Another trucking week over!!!

Starting another week with “start the week”. Is this a record? 

Next came the planning for the July and October Board meetings, the second Innovat08 planning meeting and interviewing someone with Ian. Along the way, David and I spent some time thinking about how an Innovation Platform in the aerospace area might be constructed, what sort of a challenge would be involved, what level of funding would be necessary to make any impact and so on. The focus on aerospace as part of the manufacturing strategy and a number of e-mails going around made it necessary for us to have a position!! We agreed that I would share our early thinking with the BERR Aerospace guys – of which more later. 

Tuesday started badly. A lot of people had difficulty getting into Swindon on the trains, and our first visitor ran into an accident on the M5. That visitor was from a company called WalkinWeb, who specialises in helping companies establish a presence in Second Life, and the meeting was with Paul and Paula to make sure that whatever we do is consistent and of the same high quality as our website. The ITC firewall means that we can’t actually use Second Life on our network, but the ADSL wireless router is direct, so we logged into that and explored the SGI island, Nanotechnology World and SCiLands to spark some ideas of what we could do. 

Next up was the much delayed meeting with Foresight. The first had been before Christmas but we had seen the value of exchanging ideas and activities, so we set this up to focus on Innovation Platforms and some of our newer activities. We ran through the standard presentation of our current activities, some of which have their roots in earlier Foresight activities and discussed how we could better integrate our work going forward. David talked about KTAs and KAAs (which will probably be the focus of the next meeting) in general terms but was more specific about Emerging Technologies/ Industries and Sian talked about our first steps in Creative Industries. The Foresight team then went through the Horizon Scanning work and the projects on Buildings (SEMBE), Mental Capital and Wellbeing (MCW) and Land Use, and some of their plans for the future. It struck me that the future of Horizon Scanning sounded a bit flaky and it feel likes Sandy is looking for our support. 

Wednesday was a “London” day. It started with a meeting with Alex Skinner, who is a Treasury secondee to DEFRA to support Martin Cave’s review of competition and innovation in water - It apparently started as a review of competition, but the obligatory “innovation” was added to give it the opportunity to look beyond the obvious issues. We had an interesting discussion about the use of regulations to drive innovation and they want to work with us to ensure that the specific recommendations they come out with next Spring are actionable and aligned with our thoughts. I have been invited to talk at one of their meetings on ‘what is an Innovation Platform?” 

The theme continued with the launch of Living with Environmental Change at the QEII - This was the launch event for the 17 research councils and government departments who have signed up to be part of a consortium which seemingly has 90% of its alleged £1 bn already committed and no route to unlock the other 10% - you have no idea how upset people in the audience were with that revelation!!! Hilary Benn and Ian Pearson enthusiastically launched it, Bob Watson enthused about it and Alan Thorpe tried to tell us what it would do differently. More or less his first words were “we are talking to the TSB (shame on him, that’s £1) about the connection to the private sector”. This had two effects. Firstly, Brian Collins who was sitting next to me pondered why no-one had thought of talking to BERR and, secondly, everyone wanted to talk to me over lunch. Shame I had no idea what they were talking about. Had we talked to them? There is an air of re-arranging the deckchairs about the initiative and we ought to have a good debate about what value it brings to us to be involved. 

I then met with Sue Armfield, at her request, to discuss how the biosciences sector group of BERR could contribute to the development of Innovation Platforms. There has been a proposal put forward by the Bioscience for Business KTN for an Innovation Platform on the Bio-based Industry. Sue wanted us to launch that and it took several attempts to explain what “challenge led” means before she understood that the role of her group would be critical in accessing the businesses that could help us answer their part of the challenge by working with others. 

The day finished with the House of Lords event – well done us!! 

Thursday had been a “Board Meeting” in my diary until Monday, so I took the opportunity to gate-crash or set up a few meetings I wanted to understand. The first of these was at the MRC. It was a shambolic affair that reflected badly on both sides. Zahid and Merlin failed for 120 minutes to explain their strategy and MRC failed to listen to their intentions, instead preferring to reiterate their programmes and try to make us align with them. When, after the set finish time of the meeting and having only tackled one of six agenda items, the chair asked when we were supposed to finish, we got on to the Innovation Platforms. Their “ageing expert” failed to construct any sentence that had an object and a subject, let alone a verb and obviously wasn’t interested in what Graham and Jackie were doing. When Em tried gently to raise the subject of aligned funding, she was met with a set of acronyms that would cover it. We have serious work to do with the MRC if we are both not to look stupid. 

Next came a short meeting with Malcolm Scott to work out whether the idea of an Innovation Platform in aerospace would fly (great pun, eh?). I stressed that we had only just begun to see a way forward and that we wanted to develop the idea a bit more, expose the idea to our Governing Board and generally move a bit down the path before communicating any further outside a core group. Lyn Dutton joined us to put some detail from the NATS roadmap into the thinking. Obviously, Malcolm didn't ever share the context of the conversation with Lyn, because he has subsequently e-mailed most of the aerospace industry about how we are having confidential discussions, which has pissed off the KTN and our own Technologist. Nice one. 

Next was a meeting with Chris Stark – allegedly one of Shritis’ Stazi – who is the person in BEU responsible for innovation, as well as being another Treasury implant. This was occasioned by the various conversations about the defrocked economist from the DTI’s “services” report. Chris has been told to “sort it” and Fergus put us in touch. We went through the report, me showing Chris where work was already ongoing, him aligning it with other BERR policy. In the end, we agreed that most of it was derivative, poorly supported with data and often already being addressed. The one piece we both alighted on was logistics – so Chris is going to work that up as a new idea. That led on to a discussion of how we were beginning to address the service industry in general – a bit of an exchange with Paul Mason means that he and Richard Max-Lino will go and explain to Chris what we are thinking of doing – once we have decided – and assure alignment with other bits of BERR. 

The day finished with dinner with Brian Collins. Brian is now even more keen to work with us, having picked up the CSA of BERR role to add to his DfT role. If he gets one more, he wins a gong!! :-) He is very keen to broker a proper working relationship between the CSAs and ourselves. He also revealed that, even in DfT, the officials responsible for the Innovation Platforms don’t ever brief him on their progress, so we worked up the idea of a monthly (short) newsletter from Fearless Leader to the CSAs so that they know what is going on in their departments – just in case they don’t get the information any other way. We also talked about next Wednesdays’ FST meeting, where we are arranging for the Lotus we didn't get to Stationers Hall to be outside the Royal Society, and have given Dougal lots of names so he can get a large and relevant audience. We also gave him a bit of money, although he wanted more!! 

Friday was supposed to be a day at home catching up on work – reading and e-mails – but the “wrongly spelt Ian” ruined that by fixing a meeting with Birmingham University Business School. When Ian, Paul (M) and I entered the room, my heart sank. The woman from IXC was there and we were introduced to a man from the University Business Development department as well as one academic and our host. Luckily the IXC connection left quickly and the Bus Dev guy must have watched out body language, because he too left and we were down to the academic. For the first time in one of these that I have engaged in, they asked us what our situation was and what we wanted to do, and then told us they didn’t have anything relevant but would love to work with us. This is the first approximation to customer led behaviour I have ever seen in a business school and we left the meeting in good heart. Ian and I then sat in Friday afternoon Birmingham traffic and I, for one, got a burned forehead in the sunshine. 

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