I don't think I suffer from Asperger's, but I may be a carrier!
11 April 2018 by David Bott
Having made it to my third “start the week” meeting, it was very sparsely attended, but at least Heidi had arranged a diversion. The “lessons learned” meeting was a blast. Tom Harris described the analysis of the first projects set up under the Technology Programme to finish. It turns out that the format for the analysis had been decided about a year ago, whilst still within the DTI and only implemented late last year – the projects had finished later than originally anticipated. Meanwhile, Paul Mason and the Lead Technologists in Development had been thinking about what outputs they thought were important. Heidi was trying to put these two sets of data together to produce a framework for going forward. One key assumption of the original design was that the project participants would be given feedback. This led to the insight that we were asking them for what thought of the project, peer reviewing their output, re-writing it and feeding it back to them to tell them how they had done. Then someone asked the question “what are we trying to get out of this analysis?”. The 90 minute meeting caused Tom to reflect that it was “a pointless job, done badly”. Yet bizarrely, the group got value from it!!!
Next came another step in my unravelling of the DEFRA Agri-Food saga. One of the many people they had set up for their “write-in” campaign was Peter Lillford, who chaired one of their LINK programmes. I knew Peter well enough to call him up and ask him what was going on. He explained the DEFRA campaign and asked what the Technology Strategy Board position was. When I explained, he commented that at least we had a logically derived position and one he understood – Peter used to run R&D for Unilever Foods!! We discussed the current DEFRA lack of real support for the agri-food supply chain and started to work up a programme to scope out an outline proposal for an Innovation Platform.
By coincidence the next phone call that came in was from Foresight asking what they could do to help develop the Detection and Identification of Infectious Diseases proposal. I mentioned the possible MoD interest and within 30 minutes got contacts within MoD and DSTL who should be relevant.
Before I got to go home, we also had a meeting to plan the Low Carbon Vehicles Integrated Development Programme ahead of out meeting at WMG the next day.
Tuesday saw another cunningly organised meeting in Warwick and the consequent lie-in!! The meeting was a communication of our plans for the LCV IDP to Warwick Manufacturing Group and Jaguar Landrover. We had to steer a path between making sure they understood where we were heading and whether it was attractive (to 2 potentially important players) but making sure they didn’t get too much ownership of the programme – our training means we are now always looking for “what it might look like on the front page of the Daily Mail”. The pre-meeting coffee found Julia King, there for the HEFCE conference, dealing with her day job!!! The meeting went well and we also got to see the Technology Strategy Board “hot desk” at WMG, room 357 with the door code of XXXX!!
Tim and I then caught the train to London to see Graham Cooley give a lecture on being an entrepreneurial engineer at the IMechE. Graham had started with Regenesys, moved on to Antenova (coincidentally part bankrolled by some friends) and Metalysis before his current role at Sensortec. It was a good analysis of the problem facing early stage companies and his one “what I learned from each experience” slide should be papered over the walls of North Star House.
The next day we had a meeting at Kingsgate House, before Tim, Andrew and I were booked to do our “shock and awe” presentations to the ETI Transport Working Group. It was pretty depressing event. The Group had met twice before and started 4 “ideas” - electric mobility, powertrain efficiency, biofuels and operations drivers. These had been worked up by sub-groups that had developed an almost maternal ownership. The 4 ideas had gone up to the ETI Technical Committee and the feedback was that all of the were big enough to be programmes in their own right but ETI could not afford more that 2. Then it got interesting. The electric mobility group recognised that the LCV IDP would get there before them with more money – and “sort of” decided that if they focused on infrastructure they could complement our activities. Biofuels, who were limited to aerospace and marine but Shell and BP “vetoes” was given a big plug by Roy Collins from DfT (“this is a Government focus area”, “the Government would be very supportive of activity in this area” and so on) seemed to stall a bit. Powertrain efficiency again recognised the overlap with our first programme so decided to focus on marine (big vote from Rolls-Royce) and off-road (voted from Caterpillar). Operational drivers got conflicted with a Shell programme with the Centre for Sustainability on their re-use of London petrol stations for electric refuelling. Somehow after 3 hours we had 5 projects. When the guy from EON suggested we combined bits of a couple to have a “marine” programme he got ignored by the chairman. Afterwards the chairman wrote up his notes of the meeting and got howled down by at least 2 factions. I was not impressed and worry that they are making decisions based on short term and highly parochial parameters. Shame we’re paying for 20% of them!
I got away and had to take 4 hours to get from London to Bristol – so that my car was in the right place. I got to the hotel where the Future Intelligent Transport System Integration Event was taking place in time to eat Richard Bailey’s (EPSRC) pudding!! I then spent an interesting evening talking to Jill Adams – who is a policy person from DfT and introduced to me as the new Eric Sampson.
The next day saw the second half of the meeting. The first had been concerned with the reporting of the progress of the 3 projects, but this next bit was about integration (hence the event title) and feedback into us on how to organise these things. Stephen, Rachel and I got some really good feedback and the chance to explain things for the umpteenth time. I also got a grounding in the true nerdiness of the web – check out http://www.fixmystreet.com, http://crapcyclelanesofcroydon.blogspot.com/, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M5_motorway were the ones I remembered.
The drive back to the mother-ship led to a meeting with a consultant to the National Horticultural Forum. This interaction had started with the DEFRA “write to TSB” campaign, but once again, by putting us in touch with a trade association, they had helped us. We have now learned a lot about the make-up of the horticultural sector, as distinct from the livestock and arable sectors and a bit more about why DEFRA has such low stock in their communities. Brian went away promising me more data and agreeing to work with Peter Lillford and BBSRC to help us develop our ideas in the area. As I was explaining what Innovation Platforms were, he remarked that he was the vice chairman of a Housing Association, so Richard and I got a free consult on how they perceived the Code for Sustainable Homes!!
Today saw me working at home, but I did have time – in amongst catching up with e-mails and jobs – to take part in a teleconference with Arup on their consortium building workshop in Assisted Living. They had announced the meeting to build a consortium for something we are not intending to announce for at least 18 months. Jeremy is trying very hard to unpick this, having realised that it is embarrassing and badly timed, but I sense his research assistant doesn't understand the pickle she has put him in. Attendees are almost exactly the people we don't want to involve until we have the user needs clearly and unambiguously defined.