Speaking from the back legs of a dinosaur
31 January 2019 by David Bott
Another “start the week” meeting. What is the world coming to? After that I had a meeting with Jon Kingsbury of NESTA. This was a result of the snafu at the last EMM when we got a paper on their “voucher proposal” that none of us knew anything about. Hasan and Helen were also supposed to come, but one by one they dropped out. The basic idea is to use a voucher approach to allow creative companies to interact with technology based ones. However, they seem to want to do an experiment in the mix, with two tranches of 75 companies getting support and a control group not getting it. It all felt a bit cerebral and untargeted, but the basic idea of making “design” and “technology” work together was so close to what we have been trying to get off the ground with the Design Council for over a year, it was a good bet for development. What we agreed was that they would use it as part of the “front end” for whatever we run in September/October as competitions. Once we announce the subject area/challenges, they would offer these vouchers to companies/consortia looking to enter. That would give them £4000 (to be added to by the company/consortium to get to a minimum of £5000) to explore the use of a design or creative element in building their final consortium proposal for submission to our competition. Needs a bit more work, but might be worth us supporting as a way of achieving a goal Fearless leader has stated as his own on Twitter! Other meetings on the day were about the evolving Low Carbon Vehicle scene where many are offering us the “leadership” role – which is code for us spending more money – and the mad rush that was the development of Retrofit for the Future!!!http://www.innovateuk.org/content/news/press-release-10m-grand-challenge-to-make-housing-.ashx
Dinner was with Jonne Cesarani, the guy who ran the Creative Problem Solving Skills course last October. The effect on those who took part has been so marked that wrongly spelt Ian has hatched a plan to roll it out across the whole organisation. The dinner was to round out Ian’s discussions with Jonne and involved them, Richard Miller (a veteran of many such training courses) and Julie Seear (who we had to turf out of the office before she entered a lone working Health & Safety situation so felt sorry for!).
Tuesday started with a telephone discussion with Ofwat about our upcoming workshop on innovation in the water industry. They are getting more keen on this as the output of the Cave Review hoves into view. The bulk of the day was taken up with our regular meeting with the Foresight team from GO-Science. We are expanding what we show them – this time we got Mike and Zoe to give their truncated “strategy” talks. Both were superb, mixing obvious technical understanding, a strong eye for the business opportunities and a fine line in odd and scary facts. This was followed by another exploration of the output of Mental Capital and Well-being (MCW). I persist in the view that Foresight got something very right with this project. Of late, they seem to have been on lazy mode, tackling issues already known to be important in a handle-turning manner, but MCW is a corker. Every time we introduce our technologists to the concepts and challenges we get more new avenues to analyse. After lunch we had a “status” discussion on their Sustainable Energy in the Modern Built Environment (SEMBE) and our Low Impact Buildings Innovation Platform. They are beginning to realise that we were already working on implementing their recommendations (which were, to set the record straight, not exactly earth-shattering) before they released their report. Sandy made the mistake of asking Richard how much they had contributed to our programme, and got the unwelcome but truthful reply.
The final task of the day was to interview an interim for Low Impact Buildings to help Richard take the strain of the increased activity whilst Fionnuala is mending her arm.
Wednesday saw a trip to London. The first meeting was with ITF and DECC. There was some history here and they wanted Fearless Leader but got me, Paul, Derek and Fil. ITF is basically a trade association for the Oil and Gas Industry and their basic desire was for us to jointly fund a programme and them tell us where to spend the money. It was fun to watch the DECC guy realise that ITF were just trying to get their hands on our money and all this talk of strategic alliance was a smoke-screen. It was obviously a day for that sort of thing because, after a session with Paul M to synchronise expectations, I went off to the Carbon Trust stakeholder event. I was a bit late so snuck in the back as Tom Delay started his talk. It was very smooth and painted a picture of Carbon Trust as a well run and all-embracing organisation in the low carbon space. The second question - “why is this space so crowded with government help and how are they differentiated?” - got one of the cleverest answers I have heard for a long while. Without skipping a beat, Tom wrote off ERP and ERC as talking shops, us as “too big” and ETI as “having some IP issues”. I am looking forward to the next ETI-CT-TSB coordination meeting!!
