Thomas Campbell’s view of distance
30 December 2019 by David Bott
I managed to be in Swindon on a Monday morning but had been stitched into a teleconference, so missed the “start the week” meeting. The call was with David Godber, who had called me the week before saying he had an important meeting with DECC on the Monday morning and could I make it. It seems that the involvement of the Design Council in the “Top 200” meeting had sparked an idea in someone in DECC that the whole “why don't people do sensible things” debate could be addressed using design principles. Accordingly, I detailed (over the phone) how the social and psychological aspects of the uptake of technology to address societal challenges was an integral part of our approach. After I while, I worked out that the DECC person we were talking to was a consultant brought in for 6 months to address the problem and that David had sensed an opportunity and was going to “work” it.
After a bit of catching up, we had a meeting on another of the “large projects”. We are beginning to get the hang of these, addressing whether we have the money, whether it is part of our focus areas and so on, and are making decisions faster than we used to. The perennial joker is the confusion between “innovation policy” and “industrial policy” (Trademark David Way® observation!) and the almost inevitable involvement of the relevant BIS Unit to try to change our minds (largely without any financial inducement!!)
Then it was on to the “not Christmas party”, starting with Fearless Leaders personal view of the highlights, and some unusually insightful secret Satan presents. About lunchtime, we discovered that my afternoon appointment with Jack Frost (to address the “hydrogen” issue raised a few weeks ago) had been cancelled by him, so after another review of Innovate 09/initial planning for Innovate 10 meeting and my quarterly beating by Fearless Leader I trucked off to London.
The next day was our appearance in front of the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology. We had been the main event of the second session but ETI and CPI had usurped our leadership role (FL tells me to say this stuff!) so Le Golding and I were reduced to cheerleaders. The session before was all about Anne Glover and she didn't hold back. We got good press from everybody (the Rolls-Royce guy was particularly nice) so were well teed up for our session. Their Lordships concentrated on Fearless Leader and he caused Le Golding and I some heart-stopping moments by splitting his answers between the ramblings of the others, who were mainly there to make sure no-one forgot them. CPI dude managed to say that they should get their money through us, but ETI chose their words very carefully to paint us out of their scenery. FL only lied once, and then only a little. I rushed back to Tracy Island for a meeting with another part of NESTA – that’s 3rd or 4th approach in the last few weeks before Christmas, what did I do? This was about emerging technologies, so I will put them in touch with the young padawan. Then we segued a meeting about the next Board meeting with a review of progress on metrics and measures (the main item at the Board meeting). I can’t escape the feeling that where we are now could have been achieved by simply sitting down and stating the assumptions we made a year or so ago when we focused our activity and that the Technologists could have been spared a significant distraction from their (already busy) day jobs, so we had better keep up the analysis side of the project and not abandon it like so many good ideas of the past if we are to capitalise on the all the information we have now collected.
The next morning Jools had scheduled a breakfast with Eddie Obeng (technically it was after midnight by then). As luck would have it, FL’s date with a journo was cancelled at the last minute, so he joined us for the reduced version of the argument we used at the Gravel Pits to get people thinking. I can’t remember where the idea came from, but we did wonder whether using Eddie at the next Board away day might be a blast, but would have to test him out on His Spittleness first.
Next up was a meeting with Sally Davies, so Zahid and I drank coffee and prepared. FL had mentioned some going’s-on at the previous weeks CST dinner, and both Guy and Allyson regaled me with increasingly worrying things that Sally had allegedly said about us at the meeting including writing the part of the CST report that says we are out of touch with life sciences and healthcare. I was therefore wearing my cutest tie!!! We trudged through the sleet, Zahid following in my footsteps, and got to the DoH about 10 minutes early. Sally came down personally to bring us in and hinted that she thought we might want a “discussion” before the main meeting. What she told us was that she had said at the CST dinner was that the TSB had started off not involved in healthcare a few year ago but that we had made massive strides. Someone at the meeting (which wasn’t Jeremy) has not heard the full quote and had given her a hard time and she had told them where to go. She was therefore expecting pushback and wanted to explain what she thought had happened. She did gratuitously throw in that she thought the whole CST report was “weak”. We then had a great meeting, going through the various areas where we are working together. On stratified medicine, she thought that it had some erroneous drivers but offered to set up a meeting with the regulatory bit of DoH to help us get a better view of “what government was doing to address the societal challenges”. The meeting ended very amicably and we agreed to repeat it every quarter.
I rushed down to the House of Commons for the launch of the Environmental Sustainability KTN, arriving just too late to give a speech, but John Whittall had done a great job, so all I had to do was press the flesh. I made sure I was seen by everyone that counted before slipping out to return to Swindon. On the way back, I was told by Jools that I was now so late for the first day of the viral marketing course that I ought not to disturb them but do all the work she had planned for me!!
I was allowed to join the course on the Thursday, and it was good to see the engagement of all in understanding and thinking how to exploit these new tools. Kathryn Corrick, who we had “picked up” through our Digital Britain activities is a good analyst as well as a good teacher, so we got to probe nearly everything – as you would expect from the Technologist, they are rightfully sceptical of nearly everything these days. At 4 o’clock, I rushed out and got home in time to throw some things in a suitcase and escape to a place where they do snow properly – the picture postcard stuff without disrupting transport!!