Innovation Task Force – Fourth Plenary Meeting

The task force met collectively for the fourth time yesterday from 10am-5.45pm.     I’ve previously posted on the first,  second, third and consultation meetings.  The members of the task force,  including the civil servants,  are listed here,  and most of the public submissions to date are here.

The meeting as usual was chaired by Dermot McCarthy,  and we had a full attendance of all the 28 members,  bar one of the private sector members,  and also bar one of the agency leaders who had a Board meeting but nevertheless sent a substitute.    Junior Minister Conor Lenihan also attended for the entire day,  along with additional staff (not strictly task force members) from both the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Enterprise,  Trade and Employment.   The meeting was scheduled from 10.00am until 4.00pm,  but ran over by almost a further two hours.

Our final report is in draft form,  and this was the first meeting in which the entire report was available for consideration by us all.  We had originally hoped that this would have been the last meeting of the task force..

The meeting started with a presentation from myself!   In discussions with Dermot McCarthy and a few other members of the task force over last saturday afternoon in Government buildings,  there was a consensus that it might be useful to stand back from the report itself,  and remind ourselves of the “big picture”.   I did so, using I admit some humour, and also some of messages from Karl Fisch’s wonderful Shift Happens video.  I think I helped set the last week’s 2009 budget in context,  and I think helped ensure that all of us were grounded on the challenges and opportunities for Ireland ahead.

The rest of the meeting was spent taking some high level comments on the current very first full draft of the 151 pages of report,  and its associated 131 recommendations!   However,  to be honest,  the current version of the report is the outcome of a cut and paste of contributions across four working groups and with multiple authors and contributors.   There is overlap in several sections,  and indeed in some of the recommendations — rationalisation of the text is clearly needed.

Anna Scally had a led a effort last friday for the full day on behalf of working groups 1 and 2,  to identify seven key recommendations across the 131,  and to prioritise (primary importance,  secondary importance,  tertiary) all the remaining recommendations accordingly.  We spent some of the morning yesterday,  and most of the afternoon,  examining this prioritisation and the specific recommendations.    There is a reasonable holistic approach,  covering for example human capital,  financial capital,  tax incentives,  commercialisation and technology transfer offices,  immigration policy,  infrastructure,  state agencies,  metrics,  convergence,  “superstar” projects,  sectorial concerns,  brand Ireland,  the TCD/UCD alliance,  and follow up after the report is published — a huge range of topics…

For me,  one of the intriguing interplays is the need to sustain and grow what we already have – including in particular transforming the multinationals operating in Ireland into a culture of innovation – and concurrently nurture and grow a very strong start-up and young company culture..

Overall,  I personally believe there was a lot of buy-in and support around the table for the general thrust of the report.   However the report itself clearly needs very major surgery to present it in a more palatable form – the content is good,  but different styles of writing – I am personally unconvinced by the current structure and table of contents structure.

Net-net:  editing work is needed over Christmas and the New Year to get a better structure to the report;   hopefully just one more meeting in January;  and then we will be ready to present to Cabinet and to the wider community.

As a footnote,  I personally was slightly disturbed by the exodus of some of the task force members who were civil servants and/or agency staff from the meeting from about 4pm onwards (the scheduled time it was due to close),  in many cases without apology or explanation to the rest of us.   By 4.45pm,  we were only left with Minister Lenihan,  and the civil servants of the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Finance.  No doubt the others had absolutely critical meetings to attend of extreme national importance,  or were rushing to catch public transport to their de-centralised offices outside of Dublin.    Nevertheless,  many of us in the task force also have our own day jobs, our own families and social obligations,  and have been putting in considerable work pro bono.   I was disappointed.


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13 Responses to Innovation Task Force – Fourth Plenary Meeting

  1. declanh says:

    Hi Chris.

    Why pussy foot around the civil and government agency lack of engagement with thus process?

    If your report is published, these self same people and their department mandarins will either be claiming credit for its contents, or disowning it completely, depending on the prevailing winds, so why not expose them now?

    It’s this continuous deferrential treatment towards these people that allows them revel in the unjustified power that they wield which has our civil service choking any genuine efforts at
    changing how this country is run.

    And its the fact that influential people like you let them away with their actions unchecked that emboldens such action into our countries future, and seriously threatens any future you and your ilk may hope for.

    What hope is there for this country when respected individuals such as yourself don’t stand up to these people – there may be dome slight chance they’d listen yo you because they’ll certainly never heed a Joe Bloggs like me.

    Yours etc.,


    • chrisjhorn says:

      Hi Declan,
      Frankly I don’t care who claims credit as long as it gets done!

      The engagement overall has been pretty good, IMHO, albeit I was surprised by the exodus yesterday afternoon. I in particular think that both Dept Taoiseach and Dept of Finance have been particularly engaged and very helpful in the process to date.


  2. Billy O'Mahony says:

    Hi Chris,

    did “the exodus of some of the task force members who were civil servants and/or agency staff from the meeting from about 4pm onwards” include the core task force members ie members of the 28 or was in mainly “additional staff (not strictly task force members) from both the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.” ?

    Just wondering.

    • chrisjhorn says:

      Those who left by 4pm, or shortly afterwards included both members of the task force, and additional staff. As I mentioned those who actually remained were “by 4.45pm, we were only left with Minister Lenihan, and the civil servants of the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Finance”.

      best wishes

  3. Hi Chris,

    Thanks for the report.

