UK Science And Innovation 2009

November 30, 2009

The fifth annual Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004-2014 report for 2009, published today by the Department for Business, Innovations and Skills (BIS) outlines the latest achievements which have helped the UK to remain a research world leader and emerge as a powerhouse for innovation.


Key highlights include:

  • The UK’s continued strong performance in delivering world class, sustainable research demonstrates that recent investments in research infrastructure have paid off;
  • Knowledge transfer and commercialisation activities from the science base have been firmly established across the university sector and within Research Councils. In particular, the numbers of spin-outs remain well ahead of the early nineties;
  • There has been encouraging increases in the proportion of young people reaching expected levels in science and mathematics. Applications for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects at university have also grown;
  • The UK’s strengths in the services and creative industries – where innovation is less likely to be picked up in indicators such as R&D – mean that overall the UK’s innovation performance is under-stated.

The Collapse Of Civilisation?

November 26, 2009

A provocative if somewhat depressing picture of the future of civilisation by Dave Pollard.

A number of readers have asked me for an “elevator speech” that describes how I think our civilization will collapse by the end of this century. Being more of a “picture” person I decided to try to answer that question graphically. The result is shown below.

There seems to be a growing consensus among those who have studied the history of civilizations, past and present, and who are informed about the current state of our economic, political, social and ecological systems, that we are headed for a wall — a series of cascading crises that we will not be able to prevent, mitigate, or adapt ourselves to.

Lessons From The OGC

November 23, 2009

The Office of Government Commerce (OGC) is an independent office of HM Treasury, established to help Government deliver best value from its spending.  The OGC works with central Government departments and other public sector organisations to ensure the achievement of six key goals:

  • Delivery of value for money from third party spend
  • Delivery of projects to time, quality and cost, realising benefits
  • Getting the best from the Government’s £30bn estate
  • Improving the sustainability of the Government estate and operations, including reducing carbon emissions by 12.5% by 2010-11, through stronger performance management and guidance
  • Helping achieve delivery of further Government policy goals, including innovation, equality, and support for small and medium enterprises (SMEs)
  • Driving forward the improvement of central Government capability in procurement, project and programme management, and estates management through the development of people skills, processes and tools.

Recently they’ve published the ‘lessons learnt’ from the (so-called) Senior Responsible Owner role. The SRO is ‘the individual responsible for ensuring that a project or programme of change meets its objectives and delivers the projected benefits’.

Lessons Learned – The SRO Role in Major Government Projects provides a number of recommendations on how the effectiveness of SROs can be improved and builds on existing OGC guidance for SROs. In summary, the SRO role can be made to work more effectively by addressing a number of factors including:

  • Better understanding of the role;
  • Selection of the right people to act as SROs;
  • Giving SROs real accountability and business authority to resolve issues;
  • Ensuring SROs have relevant delivery skills and experience, including commercial awareness;
  • SROs dedicating sufficient time to the role;
  • Improved continuity of the role through the project life-cycle;
  • Improved tools, guidance and development opportunities for SROs;
  • Provision of adequate supporting resources.

This is an illuminating example as the OGC themselves provide guidance on good project management practice, including capturing and disseminating lessons learnt.

It’s good that the observations are candid but at the same time it always amazes me how key problems can often be highly predictable. It often amounts to putting an inappropriate person in the job in the first place or else not giving them enough support or resources. I’ve seen this happen over and over again.

What will be interesting is to see how they plan to actually make these changes stick in a recession when support and resources will be even more stretched (although at the same time there are likely to be less projects). There never was a time when excellent project management including learning quickly from mistakes was more important!

Social Networking And Science Labs

November 19, 2009

Interesting grant-funded project to better link researchers in the biomedical field (where there can be big commercial implications to accelerating research and discovery):

“Scientists have problems finding each other,” said Michael Conlon, interim director of biomedical informatics for the University of Florida and the principal investigator on the project.

“Right now, the best we have are lists of publications … but that’s not the same as who does what and who is interested in what. This is a way for scientists to discover other scientific work going on among researchers on the network,” he said.

Presently, scientists use search engines to find others in their fields or people specializing in other areas needed for their research. But those searches are essentially guesses that glean information from a variety of sources, some of which can be unreliable, said Dean Krafft, who is leading the project at Cornell.

Participants hope to have the network connected across the country within two years. Eventually, it could connect scientists in all disciplines worldwide.

Apart from a helpful system, they’ve also got to want to find out about others too of course!

