We think in generalities, but we live in detail

I do know that there was a “start the week” meeting because it is in my Outlook calendar, but hanged if I can remember what was discussed.  I do remember we had a 5-minute break before the TIC update meeting though, because I remember the second cup of coffee!

The third meeting of the day was a second interview with a person for one of the Stratified Medicine posts.  I was worried by the feedback from the first interview but we ended up being pleasantly surprised and will offer the guy.  He has lots of experience, the right motivation and some interesting personal drivers.

Then it was a Funders Panel for Metadata Production Tools II.  Although the projects are interesting, they seem few and far between and the quality (even of the addition in the finance section) is not of the highest calibre.  However, getting this area right might well form the basis of some of the “transferable skills” we think underpin the widespread implementation of digital services, so we will persevere!

After a catch-up with Jools, made all the more important because I was about to go off on many travels, I managed to get to FL’s Update late and so was confined to the library.  This had two consequences.  Firstly, I discovered that you can hear him quite clearly from there and sit down and, secondly, I now know where many of the more elusive case studies can be found.

The final meeting of the day was a slightly depleted Strategic External Communications Project Group one.  We went over the discussions of the last meeting to make sure we all still agreed with them after reflection.  So, they are:-

  • We need to run a properly designed and widely implemented, perception survey of the companies we ought to be talking to.  Until we properly understand what companies think about us, it is difficult to adapt our content and communications routes to best serve them.
  • We need to organise and structure the whole approach to case studies differently.  We now realise that the process for collecting ideas is totally chaotic and there is no over-arching structure to how we commission them.  It is therefore no wonder that they are all a bit woolly and unimpressive. (Don’t even get us started about how they are displayed on the web-site!).  We need a proper process – with clear and unambiguous ownership by someone in the Communications Team – to collect ideas, triage them, check with the Technologists and ensure balanced coverage.  We then need to make sure that they tell stories that people will remember and assimilate so that they learn.
  • The website needs to have a front end that enables new visitors to work out how best to find the initial information they were looking for, but can then be customised so that what they see first on future visits means they don’t have to mess around remembering how they got there last time!  The design should be much more consultative than it has been to date because the rest of the organisation are the ones who mostly have to deal with the inadequacies of our current web-site.

We then started to talk about whether we could use local newspapers to reach out to SMEs.  MD pointed out the resource needed to do this properly, but there was the germ of an idea from the Flying Dutchman that we agreed to think about next time.  I drove home happy that we had agreed some recommendations but worried if they would ever get implemented. 

Tuesday started badly.  I had forgotten that the nice rail people were rebuilding some of the Chiltern line so that the trains would go quicker but that they were doing it in the last 2 weeks of August.  I therefore got to Warwick Parkway to catch a train that wasn’t running and had to wait to catch one that went to somewhere other than the place I wanted to go to, where I would then catch a train to the wrong part of London.  All in all, I was a bit later than I meant to be!  However, I did get there in time for my first planned meeting, merely losing some interim activity!

That first meeting was with Mat Hunter of the Design Council.  We talked about the various interactions between our two organisations and were simultaneously frustrated and amused by the fact that – whilst at the working level, things seemed to happening just fine – at the policy level, both sides – and BIS – seemed to be making a bit of a hash of things!  Mat will make the same input I made to the 23rd – that if it’s a joint meeting, then we ought to plan something jointly, we will see what tie up there might be between the BIS inspired “waste challenge” that involves NESTA and the Design Council and our own Resource Efficiency activity (he seemed to like the idea that the problem wasn’t waste but the making of it!), he will see what the Design Council think they’re doing at Innovate, will explain Design Option within the Design Council (but did make a plea that just because the Design Council wants to charge for everything doesn’t mean that their Design Associates are not good choices as Design Mentors) and finally asked me to give the overview strategy talk that suggests design as a future “competence” to the body of the Design Council church at some point.  And the ham and peach main course was excellent. (see – http://www.squaremeal.co.uk/restaurants/london/view/84550/Great_Queen_Street)

Then it was back to the Design Council to meet up with the Dallas crew and Comms team to view another pitch for the Dallas community engagement programme.  After last week’s disappointment, I was steeled again, but needn’t have been.  Forster (see – http://www.forster.co.uk/) talked in all the right ways (for the most part, Nurse Jackie has high standards) and engaged with us, helping us develop our ideas in the pitch.  They got the job, although there was some weird talk about waiting a couple of weeks to tell them – but no-one could explain why, so we didn’t! 

