Putting things in their rightful places
28 March 2019 by David Bott
After the “start the week” meeting, Monday was a serious “in Swindon, catch up with people” day.
Tuesday saw a trip down to London. First up was the Intelligent Transport Systems and Services Innovation Platforms Steering Group. I hadn’t been to a couple and there was the possibility of some “issues”, so I thought it useful to turn up. As it was, the meeting went well, and our preparation meeting beforehand, although it will lead to action, was not necessary for the actual meeting. I was struck by the insular nature of the ITSS community. They seem to spend a lot of time looking at specific and local issues – the amount of energy expended on whether or not to have a stand at this year’s ITSS conference felt out of proportion – rather than trying to understand the context of their problem.
I then had a quick catch up with my e-mails at Fortress Kingsgate before Andrew Tyrer took me to meet Directgov. This seemed to have come about because they have just taken on a consultant we knew and he showed them our earlier work on Trust Economics – they would otherwise not have known about us. Having got in the door, we did the “charm and awe” description of our activities and our interactions with Government. Directgov are supposed to be the single portal for individuals to the government e-presence – similar to Businesslink (but better!!) They are 1 year into a 3 year programme to take over all the interaction between individuals and Government and behind schedule. They are now discovering issues about trust, privacy and consent, revocation and all the things we have been proselytising about for the last couple of years!! They have money to do some of things we think need to be done, so we separated friends and swearing to talk and work together. A quick trip back to Fortress Kingsgate got us to the tail end of David Evans DIUS leaving party. It was fun to see civil servants seeing how much free drink they could hold – took me back to DTI days!!
The next day started with an interesting discussion about Board papers with Allyson, David G and Guy. It feels like we log questions from the Board and then later realise that they were either the wrong questions, to we want to combine them in some new and different way. I remember leaving the room feeling like we had made progress but cannot remember how! Mark and I then caught up with our various Government contacts and then it was off to an NAIGT meeting. Attendance has been falling off recently, either because Richard Parry-Jones has made it clear that he is writing the report his way, or because the members have enough to keep them busy in their day jobs! I still feel they are looking for someone to tell them what the answer is, and there has been little development of argument or data to support their case added over the last 3-4 months. They are still moaning about the confusion between us and ETI (this is code for who has the money!!) and looking for BERR to fund their Leadership Council secretariat.
The last call of the day as the inaugural meeting of the meeting Policy Group at the Royal Society (which look suspiciously like the RS bought it lock, stock and barrel from Demos) which promised a conversation between Harold Varmus (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Varmus), John Beddington and Mark Walport on the subject of “putting science in its rightful place”. From the trailers and Martin Rees introduction, the scientific glitterati had turned out in force to hear that the US was elevating science to the head of the funding queue and that anyone with a scientific qualification would be given a job for life (or similar). Varmus turned out to be much more measured, balancing high science with its application, staying close to his area of bioscience for medicine, and generally trying to sell his book (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Art-Politics-Science-Harold-Varmus/dp/0393061280/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1238242708&sr=8-1). John Beddington then pointed out that Lavoisier had been beheaded (although possibly for his forays into private tax collection rather than his chemistry!) and it was left to Mark Walport to be the most impressive speaker, with a clear message about applying the right science – sounding only slightly like he has recently had dinner with Denham or Drayson! I had various conversations with La Sykes, Brain Collins and the ever demanding Dougal Goodman.
The next day started with a trip down to an ex-military base in Wiltshire to discuss things I cannot talk about. What I can say is that they are not big fans of CDE and the way it is being run. I will now have to kill you though.
The afternoon was back at Swindon, firstly for this year’s sugar-fuelled development of the programme for Innovate. Huw and Mike did a good job, but I suspect we need to take more time over the first phase so that we don’t develop up the first idea that occurs to us – remember that the Gravel Pit showed we are a lot of people who like implementing idea, and we don't like clarifying the proposition or developing the ideas!! I then had a kick around of metrics ideas with Chris. This has been around for a long time as our cross and, like many before us, we haven’t made that much progress. We discussed leading and trailing metrics and the scale of the operation being measure. I think we came up with the idea of putting the monkey on the applicants back, by asking them what commercial out-turn they would expect if the project was successful This might add to the perception that we ask them to fill in 26 page financial spreadsheets (given as the excuse why one consortium broke up) so we might have to simplify the question, and we would have to use real options theory to sort out the results, but then we could tell people that our support us underpinning £100m of future sales (or else the companies that get our money are lying)
Friday was another London day and a salutary warning that I should read the letter better and do some cyber stalking before I accept invitations. The New Engineering Foundation (which does have the twittering Maggie Phibin on their board) had organised the most insular, badly targeted, badly facilitated and stultifying dull workshop I have attended in years. The only saving grace was meeting the VP of Science Policy for AstraZeneca and having a side conversation about stratified medicine. I escaped to have a coffee in Starbucks before rendezvousing with Fearless Leader and Mark to meet the Office of Government Commerce. Let’s get the branding jokes over first. It turns our Fearless Leader had met the COO at the Chemistry Club. (This is the latest in a number of men he has met by dubious means and we need to learn from his ways). It was a usual civil service meeting, where they tried to work out how little they could do to benefit from knowing us, but since they seem to hold a number of keys we might need to open doors, we were very nice to them.
My final meeting of the the day was with an ex-TSB employee who now works for IBI. Aside from criticising our process and asking for some work, it was pretty harmless, so I went home content with the week.