If you can keep your cool when all around you panic – you are nuts!
21 August 2020 by David Bott
As I wasn’t working on the Monday, I missed the “start the week” meeting, and started my week on Wednesday! After an hour of so trying to work out which of the e-mails was urgent and which was pseudo-spam, I had the first of a clutch of Funders Panels – this one on the Trusted Services Fast Track. In an attempt to reach out to new companies in this space, we had split the competition into 3 parts spread over time. Before the first round, there were many downloads of the application form, but the first round had seen only a handful of applications. This second round again only came up with a small number of proposals, so either they are all waiting for the last round or there are no people out there interested and capable of addressing the challenge. Either way, the amount of extra work generated by this approach means that we will not be trying it again for a long time!
Next up was supporting Healthcare Man’s briefing of Fearless Leader for the upcoming OSCHR meeting. FL had been ambushed at the last one and we are learning its format and tone, so can prepare him better. HM and I then moved seamlessly into a brain-dump about the Stevenage Biopark project, where we are in for up to £5m for equipment to give the tenants of the park access to world class facilities as they start out on their innovation journey. They are now getting to the bit where we have to say yes or no, so I shared the history and the intent with Zahid so that he can represent us in future.
It was then a trip to London for a promising meeting billed as “with David Kennedy of the Committee for Climate Change”. It turned out that the dinner had been organised by the Green Alliance, and consisted mainly of policy wonks – Jonathan Brearley from DECC, Matthew Lockwood of the Institute for Public Policy Research, Benj Sykes of the Carbon Trust and (slightly out of his usual milieu) Terry Scuoler from the Engineering Employers Federation joined Matthew Spencer and Rachel Cary of the Green Alliance and the (top of the bill) David Kennedy of the Committee for Climate Change. It felt like – with the exception of Terry and me – that it was a group of people who all know one another quite well running over their usual arguments, and I watched Terry get more and more withdrawn as the conversation went down standard policy lines. It started with Kennedy outlining the recent CCC report – which segregated technologies into “implement because they’re here”, “build because we can” and “let someone else do it” status. The DECC dude was very apologetic and saying that they would lose a lot of money that they would have invested in new technologies, Carbon Trust kept going on about them being the Green Investment Bank core and IPPR banging on about their social model (which they never explained because they assumed we all knew it!) They had more or less all decided that the UK was a broken flush, so I decided to point out that in Low Carbon Vehicles and Low Impact Buildings we had discovered a real appetite among UK based businesses to tackle the climate change challenges and make money out of them. Our competitions were oversubscribed with quality proposals, in some cases companies were coming to us with new ideas and even without funding, some companies were joining our communities. I pointed out that in both cases the social challenge was clear and regulations and standards going out about a decade meant that companies could see the market – all we had to do was help them start the development of the products and services which addressed those predicted markets and then stand back. In energy, there seemed to be more confusion on government intent. This made the DECC dude even more defensive, so I backed off. I suspect that it will take several repetitions of the message to get them to believe it, but I did leave feeling that the energy policy guys were more of a problem than a help in addressing the area! I also thought we ought to be nice to Terry because he really bucked up when I was describing his members doing good things.
The next day, it was back down to Swindon. First up was a planning meeting for our shared “doing a Cisco” meeting with EPSRC and GE. Simon, the GE Corporate guy had brought along Alison Starr to assist him, and Emma Feltham came from EPSRC. Since GE has grown in the UK as much by acquisition, they have acquired some companies who understand and use the UK government support mechanisms and Simon is keen to leverage that knowledge to get all of GE in the UK engaged. Their interests cover most of our activities, so the plan for the first meeting (which will be in January) will be to use both internal GE and external case studies to seduce those parts of GE who don’t even know us, let alone work with us.
Energy Man and I then met with Guy to discuss how to develop a dashboard for Innovation Programmes that both satisfies the Governing Board and is useful as a management tool. For Innovation Platforms, we have been working to use the learnings from the first 2 IPs – what worked and what didn’t – as a guide to tell us what is right about the rest of the portfolio. We still need to think about Technology and the nascent Application Areas, but we can probably use the young padawan’s “how to build an IP” process and place our new babies on the development pathway (if his PowerPoint skills are up to this task!)
Next up was a general catch up with Creative Boy – who is going half-time next month to develop his company – interestingly, he had managed to sell the idea to HFI during his assessment. The main thrust of our discussion was his development of some basic ideas he, Guy and I kicked around with Adrian Atkinsona month or so ago. This was based on Adrian’s analysis that among those who actually contribute to value creation, there are 4 main types – Experts, Corporates, Enterprisers and Entrepreneurs – each with a particular skill set and method of operation. His point – which we have developed – is that each type needs to be treated differently and with respect to their needs. Alex has turned this into a short presentation and will be hawking it around you all.
Then came a run of Funders Panels – Design for Future Climate Change, the Nuclear Feasibility Studies and the Collaboration across Digital Industries Fast Track. Each had it’s own little foibles, but – even though many of the people involved have changed over the last 3 months – we are beginning to develop a usable protocol and remember the things we agreed last time – if we can institutionalise them before we get to these meetings, we will make everyone’s job a lot easier.
The final task of the day was to interview someone who didn’t stand a chance.
Friday started with a review of the Emerging Technologies and Industries activity. It is fair to say that it hasn’t gone well over the last few months, when we failed to prepare the Advisory Group properly and seemingly tried to pass off all the work to them. We are still using a long list that consists of apples, kumquats, elephants and the occasional small solar system and so we are now setting out to develop a taxonomy and do some clustering and triage before we show it in public again.
It was then time for the increasingly useful catch up that I have with David Way. We discussed the Qinetiq Malvern “situation”, our “design vouchers” plan and the development of our strategy – in particular the point that our current strategic objectives are not really objectives and certainly not SMART. Only when we have agreed those can be make sure that our current programmes are the right ones and go on to develop plans. Luckily our strategy guru will be returning from his holiday soon, so we expect great things to happen in the next few weeks. :-)
As it happens – aside from a phone call from FL to make sure I wasn’t screwing up too much – the rest of the day was a lot of fun. David Godber called to tell me the development of the plan to stop the Design Council being a quango – options appear to range from killing it entirely through parcelling it up between us and NESTA to leaving it more or less the same but with no money!! FL had fed in our design vouchers idea to the Top Temple and it has caught on so much I will be asked to approve some words that will go into the review as the sort of thing that should happen!!
The final task of the week was to have a telephone conversation with Paul Durrant of DECC and self-important man from Carbon Trust about the “deep dives” they are doing. Paul (and DECC) want an agreed set of what amounts to outline market analyses so that they can make prioritisation decisions post CSR (that less money for innovation in DECC message again) and Carbon Trust are trying to get a contract to do the work. It looks like DECC want us to do cars and houses – but we also discussed nuclear, agriculture and aviation. We (Energy Man was with me to keep me honest and stop me for upsetting the CT guy) agreed that we would take the lead on cars and houses, we would lead on nuclear but subcontract the work the NCE, we would talk to Sustainability Man about whether we were ready to “do” agriculture yet and we would like to delay aviation as part of our analysis of whether a sustainable aviation Innovation Platform was a flier (L). I think we are building our cred with DECC and we should be able to knock off the 2 areas we have our most successful Innovation Platforms in within the 2 months deadline (especially since the analysis looks and feels like it is virtually the same as our “impact” analyses).