Intro To Cloud Computing

November 17, 2009

the-cloud-nodesThere’s much talk of ‘cloud computing’ these days and anyone who uses Google Docs is using it already. There’s a very clear recent introduction to it at Ars Technica.

As part of this, they offer the following definition (as always, not everyone agrees on just what it is):

Cloud computing is an approach to client-server in which the “server” is a dynamically scalable network of loosely coupled heterogeneous nodes that are owned by a single institution and that tends to be biased toward storage-intensive workloads, and the “clients” are a wide variety of individuals and institutions that use fractions of shared nodes to run jobs that are transient with respect to time, lightweight with respect to compute-intensity, and anywhere from lightweight to heavy with respect to storage-intensity.

Admittedly this might not make much sense unless you’ve read the full article!

In more commercial terms (and from Apps.Gov):

“What are the features and benefits of cloud computing?
  • Significant cost reduction: Cloud computing is available at a fraction of the cost of traditional IT services, eliminating upfront capital expenditures and dramatically reducing administrative burden on IT resources.
  • Increased flexibility: Cloud computing provides on-demand computing across technologies, business solutions and large ecosystems of providers, reducing time to implement new solutions from months to days.
  • Access anywhere: You are no longer tethered to a single computer or network. You can change computers or move to portable devices, and your existing applications and documents follow you through the cloud.
  • Elastic scalability and pay-as-you-go: Add and subtract capacity as your needs change. Pay for only what you use.
  • Easy to implement: You do not need to purchase hardware, software licenses or implementation services.
  • Service quality: Cloud service providers offer reliable services, large storage and computing capacity, and 24/7 service and up-time.
  • Delegate non-critical applications: Cloud computing provides a way to outsource non-critical applications to service providers, allowing agency IT resources to focus on business-critical applications.
  • Always the latest software: You are no longer faced with choosing between obsolete software and high upgrade costs. When the applications are web-based, updates are automatic and are available the next time you log into the cloud.
  • Sharing documents and group collaboration: Cloud computing lets you access all your applications and documents from anywhere in the world, freeing you from the confines of the desktop and facilitating group collaboration on documents and projects.”

Picture credit: Ars Technica

Storytelling At NASA

November 16, 2009

I came across a post on story-telling at NASA by accident the other day – I was interested in the science and engineering theme:

For six years, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory librarian Teresa Bailey has been overseeing monthly storytelling sessions at JPL’s library that often attract fifty or more listeners. Some stories have focused on fairly narrow technical or scientific issues (for instance, “Discovery of Sulfur Dioxide on Jupiter’s Satellite Io”). Other stories have dealt with particular missions (“The True Story Behind the Mars Pathfinder Success”), with more general learning from experience (“How Spacecraft Fail”), and with the organization itself (“Jet Propulsion Laboratory—The Early Years”).

What do people get from these stories? Some pick up bits of wisdom they can apply to their own work—do’s and don’t’s of planning and design, maybe a technical insight that helps solve a problem. Some are inspired by stories of success. Most gain a greater sense of connection with the organization, because they hear about what colleagues have been doing, because the stories express values and aims that tellers and listeners share, and because they are participating in a communal experience. I believe building trust and relationships is a more important effect of organizational storytelling than knowledge transfer.

Knowledge managers seldom talk about what stories do for their tellers.


The person who learns most from the story is often the one who tells it.

There’s more information on knowledge management at NASA here, including a general overview as well as their strategy (dated 2002).

As part of their strategy, one of their short term goals (1-5 years) is to “encourage storytelling to share lessons learnt“. Lessons are elicited from academia, industry and global partners.

Top Innovations Of 2009

November 13, 2009


Product Of 2009: The 3M/Littmann Electronic Stethoscope

Popular Science gives their list of the top 100 innovations for 2009:

The standards by which we judge the year’s greatest innovations are simple. The objects don’t necessarily need to be beautiful (although some, like the all-glass TKTS building in Times Square, certainly are). They don’t have to be eco-friendly (although the packaging made of biodegradable fungus certainly is). They don’t even have to be difficult to build (with all due respect to the telescope designed to find Earth-like planets).

They just have to push past what we thought was possible just twelve months ago. And the following 100 innovations have all blown us away, beginning with the headliner, our product of the year: something so simple yet so smart, with the ability to improve countless lives.

There are the following 11 categories (each has a Grand Award Winner) as well as an overall Product of the Year (photo above):

  • Auto Tech
  • Aviation & Space
  • Computing
  • Engineering
  • Gadgets
  • Green Tech
  • Health
  • Home Entertainment
  • Home Tech
  • Recreation
  • Security