TIC Two Woe
30 July 2021 by David Bott
It was Monday. We had a “start the week” meeting. I cannot remember it.
We did have a TIC Update meeting and discussed the outcome of the Cell Therapy TIC Workshop the previous week and the follow-on surgeries Mike Oldham and I were holding this week.
Then Will and I had a combined PDR/catch-up meeting – he is so busy with HVM TIC stuff these days, I rarely actually see him without an appointment! Then the Media Dominatrix briefed me about the meeting we were having with Alok Jha of the Guardian later in the week and gave me a reading list. Over lunch, I hid in the Learn without Lunch meeting and was interested to hear a participant’s view of the whole Composites Grand Challenge process. Lots of encouragement that we had done the right thing with both the goal and the process. Then Finger Man and I compared notes on the TechCity LaunchPad, LinkedGov and Silicon Valley Comes to the UK, and a variety of other things, before FL did one of his regular staff updates – this time in the main office around the newly installed Lords table – although I did notice there is no obvious salt line!
I was then able to join a meeting of the Web Forum discussion group. It is interesting that an initial response was that no-one complains about the website – a view contradicted by anyone who has anything to do with the outside world! The problem is that we do not appear to be clear about what we want the website to do for us and so we have merely bolted things onto the original structure, tarted up the front page and the guts of it is still muddled, non-intuitive and a bit messy – so not many people can find what they’re looking for. Given today’s immediate information culture, any website that isn’t easy to use gets ignored and so people call us on the phone – overloading that bit of our engagement structure – or nobbles a Technologist in the wild! Things got a little confused (for me at least) because BIS want us to carry out a survey of what people think of our website, and that has different aims from us trying to make the website better using feedback we have been gathering but apparently ignoring for the last 2 years. I am not sure we got very far in the meeting and Paul W hadn’t moved off his first slide at the end of an hour.
As the pace of the TICs hots up, we need to be clear on the forward process and timelines. David therefore called a meeting of those organising the analysis of the “long list” of 10 to make sure we were all on the same “page”. Once again, I think we didn’t achieve that much real progress, but we do need to understand that we are all in this together.
My final Swindon task was to be courageously networked by Jonathan, our new ICT dude. He is really soaking up the information and playing back interesting insights.
Then Sustainability Man and I drove up to Cheltenham to rendezvous with Jonathan Porritt and Stephanie Draper of Forum for the Future. What seems like a long, long time ago (but not in a galaxy far away) we had started wondering how we could articulate the economic potential of a sustainable future to enthuse businesses to unlock their creativity in an attempt to access it!! We had run into Forum thinking the same thing, so we had joined with them to try to capture a vision of what sustainable economic growth actually looks like! A journey of book research – to build on previous work – wide-ranging consultation with businesses and then workshops for the Technologists to chew on the ideas has resulted in a Framework we are all proud of. However, it is in the form of a large spreadsheet – or a large number of A3 sheets of paper – and we need to decide what we do next to turn the work into a useable tool. The dinner discussion was “robust”. I sense Jonathan wants things to happen as quickly as possible and would be happy for us to mandate that all grant holders used the framework. We tried to persuade him that using envy to engage might be more effective in the long run, although the early days might be frustrating. Since Aviva are also core partners in the work and are keen to showcase their part in the effort, we came up with the idea of formally launching the Framework at Innovate 11, using a panel discussion between Jonathan, Mike Appleby of Aviva and a senior person from manufacturing to counterpoint the service implementation with a more physical manifestation. It turns out that Forum have been working with Jaguar Landrover, so they might be a good choice, but we also have Rolls-Royce as a suggestion. Watch this space! Since I was driving home, and Stephanie was cycling after a train journey, it was up to Jonathan and Sustainability Man (both of whom had beds within a couple of hundred yards of the restaurant) to lead to social exploration of ideas! Great evening and good milestone in the development of our sustainability credentials!
