Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together!
21 January 2022 by David Bott
Late on Friday, I had been told that the Audit Committee of Sheffield University was to be truncated and I did the mental calculation over the weekend that 6 hours of travelling for a 2 hour meeting wasn’t sensible, so sent my apologies and decided to work at home. I almost got away with working quietly and effectively at home for whole day, but the system found me out and phone calls started around noon!
First up was another part of our New Years Resolution to prepare better for meeting. This time it was a Monday lunchtime preparation for a Tuesday evening meeting – we are definitely getting better. FL, David Way and I had been invited to dinner with the Chair, Director and A N Other from the Chemistry Innovation KTN – and the briefing paper smacked ominously of a bid for world domination outside of the current consultation process. We therefore agreed what we would tolerate and what we wanted out of the meeting. This rolled into a Governing Board Debrief I had seemingly removed from my consciousness. I think it is fair to say many of us were disappointed with the Board meeting – we didn’t get our pitch right and, after the alleged intellectual carnage of the December meeting, the Board had seemed curiously disengaged. FL explained some of it, but I for one was still confused.
I then took a call from a journalist from Public Technology Net (see – http://www.publictechnology.net/) about the Open Data Institute. It seemed harmless enough although nothing has yet appeared!
Then it was another Project Board meeting of the Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Project. It’s getting more scary, as the bizarrely large number of civil servants who take part in these meetings try to keep everyone happy, even though they have different goals and different levels of understanding. I learned that Cyrus was meeting with the Birmingham City Council group the following day, so dashed off a “be afraid” note to warn him.
Tuesday saw me on a train down to London. First up was a meeting with Manufacturing Man that was ostensibly a PDR but doubled as a general catch-up, since we hadn’t had quality time together for a month or so. We discussed the challenges opportunities of the Catapult, the evolving Strategy (document) and resource levels. Then I headed off across London to have lunch with the new minder from Penna, who seems to be trying to meet all the interims we employ through Penna. Then it was back to the Charing Cross Hotel for a meeting with the SINners. We have done a lot with specific people within the Science and Innovation Network but have never really got to grips with the whole tamale. This meeting probably didn’t help. We rocked up for an afternoon session that was characterised by a level of organisation that can best be described as woefully inadequate. We fielded 3 Directors, a handful of Heads and a few Lead Technologists. David Golding outlined the strategy, David Way and I got 10 minutes each to describe what we did in the Thematic programmes and Catapults, Peter Dirken talked about KTNs and Kate talked about an International Strategy I didn’t recognise. Although we had told them David (W) and I had to leave after 2 hours, we sat through this wall of presentations without any chance to interact with the group. It struck me as a waste of our time and yet another nail in the coffin of our reputation for focus.
David and I got away and made our way to Slough and checked into a bizarre little hotel whose only virtue was that it was a 2 minutes walk from Duffield House. FL was about 15 minutes behind us, so I got a chance to join the “Graphene next steps” telephone conference with EPSRC and the advisors that they engaged before they realised that they were there to do as they were told by the Treasury! The CIKTN meeting was surprisingly enjoyable. Despite the tone and content of the briefing note, what Graeme Armstrong actually wanted to explore was what we wanted and how it fitted with what he thought we should want. There were some very good ideas bandied about – from using KTNs to rationalise the support infrastructure in any sector to complement the trade association and learned society to bringing together the KTNs in the “technology” area into a singe organisation to link companies with capabilities throughout the UK. I hope someone wrote it all down! David, FL and I retired to the bar in time to text Incubator Man about the Horizon on synthetic biology and test Islay malts against one another.
Next morning, I woke up sneezing at 3.30 am, broke my fast with FP and DW and we joined the commuters from Slough, standing all the way on the “Express” train that took the same 30 minutes as the slow train, then waiting at Baker Street for a tube that wasn’t rammed. It actually took as long to get in from Slough to Tracy Island as it does from Swindon. Go figure! It was also raining, so by the time I met with the Queen of Open Data in the Café Nero in Marsham Street I was thoroughly miserable. Luckily she cheered me up as we discussed how we might handle the expected pressure from the Cabinet Orifice and Southampton University to just hand over the money for the Open Data Institute. By the time Strategy Man rocked up for our pre-meeting on the Home Office, I was dry, it had stopped raining and the world started to look a little nicer. The Home Office Meeting was a little odd in that it was the second in a series of quarterly catch-ups but was almost 6 months after the first and had completely different people from their side. The main man was off recovering from a back operation and one guy was new, but it does feel odd to keep going over the same discussions each time.
I had to trek across London for a meeting with Mat Hunter at the Design Council. We talked about Independence Matters, the Design Option and the Creative Industries KTN request to “impose” design on the Catapults. He liked our response to that one!
