Start everyday with a new hope, leave bad memories behind and have faith for a better tomorrow

Although I desperately wanted to attend the “start the week” meeting, circumstances meant that I had to spend the whole week in London, so going to Swindon first would have wasted taxpayers money!  Actually, the circumstances had varied a lot - and the original need - to do interviews in support of the Delivery Plan launch - had passed into history days before.  Instead, I sat in Tracy Island and caught up with e-mails, talked to the new Mani and got ready for the next meeting - the High Performance Computing and e-infrastructure Programme Board.  This is an odd construction, but fits in with the current BIS desire to hold as many pointless meetings as they can (perhaps they have a performance metric of “number of meeting attended?).  It arose when the analysis of the investment of the £145m into this area last year was judged to have been effective but possess no discernible logic or control process.  The Programme Board was therefore set up to monitor the implementation of the non-plan and to develop a process for prioritizing future investments.  Alongside the Research Councils (represented by MRC) and HEFCE, we are there (we got no money but are a useful fig-leaf to demonstrate business relevance) and lots of different bits of BIS!  The meeting started with Graeme Reid redefining the purpose of the group to be a co-ordination role rather than a controlling role - because the relevant Accounting Officers had already committed the money to the purposes they had always intended.  That meant that we didn't actually have to meet, but we did have to tell people we met so they wouldn’t question where the money was going.  (I may have got this logic wrong, but that’s how I heard what Graeme said!).  The most fun I had was questioning how the STFC derived metric of the programme leading to a 3% increase in GDP would be measured and what the consequences of non-delivery would be.  Graeme noted my scepticism and asked that the metrics be re-written and tested against me in future.  The young padawan who has been seconded from JANET to be part of the secretariat corpsed at this point.  The meeting ended early having achieved its targeted non-delivery.  

That meant I had a few moments before the next meeting, a hastily arranged consultation on our evolving networking strategy with 2 Governing Board members - Bob Sorrell and Mike Carr.  Strategy Man and David Way had re-written what we meant to say at the last meeting (before we got distracted by KTN contracts) and the idea was to get them on board before the Board meeting.  I am not sure why I was there.  David explained the paper (that they had been sent days before and gave some evidence of having read) and we started on the logic again.  They broke the types of networking into “transmission”, “reception” and “churn”.  Transmission is where we have a message to get out to the wider community.  We currently use media, newsletters, direct interaction and a few other routes.    Reception is where we are interested in getting the views, ideas and insight of the community to an area or challenge.  We mainly use direct interaction - often formalised by the building of roadmaps and involving the KTNs - but also monitor the media, scrape the web and use the work of other commentators.  Churn is where we need to community to interact with itself, primarily in processes that lead to commercial developments.  This happens through many of our competition briefings and Collaboration Nations, but is probably the main activity of the KTNs.  There is, to an extent, interaction and overlap between the processes but Bob and Mike liked their idea so much that they thought we should use it as a basis for discussion at the Board meeting.

Strategy Man, David and I then decamped to another room in Tracy Island to meet up with FL and the rest of the EMT to prepare for the Board meeting.  The papers had gone out and this session was more of a last minute check and preparation for how we present and engage with the Board.  Given that FL had been told that they will all have read his CEO Report, he decided which sections to highlight for discussion, Cyrus explained what the finance report told us (that after 2 months we are already £12m underspent, but the variations make that unextrapolatable (if that’s a word)).  We spent some time deciding how best to present progress on the Catapults - finally deciding that FL would present an overview and that Scott would explain the work on Future Cities in a mirror of FL’s words, with Sustainability Man providing backup on Q&A’s.  We also decided that we would get Mr Smith to present the “branding” discussion and introduce Michael Wolff as an expert witness to lead a general discussion - in the bar before the dinner to celebrate the passing of Anne Glover and John Brown (from their membership of the Board, that is).