The next morning was supposed to be one of my other jobs, but MD had fixed for me to do an interview with a freelance who is writing some white papers for Hewlett-Packard, so I found myself hanging around Oxford Railway Station with a cup of coffee looking for a quiet place to do a 50 minute phone interview. Lots of interesting questions that I hoped I answered, but I won’t know until the piece comes out!!
Having finished my “other” meeting, I carried on to London. My first job was to deliver some personal feedback to one member of one of the proposed leadership teams for the Cell Therapy TIC. The problem is that because all the teams have academic roots, they are all competing at the personal level and relationships are not being built in the manner we would wish. In fact, they seem to be getting worse and not better!! There is also the matter of leadership, and our desire (reinforced by all the feedback from the businesses) that the TIC is led by someone from business who has had the experience of taking a product to commercial reality in the biotechnology field (okay, so someone with a success in cell therapy would be good, but there are only 5 or so people in that position and all are earning more money than we can afford in the US!). People need to focus on the TIC deliverables and not their part in its hierarchy!!
By way of compensation, the next meeting was to be a fairly innocuous one with UKTI – FL meeting their interim CEO and setting up a meeting with their new leader, who takes the reins in a couple of months. We had discussed and agreed a MoU at the Executioners meeting a few months ago, so the set piece of this meeting was for both sides to sign it. We started well by discovering that their security was not good enough to stop us arriving in the meeting room without them knowing!! Since the MoU was mainly about the things we were already doing, we could start citing examples to Susan Haird, but we came up with a small extension in that we might like to produce joint “case studies” where the companies have benefited from joined-up government support from both us and UKTI (and, for those of you with enough memory of last weeks edition, EPSRC?)
The evening commitment was to meet Andrew Haslett, the strategy director of ETI and an ex-ICI colleague. He started by announcing that he was on medication that would cause him to be violently sick if he touched alcohol, so I drank alone! TMI. Given that FL had been to their “post 2017” discussions the evening before and the ETI Board Meeting during the day, I was interested to hear how Andy viewed the previous 24 hours. I still worry that ETI has a blinkered view of the world and is too beholden to its 6 industrial members and not the wider commercial community. His take on the post 2017 discussion was that everyone wanted it to happen, they just didn’t know how to make it happen. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.
Wednesday dawned with me in the wrong place for the first 2 meetings, so I dialled into a pair of Funders Panels, held in different rooms in Swindon, but with some common personnel! The first, the “Design for Future Climate Change” competition was a cunning plan whereby we would top up existing design briefs with enough to enable the architect to consider what extra things they ought to consider to take account of potential climate change over the life of the building. This was the second tranche of funding and included an interesting bunch of buildings. Next came the TechCity LaunchPad. We had built all this in a hurry and shared resourcing responsibilities around the organisation, but it was attracting real plaudits in the outside world for its imagination and implementation, so we will almost certainly do it again – but with a more considered plan but no extra time. We had included potential investors in the assessment group and – towards the bottom on the “to be funded” list – they had started to make comments like “I would change the business plan a bit”. Since we cannot accommodate that approach within our system, too much of that meant we couldn’t fund, but it does raise the question of whether we have the right assessors, who only judge the technology and actually don’t have that imaginative an idea of the how it could be delivered into business.
Next up, it was downstairs to the hotel coffee shop to meet another person from the Cell Therapy TIC world, but one who was concerned that the workshop the previous week had been too academic and that not enough attention had been paid to the business and regulatory aspects of the centre. I listened and exchanged views for an hour and realised he was making extremely good points. He told me he had talked to most of the bid teams, but only in a cursory manner, where they had offered him involvement in exchange for his support!
