A donut shaped fortnight
18 July 2019 by David Bott
2 weeks for the price of one – albeit only 6 working days!! I vaguely remember the “start the week” of July 6th, but only know that I was there because my calendar says I should have been. I do remember the interview I joined afterwards though – a possible person to help out saving the young padawan from self-destruction as he tries to guide the Sustainable Agri-Food Innovation Platform to its final run through the Board, whilst at the same time keep up with Brain’s commitment to the Water Innovation Platform. This guy approached us at one of the water meetings and volunteered his services, so this was a sanity check. I think we decided that he was mad enough!
We then entertained Nigel Perry and Colin Harrison of CPI. It was a really good discussion about what they wanted, how we could (and could not) help them and how to keep CPI on track as one of the better “centres” the UK has spawned over the last decade. Then over to Polaris House to take part in a meeting where the EPSRC were looking at a “proposal” from BAe for a centre of excellence in autonomous vehicles. In truth it was an internal BAe document that managed to steer a path between being attractive to the EPSRC (because it didn’t mention novel research) and attractive to us (because it didn’t mention novel technology) and so EPSRC agreed to go and have a chat with them about what they (BAe) wanted. The next task was a really good chat with Jim Farrow about the Business Engagement programme. If the early signs of success and enthusiasm (from the other side) continue, we might need to scale back our numerical ambitions in favour of quality interactions with a smaller number of majors. Final task of the day was another go through the Financial Services outline strategy skeleton. Paul has been letting Allyson and I see Richards progress in bite-sized chunks to avoid us throttling him, but we are about there now and need to fill in the details.
The next day was at Cricklade as a guest of the BBSRC at their Joint Strategy Meeting. This was an interesting event, where the BBSRC had brought together a large section of its various advisory bodies to share experiences and ideas. Most of the presentations were short – 5 minutes was the norm – and then there was discussion of the input and feedback of learning. The fairly standard first section was on the impact of BBSRC funded research. The second section was really interesting, tackling more off-axis aspects of their work – presentations on the ethical implications of replacing animal testing, how work could be achieved quicker by international partnering, how basic research such as genome mapping might impact on society and so on. The final section was a series of “techniques” used by other organisations to boost their effectiveness and efficiency. P&G talking about open innovation, Syngenta and Pfizer talking about internal knowledge sharing using wikis, Peter Grindrod turning the idea of “engagement” into “participation” and me talking about the use of social media. The only downside of this section was the guy from P&G using his final slide to slag us off for not responding to (allegedly) several requests for engagement on an idea for an “ideas eBay”. It is now sorted.
Wednesday started with a bizarre meeting with the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA). They had written to Fearless Leader asking him to put more money into marine renewal energy because ETI weren’t doing the business. This resulted in a meeting between the BWEA and ETI, Carbon Trust and ourselves. After the allotted 2 hours, we had been given many examples of how the funding system for renewable energy was complex and labyrinthine, but at no point did they repeat their request for more money. I doubt that they have forgotten, so anticipate a request for another meeting! I rushed away to meet with Mike Biddle and Eric Mayes of CDT to discuss the idea of a sandpit in Plastic Electronics. We have recently caught the backwash of community belief that a sandpit is not the right funding mechanism and that we should just “give them the money”. The complicating factor is the role of some ex-members of the soon to be ex KTN in this area. I think we found out a lot more about the detailed worries and Mike I moving to assuage them. The final part of Wednesday was a SAG meeting. It seemed to go very well and the discussion on “centres” was informed and informative, with some really good ideas being added to our evolving thinking in this area.
I then took a short break.....
Coming back the following Wednesday, I started with a meeting for Huw to bring me up to date on the success of the Design Museum soiree and the ongoing plans for Innovate 09. I have some reservations about the choice of compere, having seen them host an IChemE equivalent some years ago where they were “not good”, so Huw is going to check that they are “confident” that they can handle our requirements. Then it was on to the Design Council for a meeting about water. DC have a contract with a large water company and have agreed some tasks – one of which it to rebase the idea of water meters. Their request is to jointly run a small SBRI-like competition to develop options for the installation of meters (both in the street – expensive and disruptive and the home – where there are fears of inducing crime) and their integration into other home information systems. Finally, I joined Fearless Leader for a meeting with Imagination Technologies. It was a real blast, with their views of how innovation is, and should be, supported in the UK leading to some sharing of hopes, fears and ideas. Their proposition is that the hardware design community needs to be integrated better with its supply chain and an “ecosystem” built and support. Shades of our approach to regenerative medicine?
Thursday saw me join the Biddleyard twins in their continued nursing of the variegated EPES KTNs into a single body, and one that looked outside its community for interaction. The day was organised around the various potential uses for the basic technologies and Nick and Mike had imported some of the Technologists to provide input to discussions. Wandering around the groups, I sensed that some individuals were trying hard to implement their own agendas, but others showed real progress and promise. It was however, difficult to shake the observation that with 1 or 2 exceptions, everyone there was an Anglo-Saxon male in their early 40s. This contrasts with every other KTN community I have seen. I got a pass out at lunchtime to go and join Zoe and some guy from UKTI and meet the President of Fujitsu Technologies and the head of their UK Lab. It was a very interesting meeting. They had “come across” the Assisted Living Innovation Platform and submitted a single company application to Smart Care Distributed Environment – not fully understand the rules of Collaborative R&D. We had (rather imaginatively) let them through the EoI stage but told them they needed a consortium to proceed. They ran out of time, but not interest. We had 90 minutes and went through the basic idea of what we do and then several programmes they were interested in. One action was for some of the extended Digital Britain team to visit their laboratory in the UK.
Friday was back at Swindon with a series of meetings. First up was Tim Jones’ personal view of what was internationally important, then we prepped for next weeks Board meeting. The afternoon was important, in that Anne took us through the outputs of the 2 Gravel Pits and what is happening as a result. Once we had assimilated this, we dragged Michael and Zahid in to make sure we had got it right. They coped well with this unexpected request and helped enormously in our thinking. The day finished with Cyrus and I using his mega spreadsheet to work out how we can deliver on all our promises within our budget.