so it wasn’t a total waste.
The final meeting of the day was with a young woman from Austria who was working for the Institute of Prospective Technological Studies ( http://www.jrc.es/) of the Commission on a project to look at the Science and Technology Governance of Denmark, Estonia and the UK. She was meeting with a series of people from DIUS, GO-Science, SBS and the usual suspects, but (when asked) did not think her analysis would lead to anything. Again, the coffee made the meeting of value!!
The next day, Cyrus and I met to go through the upper and lower bounds of potential Innovation Platforms expenditure before going off to the Governing Board meeting. I thought it was a downbeat meeting but enjoyed the first date with NESTA afterwards.
Wednesday started with a meeting of the ETI Buildings Working Group. They had sensibly decided to ask for presentations on existing activities before thinking what they could do, so we sat through really interesting and relevant presentations from the Distributed Energy Working Group and the Carbon Trust as well as laying out our analysis and plans for the Low Impact Buildings Innovation Platform. We had a different person from DCLG than we are used to dealing with and she added an interesting spin on the Code for Sustainable Homes – it is not necessarily intended to become Building Regulations but likely to “evolve into them”. I really need to look that one up!!
Next up was a meeting with the Department of Health, or more specifically the Research and Development bit of the DoH. Since our last meeting, they had been chasing down various bits of the wider organisation about their interest in the Detection and Identification of Infectious Diseases (DIID) and were really keen. They could quote the various markets they could address and had indicative figures for their value – they have already started to address the Technology Strategy Board criteria for funding.
The day ended with the Foundation for Science and Technology meeting at the Royal Society. It was a wasted opportunity in several ways – Dougal was under the impression that our strategy would be live by now and was after the coup of it being “glimpsed” at his meeting, the other speakers were marginally relevant to our work but obviously had done little homework to make their points specific enough to challenge us and the large percentage of people I knew at the meeting meant we were preaching to the converted (of both religions!). The only time I had to think was in the bar afterwards where I ended up explaining what “challenge led” meant and why an Innovation Platform might just work.
Thursday saw a swift trip to Swindon to catch up with Network Security and Low Carbon Vehicles before the mini ice age. We are still playing out the end game of the decisions made at the Ensuring Privacy and Consent assessment and funding panels and looking at the question of “interdependency” and Low Carbon Vehicles are now sitting on the output of the assessment panel of the joint call with DfT – the bit where Tim tried to persuade Cyrus and I to put more money into the kitty was a good indication of the enthusiasm to make things happen and it was difficult for us to say “no”. One of the more amusing aspects of the week was the invitation to say a few words at the launch of the Resource Efficiency KTNs report on Materials Security at the end of April. This is a subject I have been including in the talks I give in my alternate identity and I was flattered to have been asked. However, I soon realised that the report they were launching was on exactly the same subject as one the Materials KTN was just commissioning. I naturally enquired about the apparent lack of knowledge transfer and was told that co-badging had been offered to the Materials KTN but not taken up. So, the upshot is that we will have 2 reports on the potential problems with the availability of key raw materials through both “earth science” and “political science” reasons, both paid for by us but commissioned by BERR. That’ll impress.