It was then time for a quick trip across London to Tracy Island for the first meeting of the Forum for Innovation in Crime Prevention (FfIiCP?) m-commerce team. We fielded Andrew Tyrer, Nigel Walker and myself, Mat Hunter came from the Design Council and the Home Orifice came mob-handed with Richard Pugh (our handler), Marek Rejman-Greene of CAST, Amy Kavanagh and Catherine Frayne from Acquisitive Crime (I didn’t make that up!). After the usual, free-wheeling exploration of what we were talking about (usually reining in the inclination to rush straight to a technology without understanding the value of the solution), we settled down to a scope, and agreed to carry out some book research and interview 5-6 external people in the next 2 months to determine the size and severity of the problem to report back to the next Forum meeting in mid October.
Next came the Cell Therapy TIC Surgery Marathon Mike and I had decided was necessary. Although we had laid out the ground rules at the workshop the week before, we had already received at least one letter from a senior person who ought to know better saying that our focus on a single centre would mean that universities wouldn’t be engaged enough – even though they had signed a letter only weeks before asking for a single centre. It’s amazing what worrying about winning what you think is a competition will do to someone’s morals!
First up was the London/Loughborough team, although the engagement was with the Loughborough end and they imported what sounded like a corporate lawyer for the teleconference (their London lead was in New York drumming up business for the TIC!). It was one of those bizarre conversations that veered between philosophy and strategy and details about company structures. These guys have thought more about the structure and daily life of the centre than most, but they are still apparently more worried about governance than delivery.
Next came Edinburgh – nominally part of the combined Edinburgh/Newcastle/ Cambridge entry, but keen to state up front that they would go solo if they could and that they were having real problems in that Cambridge wanted to host the single centre and so did they! They have a building and facilities (although I have now discovered there are gradations of how industrially relevant manufacturing facilities based in universities are judged to be by their intended customers!) and could probably get up and running faster than the others. They were more balanced than most on the personality question, but did enjoy pointing out that the London/Loughborough bid would not be operational until late 2012 whereas they could be operational in early 2012! There was also a small discussion on what “we” had apparently said – that the centre would only be in London or Cambridge, that politics would put it in London and so on. It is truly amazing how the rumour machine is used to the ends of each team and that they often contradict one another in their attempt to carry favour with us!
Next up was Newcastle. Their academic lead was on holiday in Canada, but called in and their ex-business lead came in person, although let the academic guy make most of the running. They seem to get the joined–up bit more than most, but then they are happy not to host the centre. What they could not convince us of was that they had a vision for the output of the centre and were basically saying that they would sort out the leadership later. Fail!
Finally, we got the Cambridge team – or rather the lead academic and the project manager they had appointed. Many had observed that the academic had been “over-confident” at the workshop, but his colleague reached new heights of arrogance. They kept telling us that the only choice was Cambridge that the centre should be at Cambridge and both Edinburgh and Newcastle were there to support them and that the London bid was led by a megalomaniac. It was breath-taking.
When they left, Mike and I discussed the best way to erase the memories of the last 4 hours and decided it was a toss-up between alcohol and laudanum. Instead Mike went home and I went on to dinner, which promised to be a mixture of fun and hard work.
The dinner was with the principles from Polecat who had been organising the Missions with us over the last 3 years. The fun was potentially there because they are nice people and do good stuff, both on the Missions and in their day job of semantic web searching. The hard work was because the last Mission had gone wrong in some ways and we wanted to understand how and why. MD came with me because she had seen both good and “less good” Missions and was therefore able to give me an inside view and quote specific examples when needed. The problem with the WebMission seemed to stem from the inclusion of a particular Torygraph columnist who wrote up some less than flattering articles that painted the UK government support for the Missions as ineffective and mildly self-serving. It turned out that he had been invited by the lead facilitator without any reference to Polecat or our media plans and that many were “scared” to tell him he couldn’t go because they were worried that he might use his access to print as a weapon to get his own way. We got all that out of the way quickly and moved on to planning potential future Missions. Polecat are in the middle of a funding round at the moment and want to take a sabbatical, but we agreed we wanted to be back in the saddle next Spring. After 9 meetings spread over 13 hours, and particularly because of the content of the afternoon, I was ready to sleep!!