I then rushed back to BERR for the “Building a Better Britain” Expo that was to round off the launch of “Science: So what?”. Our Comms team had helped DIUS put this together (it was conceived just before Christmas) so many of the companies on display we knew or were funding (or both, obviously). The room assembled for the speeches and Lord Drayson kicked off by announcing that the Prime Minster wouldn't be attending. This meant John Denham gave the speech that launched “Retrofit for the Future” but since he hadn't been briefed he managed to make it sound a bit drab and uninteresting. As the panel discussion was about to start, a young aide started whispering in Drayson’s ear (much to the obvious disquiet of the chair Jonathan Kestenbaum). As Jonathan tried to retain control, Drayson stood up and announced the arrival of the PM. He (the PM not Drayson) managed to – without any obvious notes – tell everyone that “science was at the centre of Government”, whip up a sort of frenzy and then leave. The panel discussion was tweeted (officially as well as by me), webcast (allegedly) and managed to confuse science, innovation and technology. Questions were probing and polite, but it was obvious that many in the room felt that the Government is currently long on promises and short on action. It’s a good job Cyrus wasn't there because when someone asked why we had to pay quarterly in arrears, Drayson said he would look into it. It was the companies that were the stars, and it is a shame that only a 100 or so people who already want to support them got to see what they do. They deserved a wider audience.
I then ended up in a pub with Tony Ryan (http://www.shef.ac.uk/chemistry/staff/profiles/ryan.html) who has been an EPSRC Media Fellow and given the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. We talked about his work with the London College of Fashion (http://www.fashion.arts.ac.uk/) where he had been lecturing all day. Cool ideas about catalysts to add to detergents to absorb nitrous oxide and purify the air in cities mixed with “ship in a bottle” catalysts and we never talked about the RAE – honest!!
Next day started with an interesting gig. Because they were all in London for their Gala Dinner (see later) the Biotechnology Industries Association were bringing around groups of biotech CEOs to influence policy makers and funders. I suspect Fearless leader had ducked, so I was in the frame. As it was, 15 minutes on the web beforehand gave me enough information to fake knowledge of all of their companies and talk about what we were no doing in their area. I even managed to ask them why we never seem to get a lot of applications to the competitions we run in their area without getting lynched. We ran on – we were having so much fun.
The David G and I met Peter Brooke, who supports the CST, to talk about water. They are pulling together a report – along with everyone else it seems – but since everyone likes to propose that we do something when they write a report these days, David had the wizard wheeze of telling them what we are going to do so that they can recommend that. Everyone then wins!! I then took a telephone call from the leader of one of the (academic) projects that came out of the Digital Economy Sandpit we took part in last December. Many of us recommended that they think about their Intellectual Property situation – the idea was rather good – but they had first focused on writing up their proposal to EPSRC and had latterly remembered our advice. What they discovered was that their university wasn’t helpful, that the EPSRC would not help them with any support to get professional advice and that they were about to run the risk of losing their ideas. I am trying to pull in a few favours but, unless anyone stops me, I will probably try to pay for some good IP advice to stop a good British idea getting lost because we don't have a system for helping them. Shame on us all. Next came more stuff about LCV before the chance to put on my DJ and strut down to the Natural History Museum for the 13th BIA Annual Dinner. It was the usual trade association fare, but a good chance to meet my new friends for the morning, see how well Zahid cleans up, catch up with John Brown and some BBSRC people and the BERR BIGT support group. Drayson gave a great talk, short and to the point, the guy who got the lifetime service award droned on and on through the increasing heckling from the back, got into global politics and was starting to sound a bit racist and sexist before Aisling managed to wrestle him off, but the quote of the evening came from Dame Helena Shovelton, the CEO of the British Lung Foundation (the chosen charity for the evening) when, accepting the cheque, said “if my mother knew that one day I would talking from between the back legs of a dinosaur, she would have been proud!”.
Friday saw a trek up to Jaguar to discuss (once again) why they don’t get as much money as aerospace, why we can’t pay them 100% and why we still don’t have a proper technology roadmap to implement under the LCV IDP. Their latest proposal is that we fund a review of the industry – costing £140k – because they don't know the strength of the companies in the sector – what is the NAIGT basing its recommendations on?
The coda of the week was a long phone call with the Strategy dude from ETI wondering whether we wanted any help to implement all the programmes they didn't have the resource to do, but would like to!