It's still a truck, but because it's American it has friendly advice on the front....
23 February 2018 by David Bott
Monday was the Design Council visit. They have obviously decided that we are an important partner, because – in the progress of the planning the day – they upgraded from their Business Development guy to their CEO and several heads of bits. I had discussed how to get the best out of the day with the consultant they have brought in to project manage the relationship. With a bit of firm guidance, they therefore came with examples relevant to the Low Impact Buildings Innovation Platform and not their usual exemplars. That meant we could all identify with the things that we were (each) doing and start to see real overlaps. Next Tuesday, Graham Hitchen (the consultant) will be down again to sit with a much wider cross-section of the Technology Strategy Board to identify more pre-existing overlaps, so that we can get down to business quickly. One thing we are keen to explore (but they seem a bit reluctant) is how we can cross-pollinate our detailed mechanisms so that we evolve by using best practice. The first “lunch and learn” was given by David Kester – a really good presentation with a strong narrative and relevant examples. We must learn. For amusement, he used Keynote on a Mac – just like Al Gore.
Tuesday saw the monthly meeting of the Innovation Platforms. Given the complexity of the different worlds we work in, I am not inclined to hold too many “come all ye” meetings but do insist that they make it to the this almost day long one. That said, I seem to lose one person every time!! We discuss progress, problems we have encountered and share possible solutions. Having someone from Corporate Services seems to be a regular occurrence as we move to better financial forecasting but this time Helen brought her assistant.
Later that day Cyrus and I met with a potential Head of HR. Not a good use of time aside from his not very complimentary comments on the Board and us – although that wasn't why we didn’t think he was good enough!!
Wednesday started with interviews in the seemingly constant search for some permanent secretarial support. I then rushed down to London to meet with Pascal Terrien. Pascal is the EDF chair of the ETI “buildings” working group. I gave him the rundown on the progress and connections made by the Low Impact Buildings Innovation Platform and he swapped some data on France. I got the impression that the different partners of ETI all have very different interest areas and ways of working. The day ended with a trip to Oxford with Heidi and Paul Mason to meet with the Mathematics KTN. It was fascinating to hear their impressions of the Strategy Meeting the preceding Friday, their interpretation of our “strategies” and their overall view of the world.
Thursday was the “big day” in London. We had decided to meet beforehand to compare notes, so it was an early train from Swindon – which was almost empty!! No-one who was there will be surprised that the big thing for me was the redefinition of the scope of the Innovation Platforms. This was caused by several members of the Board questioning why we need to “invent” application platforms. As far as those who spoke were concerned, Innovation Platforms were based on societal challenges and other Government departments had to want them to be solved without actually taking action themselves. Several points arise quickly from this change. Firstly, there are many more potential Innovation Platforms than I had previously thought. Secondly, prioritisation of potential Innovation Platforms is going to be a lot more subjective. Thirdly, and this came out strongly in the separated sessions, there is a continuum between what we call Key Application Areas and Innovation Platforms. Indeed, 2 of the 3 groups advised that work under KAAs was more about analysis and interaction than running competitions and one-off challenge competitions should be used to test the validity and interest in potential Innovation Platforms as they are developed. There is also an educational point that no-one either read or understood the paper we put into the November board meeting and weren’t listening to the presentation I gave – or I wasn’t very clear about the basic ground rules of Innovation Platforms. The day finished with AR and I as guests of NPL at the IET dinner. It is always informative to see who people like NPL regard as people to “keep in with”!! I am not sure whether to be flattered or insulted.
Friday was a real mix. The morning was taken up with me impersonating a scientist as a member of an assessment panel to add an extra £1m to the out of the Software Control of Matter sandpit. In the end, only one application made it and was valued at less than the available money – which meant the academics went into a frenzy to work out how not to “give the money back’! The problem was that the original projects have only just started and the EPSRC rules mean that the money couldn't just be added to the existing pot but had to be justified by new ideas. This is a triumph of process over outcome as the original sandpit outputs had to be “de-scoped” due to lack of money and now, instead of adding the extra money, it would have been put into wholly new projects – albeit by the same teams.
I rushed back to see the first of the bids for our “multimedia thing”. I was bemused to see that the brief for this was almost entirely bereft of detail, but I understand that we gave them the “strategy document” so everything would be clear! It was Magic Lantern who came in first and they had already conceived a neat start and engaged easily in what would go next – offering options between detailed and impressionistic. Later that afternoon, I sat through one of the worst pitches I have ever seen. After what seemed like an eternity I had the nerve to walk out (and was amused to see Richard Holt following me out!). The irony of someone telling us that it was a fast-moving field and showing 12-year-old videos, or the advice that Richard Branson or Jamie Oliver would be needed to make our message accessible and a reliance on not just an old but an ancient set of thought process was gob-smacking!! The fact that DTI had used them did not surprise!! In-between, DW convened a short and very effective meeting to resolve the questions raised by Hewlett-Packard. It’s just down to writing down what we know so that the punters aren’t confused.
Other points this week are that ownership of a MacBook Air makes you very popular almost wherever you go, but that the lack of a wireless network in the Technology Strategy Board offices is a pain.
p.s. The advice is to Dodge!