Probably on the right road. Possibly moving in the wrong direction.
24 September 2021 by David Bott
Despite my best intentions to make my first “start the week” meeting in weeks, an unplanned field trip to investigate the treatment of older adults in an NHS Accident and Emergency Department ruined my plans and so I missed both that and the following TIC Update meeting. Instead, I arrived in time to have a short meeting to resolve a situation in Agri-Food where a consortium had filled in the form wrongly, and we hadn’t noticed it, so we had allocated them insufficient funds and run out of money!
After a short catch-up with Jools, I went into an Innovate Steering Group, but cannot remember whether we made any decisions and haven’t ever seen any minutes, so God knows what went on. There were doughnuts!
Then it was a pair of linked Funders Panels – Regenerative Medicine: Tools and Technologies – Final Stage and Regenerative Medicine: Therapeutic Studies – Stage 3. These were the output of the assessor panels Healthcare Man had been involved in last week and had prepared the presentation for on the plane home, so I was familiar with where we were going to get to!
Then it was a discussion about the public engagement activity for DALLAS, where good progress is being made.
The final meeting was with Proctor & Gamble and saw their head of R&D and an old friend from Crystal Faraday who had come to ask us how they should engage. We will plan to “do a Cisco” with them.
Then it was another field trip – this time to investigate the conditions on a ward. Depressing!
Tuesday saw an early trip up to Rendezvous to rendezvous with Strategy Man, “Incubator” Man and Obi-Wan. The morning was to find out what the UK Innovation Research Centre (see – http://www.ukirc.ac.uk/) had been doing with our money these last few years. What we found was pretty relevant, but suffering from a distinct lack of engagement with what we do on the ground, so we swore undying loyalty to one another and will set out to get better connected.
We then trekked across to the West Site to visit the Cambridge Integrated Knowledge Centre (see – http://www-g.eng.cam.ac.uk/CIKC/). This was part of our look at what the IKCs actually are and how they might fit into the TIC landscape. The CIKC was one of the first and so uses a different model from the ones we started funding later. They took us through their programmes and explained that their role was to take science developed at Cambridge in the areas of low temperature processing of macromolecular materials, such as polymers, liquid crystals and nanostructures, into applications in computers, displays and communications. They only took the ideas a couple of more TRLs down the road and were very much “technology push”, but they seem to have got quite good at it. We had case studies (their term) of a spin-out (the excellent Eight19 (see – http://www.eight19.com/) which is Richard Friends third company and has one the best justified names I have come across!), working with a large company (Vector Foiltec, see – http://www.vector-foiltec.com/en/home.html) who they had met through our Plastic Electronics/Design Workshop in 2010, and another company that had relocated to Cambridge to imbed in the CIKC.
I caught the train back to London and made my way to the Tate Modern for what turned out to be (part of) Terence Conran’s 80th birthday party. They had arranged for 4 of his friends and colleagues to present what were in effect living obituaries to the man himself, whilst he sat in the front row of the auditorium! First up was Deyan Sudjic, who described what it was like to work with Terence on the Design Museum and its move the Commonwealth Institute site in the next few years (part funded by a sizable bequest from Terence). Then came Stephen Bayley (see – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Bayley) who had worked with Conran on the Boilerhouse projects that led to the Design Museum. Bayley described Conran’s enthusiasm for the life in other countries (claiming he had been influenced by Elizabeth David’s “A Book of Mediterranean Food” (see – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Book-Mediterranean-Penguin-cookery-library/dp/0140252908/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1316862836&sr=1-7) and that “although Terence didn’t actually invent France, he invented a better version of it for us to enjoy”. Next up came Christopher Frayling, who concentrated on Terence’s contribution to design education – and mischievously quoted from a 1960’s Central student’s thoughts on being taught and “helped” by the man himself! Finally came Fiona MacCarthy (see – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiona_MacCarthy) who perhaps came closest to describing the man without a backhanded pat on their own back! I hope these speeches are made available in some way – they were fragments of modern history – and the stuff I lived through so were doubly resonant. After the speeches a smaller group were whisked by taxi to Lutyens (see – http://www.lutyens-restaurant.com/contact), a restaurant I probably couldn’t afford to eat at, for a more intimate party. I realised quickly that, other than Deyan and Terence himself, I knew no-one in the room. Happily, I followed the instructions of the restaurant staff and carried my champagne into the waiting area, where I met a psychologist and an accountant, who had similarly followed instructions. The designers did what they felt like and so it wasn’t until I sat down that I met the more luvvy element of the evening. The food was exquisite, the company intimidating but fascinating and I got back to the hotel after midnight – very tired!!