After a dinner with the Queen of Open Data, I met FL in the bar to reflect on all sorts of things and prepare our minds for the week ahead!

Tuesday started in London with a breakfast with Alan Lowdon, the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult Enforcer.  I had been up to Glasgow a couple of weeks ago and missed Alan during my visit - but been very disappointed with what I did see.  He had picked up on this and wanted more details and to provide some clarification.  I think we are all feeling that the outline business plan won’t fly in its current state - the only question is how we improve it.  It was interesting to hear that the ORE consortium are convinced that they can recruit an interim CEO and unlock the first 5 years of funding.  They don’t seem to understand that the Board will only let a full package through the funding gate - a CEO, a properly chaired Supervisory Board, a clear and unambiguous vision and a business plan that convinces over the short, medium and long timescales.  

FL had been upstairs in the hotel making telephone calls, but we met in the lobby to go off to University College for our now regular meeting with Malcolm Grant and his sidekicks.  Steve Caddick and John Tooke (see - although he didn't say much).  As has become habit, Malcolm started off by complaining that we hadn’t put the Cell Therapy Catapult in his office, but he seems to be going through the motions these days rather than spitting the bile we got the first time.  If being attacked by Geoffrey Howe was like being “savaged by a dead sheep”, our experience was like being licked by a Rottweiler.  We managed to say some things about the Future Cities Catapult but there was no sport in that, so we were shown the door.  Outside, FL borrowed some money off me for his taxi out to the attractive modern building at London Bridge that is next to the Shard and a meeting with Keith Thompson whilst I made my way back to Tracy Island.

Once there my first discussion was with Energy Boy and was about some new ideas for engaging the community with our programmes, but then it was into an interview for Head of Space, then lunch and then an interview for an extra person on Future Cities - where we instead found an excellent person to support our more general sustainability activities.

Then it was a call from Healthcare Man and Scary Helen about the Biomedical Catalyst - and our partnership with MRC. We seem to be getting a lot of feedback that, whilst we are developing a new support mechanism focused on the goals of this initiative, MRC are simply using their Developmental Pathways Funding Scheme (they even say so on their website - and even academics seem to be interested in applying through us.

For the evening, FL and I borrowed an umbrella from the hotel and walked up Park Lane (pausing only at the Aston Martin (see - a shop to select which car he will buy as his next) to meet with the soon to be late Eric van der Kleij (see - and for official line and and for the creeping downside of Tech City).  It was an excellent evening, with many issues aired and Eric suggesting that we ought to modify the LaunchPad protocol, starting with us consulting the investment community about what they would fund if they knew what we knew about markets and technologies (so probably involving the first half of a sandpit) and then running a LaunchPad (funding style) competition with investors making up the assessment panel.  It would have to be called a SandPad!  Cyrus appeared in the bar of the hotel, and borrowed the £20 FL just repaid me from the morning.  It’s a tough and impecunious life at the top!

Wednesday saw me trekking up to Euston and joining Sustainability Man for a meeting of the Living With Environmental Change Business Advisory Board (LWEC BAB).  The 2 stand-out parts of the meeting were Duncan Wingfield’s personal statement, where he admitted that LWEC was not making enough of the link to business provided by the BAB and that he was going to change things, and Colin Hirst’s shameless puff for the Met Office