The end of the meeting was interrupted by a fire alarm, so several of us crept away to our next meetings.  Mine was to rendezvous with Maurizio and talk to Intellect about the Future Internet TIC proposal.  Intellect had put in a very sensible contribution to the consultation and we explored the need for a broad based activity in ICT/Internet to underpin the burgeoning digital service elements of most marketplaces!  We also discussed the “security” aspects of ICT.  They too were on the page that supporting a separate cyber security activity would only encourage them to stay secretive and separated from those who needed their skills and experience.  However, we did encourage them to make sure the larger companies in the space made their specific “asks” of a TIC in this area clear so that the TIC would be built supplying what was needed rather than what was interesting to do!

Finally, I made my way to a hotel for a clandestine meeting with FL.  I think he wanted to try out a whole range of questions on me and this was the only chance we would get before I avoid you all (except Healthcare Man) for 3 weeks!  I hope he got what he wanted!  I had the long, scenic trip home – making it a long day!

Wednesday saw another hotel meeting, but this time with Strategy Man in a hotel just outside GCHQ – we thought that a coffee and an aligned argument might both be useful.

Then we entered the secret doughnut, although only getting as far as the razor wire sheathed visitor centre!  We knew that they were particularly keen to see a cyber security TIC established and we got it (with both barrels) as soon as we entered the room (after a 15 minutes rigmarole to get inside the gates!).  We ran through our arguments with the 2 senior guys and – aside from telling us that 3 Ministers had told them it was the answer (which we knew to be untrue since we had seen their letter to one of the Minsters suggesting it before they told us he told them!!) – they seemed to buy the logic of having security integrated into all cyber activities.  At least the senior one did, the less senior one kept coming back to the same point many times during our 3 hours with them.  When they brought a junior person in and he explained his analysis of how best to implement cyber security, he actually ended up arguing on our side!!   As we explained that we did more than just TICs they seemed to soften their argument and they sent in a note to BIS that they accepted our argument – but wanted to see the word “security” more prominently in the title of any ICT TIC.  It is remarkable frustrating how many people can only read titles and not the even slightly longer description of contents of anything we do – competitions and TICs being the most obvious at the moment!

I drove home and answered telephone calls for the rest of the day – including having to explain to Finger Man that he has to include the word security in the title of the Future Internet TIC (and probably more words once other people talk to Ministers!)

Thursday was slated to be a “working from home” day.  I had to adapt a presentation provided by Transport Man for the Yanks the next week and hadn’t found time so far.  By way of displacement activity, I took phone calls from the UCL/Loughborough Cell Therapy TIC proposal team, Healthcare Man (about our no longer US Road Trip) and a guy from the MRC who wanted to wash his head at me about the single centre nature of TICs (again!) and tried to join an Innovate Steering Group but found being on a phone line makes them seem even more dire than they do in person, so zoned out.  I did, however, end up with what I think is a pretty good presentation, but then the basis was pretty good too.

Friday was another Swindon day, primarily built around a visit from Paul Hollinshead of DECC.  He brought the fragrant Sarah with him, so was probably well briefed.  He got an introduction from FL, an overview of the Energy activities from Derek (since Energy Man was on holiday), a description of the Sustainability activities from Sustainability Man and one on Transport from guess who?  Bryan then talked about SBRI and I added stuff to reinforce the linkages and similarities of approach everyone mentioned.  He tested us early by asking what we thought of the roll-out of smart meters (the answer is that it’s a crock and they’ll probably need to be ripped out and replaced in 3-5 years time was obviously one he agreed with) and we ended up with what a civil servant would describe as a “robust” discussion, by which they mean one where people actually say what they think!

Afterwards, I downloaded the various conversations I had had with Healthcare Man and a variety of MRC people to FL about the Pharma Forum, so that he could look prepared next week.

My final meeting was with David Hodge, the man who had invented Tensabarrier (see – http://www.tensabarrierdirect.com/uk/categories/Tensabarrier/) – 35 years ago!  He has been talking to the RCA about a prize for new ideas getting to market quicker and they had suggested he talked to us. I did wonder whether we could have a 2-stage competition, where the “finalists” get connections into relevant SMEs and the winner is the one who makes the most progress towards commercialisation – a sort of reverse Design Option!

I got home, ate my dinner and then took part in an interview with what appears to be the Cisco house magazine (see – http://newsroom.cisco.com/).  MD had sent the journalist some pre-reading and we did the interview over Skype.  It was mostly about Tech City, but I managed to get in an explanation of why the LaunchPad was novel but fitted in with our way of operating.  MD tells me that his offer to let us see the text before it is published means that he is a “good” journalist.  He also has my favourite Browning quote as his motto on Skype!

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