The next morning I had breakfast with Finger Man and Development Man and then walked down to Tracy Island for the interim TIC review discussion. History may record a different version, but my take was that we have engaged widely on the topics, gained more insight than we actually know what to do with, can make some preliminary decisions about where we would place our bets if needing to do so in a hurry but have to recognise that a TIC isn’t the only answer and that all the other answers need to be made as well as whatever we do about TICs.
The Innovation Programmes posse then went to another underground bunker to discuss some more localised issues. We are deriving a list of projects we think would make good case studies (as defined the other week in this blog, not the “fluffy bunny” ones we’ve been accustomed to). We also discussed what manpower we would actually need to deliver our programmes (split between full time employees, medium term interims and short term contractors) so I can make FL smile again!
Thursday saw another early London start, this time visiting the BBSRC funded centre for synthetic biology at Imperial – with Celia. I met a pair of complete enthusiasts, who (I subsequently discovered) are as capable as any other part of the Death Star of using the full panoply of lobbying devices. Nevertheless, I could glimpse value now that we have decided this is an area of interest under the Emerging Technologies and Industries activity.
Then it was back to Tracy Island to meet up with Mat Hunter from the Design Council. We tracked through the various interactions we already have, the ones we would like to do, and a discussion about what his CEO is seeking to achieve by muddying the water in the way he is currently doing.
After a quick chat with John Dodds about the latter subject, and checks with Mani and Fergus in case I owed them anything critical, it was back to the Royal College of Art for the launch of the proposed new emergency ambulance. It was a fascinating display, and I spent more time looking at the pre-work than the actual mock-up (mainly because it as a photography scrum). I met with one of our friends from Finmeccanica, who are trying to be the communications supplier (logic: defence information sharing is quite advanced and well developed, lowering the cost base for civilian emergency services is the next step) and smiled nicely when Ara Darzi complimented me on the work of the Technology Strategy Board!
Back once again to Tracy Island for a “catch-up” with the Office of Life Sciences. We spent the 90 minutes telling them what we are doing and they spent 5 minutes explaining their organogram – made up of largely new people with no relevant experience!! The prize for the best quote of the day goes to Helen Kuhlman who, during the discussion about a further meeting asked if they could tell us what they did at the next one!
It was followed by a telephone call with Colin Drummond to discuss the first of the resignations from the LWEC BAB. They seem to be telling Colin that it is because of external factors, but they tell me that it’s because the LWEC Executive is too academic and does nothing with the input BAB provides. I tried to get Colin to understand that, but politely. (I am capable of it when necessary!)
The next morning saw another early London start, this time the Design Council – Technology Strategy Board Summit. Graham Spittle had bailed out as chair and FL didn’t seem to think it was worth attending, so I got the hot seat. In truth, DC had engaged an ex-SEEDA bureaucrat to write a paper saying we should give DC some of the TIC money so that they could run a design mentoring process out of the TICs. I was firm in my response – that TICs weren’t the only game in town, that the Design Council wasn’t the only source of design expertise, that we were already doing good stuff between the 2 organisations and so on. They will write the minutes up differently, but we won’t own them. Importantly, John Dodds and friends from UKTI and IPO were there to see the situation and will act accordingly – so I will probably not be invited this chair this sort of meeting again!
Then it was a leisurely drive down the M4 with Obi-Wan to join the Governing Board Preparation Meeting and the Strategy EMT meetings. I made the mistake of having a holiday while the content of the Board Away Day was decided. Next year I will plan my holiday to coincide with the Board meeting itself! The usual fun and games about what we agreed before and what we might do next! The EMT did have good discussions about the Spawn of the Away-Day projects and largely accepted that the outputs needed to be acted on – taking due account of resource levels and organisation inertia. I drove home wondering why I bothered.