I had to skip out of the over-running meeting because I had to be back at Tracy Island for the second meeting of the E-infrastructure Leadership Council.  I was late.  The first item was a discussion of the links between the Leadership Council and the Programme Board (see Monday!).  The Leadership Council - at over 30 people - is an unwieldy group and several made a play for an “executive group” (i.e. a smaller group of people who could make all the decisions about where money went, loosely based on the views of the council, but more tightly aligned with their own funding needs!).  They were worried that the Programme Board was that group and had been set up without giving them a chance to join.  Graeme explained that is was a government group designed to ensure accountability and co-ordination.  So they lobbied for a separate executive group - which Dominic resisted.  Since the first meeting, a number of sub-groups had been working on aspects of the potential impact of e-infrastructure on the economy.  They then reported back.  First up was a group looking at manufacturing - consisting of Andy Searle (Jaguar Landrover), Paul Best (Frazer-Nash/CFMS) and Mike Payne (University of Cambridge).  Their recommendations included a lot on skills, case studies and the provision of expert support through a national network of e-infrastructure centres.  They were quite a long way down the track of asking for more money to set up these centres before someone pointed out that the High Value Manufacturing Catapult already existed and it would be both cost effective and joined-up to implement their recommendations through the Catapult.  There are 2 learnings from this situation.  First is that JLR are badly joined-up internally, because the bits we know are strong supporters of the Catapult but they obviously don't talk to the ICT guys in their own company.  The second is that the academics are definitely seeing Catapults as a challenge to their own ability to invent and fund centres of expertise.  Next up was life sciences - consisting of Darren Green (GlaxoSmithKline), Doug Kell (BBSRC) and Ian Dix (Astra Zeneca).  This was more of a “life sciences is wonderful, give them money” pitch with little in the way of concrete recommendations.  The themes of skills, case studies came through again, but there was the acknowledgment that data in healthcare was important and the desire to set up an e-infrastructure KTN - if you look carefully at a 33 page document that they knocked up using the full power of cut and paste!  Third was a plea from those who liked Europe that e-infrastructure was global and we needed a person to act as the focal point for activity in the UK who could engage internationally.  They wanted to call them an e-envoy, but I managed to get them called the e-Kaiser.  The final group, who had displayed the worrying tendency to go and get some evidence and who were therefore behind in producing a report, were focused on how mid-sized companies and those outside universities got access to all this computing power - and how they would come to understand that it was available and useful!

I escaped upstairs to the relative sanity of the BIS Innovation Unit and took a phone call from Zahid on the applicants for the role of Chair of the Supervisory Broad of the Cell Therapy Catapult.  We have 2.5 credible candidates, but know the 2 quite well, so need to be careful this doesn't look like a stitch-up - which it isn’t!

FL had been briefing Mr Smith on the 2nd floor anyway, so we all went together to the next meeting - a dinner to discuss our links with the Design Museum.  FL and I had been thinking through how we could extend our links with the Design World and take advantage of the unavoidable splash around the move of the Design Museum from Shad Thames to the (old) Commonwealth Institute in Kensignton.  We had both been to the new site, both had discussions with Terence Conran and both made it clear we weren't a source of money but of connections and exhibits.  Mr Smith's arrival had put a booster under our interactions and tonight was a crisis point.  We talked about the background - our growing understanding that design was a UK strength and could be added to the scientific and technological strength we were building links to, the seminal moment (for me, but in the company of Development Man and Media Woman) when Deyan talked about how the fusion of design and technology had powered the first industrial revolution (see -, our disappointment with the fragmented nature of the design community and its tendency to inter-communal violence (verbal at least) and the dawning realization that we had to act in concert with someone “inside the tent” to make things happen.  So was borne the idea of an exhibition of projects we had supported at the Design Museum next Spring.  Through the course of the evening, Deyan added an aspirational strand where we exemplified great UK design-technology fusion even if we hadn't funded it, and Mr Smith added a more overt “look at what we’ve done” to the positioning.  We ended with the exhibition being a backdrop to a series of events around showcasing to government, allowing industry to see what could be done and even inspiring children to choose and appropriate career path - all under the banner of a “manifesto for the second industrial revolution”.  And the steak was good.  FL and I stayed to finish the bottle and marvel at the difference between Mr Smith and His Spittleness!

The next day was the Governing Board meeting and those not involved in the Audit Committee had a relaxing morning.  The Board was depleted (cf. uranium) and we are learning it’s very different requirements, so there were no powerpoint slides and enough taut pitching to move things along well.  FL’s CEO Report took most of the session before lunch and Eagle-Eye Milligan spotted all the issues we had tried to hide.  Then Cyrus took them rapidly through the Accounts and the Report and Accounts with minimum pain.