Next up was the much anticipated “working level” meeting with Nigel Shadbolt, Tim Kelsey and the Cabinet Orifice about the ODI. I was joined by the Queen of Open Data and the CO fielded Peter Lawrence (The Deputy Director of the Transparency Group at the Cabinet Office and a man with so little web presence that he could be said to be invisible – Finger Man had an Alanis Morrisette moment over that fact!) and Olivia Burman (Transparency Programme and Business Manager in the Cabinet Office, who at least is on LinkedIn!). At the last meeting (January 4th) Nigel had been actioned to start building the business plan. An hour before this meeting, we had received a letter from him (and his guardian angel, TBL) saying he didn’t have the resource, and so hadn’t. This made Tim Kelsey a little cranky, so I threw a few other points into the discussion – that it was BIS money not Treasury money, so it had to deliver economic growth, that there had to be a proper submission outlining plans and deliverables that would be assessed and there would be a formal contract with the ODI that had delivery contingent payments in it. Kelsey was about to go into “Cabinet Office doesn’t need these fripperies” mode when Lawrence came down hard on our side. Nigel was (once again) actioned to produce a business plan – this time by the end of the month – he thinks he will get resource from Southampton University. That will then be edited by Olivia and Hadley to fit better to government needs. It will go through a couple of iterations and be submitted by early March for assessment. There is still a presumption by Nigel and Tim that since it has high level backing it will sail through. They have no idea. On the way out Kelsey announced that he was leaving McKinsey to become a full time civil servant. I would love to see his new salary openly and transparently displayed! If you have a mind, then look here – http://data.gov.uk/organogram and wonder why we’re not on it!)
Then it was back to Tracy Island for a PDR with Incubator Man. Although he had sent me the 35 pages of the official system, it is difficult to read on a BlackBerry and his précis is always more appropriate anyway, so we worked off that.
The final “event” of the day was the official “leaving do” for Graham Spittle. Guy had assembled an interesting cross-section of people from the history of the Technology Strategy Board and I had some odd to weird conversations through the course of a very nice meal at the Cinnamon Club. When we tried to find an open pub for postprandial beer afterwards, I gave up at the first closed one and left FL and Ian Shott impersonating Father Jack around Westminster.
Next morning, I was down in Tracy Island long after FL got to Manchester, but I didn’t feel at all guilty. The first meeting was with Finger Man, the Queen of Open Data and some guy called Ed from the Transparency Group at the Cabinet Orifice!! This was a hang-over from the growth reviews (remember them?) but turned into an interesting discussion on what they wanted to do and how we seemed to be doing a lot of it. He followed up so quickly I am forced to believe that either we are very important to him or he doesn’t have a lot to do!
That meeting segued nicely into an internal meeting about how we “manage” the ODI process. FM, the QoOD and I were joined by Sarbjit and plotting commenced. I stepped out after lunch to have a quick catch-up with Bob Driver about the pre-Olympic stuff they are doing and trying to get in the way of the usual confusion but offering co-ordination from our side. When I tried to find the plotters again, someone else had stolen their room, so I went off to another meeting – but have been promised a graphically exciting representation of their path to world domination.
Friday started with a Funders Panel on the outcome of last weeks DALLAS assessment workshop. It is still seems difficult to make some of the steps work for such a large and complicated demonstrator but El President appears more than up to the task, so I didn’t feel too bad about being yanked out to join FL and meet a guy from Plessey. He explained the history of the “new” Plessey and made a pitch for £8m of capital to fund the final push towards making a next generation LEDs in Plymouth. He had been told that it was not RGF style funding – by the supposed experts in BIS – but both FL and I told him otherwise. We also explained that we did not do innovation policy and his ask was industrial policy – which he seemed to understand and accept. We also told him where to look outside the obvious bits of our activity for innovation support and he got that too!
I went looking for Transport Man for his PDR and found him with Cyrus going through the first output of the monitoring database system. It’s nice that we can see it, but what you get actually makes little sense without a guidebook, so we’ll have to re-train the monitoring officers as well as the assessors. Perhaps making them read our strategy would be a start? That led through to the planned PDR and we talked about resourcing and the stuff I need urgently!! We had a short break before regrouping with Karen and MD (on the phone) to discuss the evergreen opportunity of the Jaguar Limo-Green case study. Given that the latest project will probably drop 3 new cars at the Geneva Motor Show, we discussed and agreed how to reconcile the media needs for hooks and urgency with the case study needs of narrative and longevity. We have a plan, although we debated how many people needed to be in Geneva and for how long!
Then it was an Operational EMT. My incipient viral infection was flowering and I “borrowed” some industrial strength drugs from Jools before joining the meeting. We went through the action list, discussed a PAF and started in on the scorecards. Cyrus talked about his mini away-day and by the time we got to the half-way point in the agenda, we were 30 minutes behind. We re-arranged to fit the _connect guys in more or less at the appointed time, but then got interested in the subject – FL even went off to collect his iPad for a demonstration of the _connectMe app! We then went back into Finance – and I am still lost about where we were going in terms of over or under spend because the official accounts say one thing and Cyrus says another. It is worth pointing out that it is he that has usually been right in this situation before! By the time we were supposed to be finishing, we got around to HR issues and Anne joined us. We had a spirited debate about whether the employee survey should be linked to the values explicitly and whether we should choose a peer group in government of the wider world. It was, as ever, a joy – to finish!