The next morning, Jools had allowed me a lie-in, so my first meeting was a discussion with Debbie and Peter about how best to involve Innovation Programmes in the development of the strategy for Knowledge Transfer Networks over the rest of the CSR period. I then went off to rendezvous with MD for the meeting with Alok Jha of the Guardian. As far as I was concerned, this was mainly an opportunity to sample the famed Guardian canteen fruit crumble, but MD thought it was an important chance to schmooze an important, thought-leading journalist. My dreams were shattered as we met at Kings Place to be told that crumble was off. Instead we walked to a local tapas bar and started talking. Because I had been briefed on Alok’s current interests, we started with a general introduction to the new strategy then dived into sustainability and healthcare. Actually that’s not true, we started with Alok admiring MD’s shoes and discussing whether heels changed woman’s calves and we got the admission that Alok had once tried wearing heels to see what it felt like. The discussion (the proper one) appeared to go well, although both Alok and I are capable of monumental detours and needed MD’s famed control skills to enable us to cover all the ground we wanted to. I think it went well.
I went off to meet up with Mat Hunter at the Design Council for our monthly catch-up. We covered off the Forum for Innovation in Crime Prevention meeting the day before, the progress of Keeping Connected and the other bits of Independence Matters and our progress on Design Option. I also expressed some disappointment at the output document from the Design Summit (see – http://www.designcouncil.org.uk/Documents/Documents/OurWork/Insight/2011DesignSummit_Summary.pdf?WT.dcsvid=ODkyNzI1MTE1MAS2&WT.mc_id), which manages to talk about the integration of design into other activities and then totally ignore them. Sweet!
Aside from a telephone call with Jools to clear off a number of questions, I was finished and so caught the train home!
Friday was to start as a Swindon day so I navigated the Fosse Way as per usual. I got the chance to clear up a few things before a rather unexpected but interesting meeting on how we communicate the strategy in a simple and compelling manner. We had discussed that at the Executioners Meeting several times, but this meeting showed real progress. Karen showed examples of the sorts of things we could use as metaphors for the journey and the suggested physical format. I realise we have left this a long time, but the complexity of the journey we are trying to get across means that every idea has to be tested for potential misinterpretation (as we got in spades with most of the early TIC stuff). I also worry that the format has been decided and leads the content, but maybe I’ve missed something.
Then it was on to a Funders Panel. There was some surprise that I was actually in the room for the meeting! This was the Nutrition for Life Feasibility Studies. We had some confusion early on about the overlap between this and the Sustainable Agriculture Innovation Platform – because we hadn’t explained ourselves well – but we seem to be settling down into some interesting areas.
Then it was off to Guildford for a couple of meetings. The first (and the cause of the travel) was with the UK Science Parks Association. Some months back a disgruntled grant applicant had decided to slag us off in the UKSPA LinkedIn discussion thread and I had joined in to dispute her assertions. This, in turn, had hooked a discussion with an UKSPA representative and, eventually, a discussion with the CEO of UKSPA. We decided we ought to meet, and they took pity on me by arranging the meeting in Guildford and not Colchester! This also meant that I met with the Director of the Surrey Research Park. We talked a lot about what the 2 organisations are doing. They have had a fair amount of interaction with us already but they still professed a lot of ignorance and we spent about an hour going through the basics. There is the potential to access their membership lists and use them to promote our support mechanisms. And (because it keeps coming up this month) we could do joint case studies!
Given that I was in Guildford, Space Man had arranged for me to visit Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. We had been there with the Governing Board some time ago, but we need to do more to integrate space with our other activities and this was a good chance to explore some ideas. It was an interesting discussion, part catch-up, part exploration of the nanosatellite idea and what they are doing next (see – http://www.sstl.co.uk/divisions/earth-observation-science/science-missions/strand-nanosatellite and follow @SurreyNanosats on twitter) and part links to what they do with other areas – particularly agriculture and forestry (see – http://www.dmcii.com/). We agreed a Learn without Lunch might be a good idea!