After lunch Scott and Sustainability Man turned up and followed FL’s peerless introduction with a sweet investment pitch for Future Cities.  We told them we only used one so as not to get into detail swamping territory, but the truth is this pitch is best honed.  Various members of the Board tried to help (by asking bizarre questions) or probe (by asking very good questions) but “the team” had an answer for almost everything.  The pay-off came with Ian Shott said something along the lines of “we felt we’d been rushed into a decision last December, but this time you told a story, linked the arguments to the strategy and discussed the barriers in an articulate and well-informed manner.  Next time, we’ll want more detail and a stronger business case, but you have definitely made real progress”.

Next, David Way introduced the Networking Strategy discussion (by not using powerpoint because it is now inapproprié) and we went through a completely different discussion to the last time - showing that the stimulus-response link is alive and kicking in our Board.  This time KTNs were (mostly) kept off the table and we managed to think through how our networking strategy should follow our (delivery) strategy and how the structure we use to deliver it should follow the strategy.  I was sitting next to Strategy Man and I could sense his relief that we had overturned (or was it forgotten?) the apparent decision made last time!  His joy was short-lived as they mostly misinterpreted his discussion paper on the development of the next strategy (2015-2020) - which presented an à la carte menu of ideas for them to use as the jumping off point for a menu at the time.  Instead they debated all the suggestions earnestly and thoroughly.  

We were thrown out for the “ways of working” discussion, so Strategy Man (who needed a drink), Cyrus and I scooted off to the restaurant and relaxed in the bar for a while.  Eventually, Michael Wolff and the Board turned up and we had an interesting discussion about what Mr Smith calls “branding” (so we all do too) but what was more about reputational management.  Mr Smith told the story that he meets a few people who think we’re great and lots of people who’ve never heard of us but ought to be working with us.  The solution needs  be part derived from our (delivery) strategy, but it does suggest that the structural re-arrangement in Communications is timely in that we need better integration and an aligned Communications Strategy.  Sara pointed out that we are confused about our messaging and cannot give an elevator pitch about our value to the country, government or any random company.  

FL had been hob-knobbing with his Research Council colleagues and arrived in time to toast Anne Glover and John Brown with remarkably tame stories of their early years in the Technology Strategy Board Advisory Board.

The top table continued to discuss the branding theme over dinner, but the lower table - encouraged by Ian Shott (himself abetted by Eagle-Eye) asking questions like “where was the worst place you’ve slept” and engaging Strategy Man in a drinking competition, sank into an abyss of good humour.  As those with homes to go to left, a small core stayed to keep Eagle-Eye company as he waited for his train home.  I scrounged a lift from Michael Wolff and we discussed what we need to do next to develop Mr Smith’s ideas.  It appears they bonded over dinner, so god knows what will happen next!

The next morning, I got down to Tracy Island early to avoid the rain.  The first meeting, to discuss what went wrong with the Dallas press launch had to be cancelled when the prime witness was delayed by traffic, so I had a few minutes before the first meeting of the Biomedical Catalyst Major Awards Committee to talk to the chairman.  He has had the same feedback as us from the community that the MRC are not adapting to the new world (see - - but reported that we (and Scary Helen in particular) are getting good reviews for our willingness to listen and adapt our systems to meet the needs of this community.  The meeting was brisk and effective and quickly got to the “we’re in it for the money” question - with wide support from academics, investors and businesspeople in the room.  Sadly, I had to leave after an hour, but look forward to the next meeting.

I was, once again, assisting David Way in interviewing for the Head of Space role.  This time it was 2 internal candidates who acquitted themselves well, but missed out on the direct relevant experience that is proving so vital in our roles.

I caught the rain home an wondered what had happened at the “start the week” meeting!

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