    Let’s not allow the debate to get side-tracked by who did or did not leave the meeting. At the end of the day, it’s up to us – the entrepreneurs – to get ourselves out of the situation we are in. No-one else will do it for us. The important thing is that a visionary report with a solid core is produced that creates the best possible economic framework for entrepreneurs to do what they do best.

    We’re at the end of 2009 now and it’s time to put the past behind us and start looking forward to 2010. In our business we are seeing distinct signs that Irish entrepreneurs are acting on new opportunities that have arisen from a very changed global economy. In many ways these new businesses are more rigorous and sustainable than the ones that sprang up during the good times. To be brutally honest, a business with a very strong proposition, market opportunity and management team will survive and flourish regardless of what the government decides to do next year. That’s our job, not theirs.

    I’m really pleased to see this comment in your report:

    “For me, one of the intriguing interplays is the need to sustain and grow what we already have – including in particular transforming the multinationals operating in Ireland into a culture of innovation – and concurrently nurture and grow a very strong start-up and young company culture..”

    Along with anyone else interested in innovation, I look forward to the final report with great interest.

    Thanks once again to you and to everyone else who has so generously donated their time to the Taskforce during the year. I hope (despite the editing work) you all get to have some peaceful family time over Christmas!


  4. Richard says:

    Hi Chris,

    I’ve been following this on twitter. I’m sure there’s lots in the pot. There is, rightly so, a lot of emphasis on Startups. What about Spin-Out’s.

    Spin-Outs have different factors compared to Startup’s particularly from the Parent (Host) companies perspective. Yes the host company benefits from being able to re-focus on core activities (v. important right now), reduced overheads and perhaps in a time a return, if it has equity in the new co. But on the other hand it may lose key employees, IP and business knowledge. There is currently little or no incentive for companies esp. SME’s to consider spinning out technology that’s been created. For example could the host co benefit from PRSI reimbursements, or provide a redundancy style payment to fund the spin-out and claiming back some portion of this sum. In the medium term the spin-out will contribute back these amounts through the new employment it creates.

    Shame on the civil services – most of them live in a parallel universe.



  5. chrisjhorn says:

    Spin-outs (and spin-ins into R&D environments) are also an ingredient, and thanks for noting that I didn’t explicitly mention them. They do feature in the task force thinking.

    My favourite example of a spin-out story is Lotus Corporation, under threat with the demise of its 1-2-3 spreadsheet business to Microsoft Excel/Office; and then acquiring what became Lotus Notes from Ray Ozzie’s Iris Associates in which Lotus itself had made a strategic founding investment; and then in turn Lotus itself being acquired by IBM for 3.5Bn$ specifically for the Lotus Notes technology…. 🙂

    Hadn’t thought about fiscal incentives for spin-outs, worth some thought…

    best wishes

  6. Pingback: Shift Happens: Time for Ireland to move on « Chrisjhorn's Blog

  7. Michael Fitzgibbon says:

    Hi Chris,

    Had a quick look at the list of submissions to your task force. Using my judgement based on knowledge of many of the individuals and organisations who submitted I strongly urge that the views of both Alastair Glass and Eugene Freuder be incorporated into the report. Alastair’s suggestion about a new Innovation Agency is spot on and in line with the recommendation of the Enterprise Strategy Group. Of course, this should be accompanied by the elimination of a number of the existing agencies which are hampering more than encouraging innovation. I imagine the chances of a group such as this task force making any radical recommendations along those lines is slim to non-existent.

    Regards and best wishes,


    • Chris Horn says:

      Hi Michael,

      I know both Gene and Alastair well..

      Over the Christmas and New Year period, a lot of drafting and improvements to the report have IMHO been made. We really do hope to sign off on it at our next scheduled meeting at the end of this month.

      In very many cases, we have annotated our report with specific cross reference to each (well, almost all…) of the public submissions, noting what we took from each submission, where we have adopted the suggestion(s), and where we have not done so because we disagree.

      I don’t want to comment publicly specifically at this time on Gene and Alastair’s submissions or indeed anybody else’s; hopefully our entire report will be in public domain reasonably soon.

      best wishes

  8. david moloney says:

    Hi Chris,

    I’m disappointed but not surprised at the exodus of civil-servants at the end of your meeting.

    Being provocative … why should any civil servants be involved at all?

    And I don’t like the idea of technologists and evangelists not having a budget.

    From my own experience not having a budget simply stifles innovation and pretty much guarantees that things will NOT happen.

    Instead of letting the bureaucrats and politicians run the thing why not take a risk …

    Why not set up a not-for-profit foundation or company, staff it with high calibre people seconded from multinationals, SMEs and academia with a 3 year make-or-break term.

    It would be given the remit to identify industries, technologies and individuals capable of rapidly scaling the number of jobs in the economy.

    It could be funded with 1% extra on top of the corporation tax-rate which those same multinationals and SMEs etc had payed into.

    Assuming a corporation tax take of around €5B this would yield €500M per annum to invest in job creation and sustaining or remodeling knowledge based industries.

    Companies could draw from it, subject to due diligence and monitoring, by submitting business plans etc. for new ventures, products or strategic industries to be funded through market cycles.

    This would guarantee growth but also sustain employment in key sectors by allowing industries going through market cycles to reinvent themselves.

    Government involvement would be strictly limited although they would audit and control the budget.

    The remit would be to maximise the number of knowledge based jobs in Ireland over say a 3 year term.

    There would also be metrics in terms of cost per job created, growth YoY etc.



  9. chrisjhorn says:

    Hi David,

    I guess the civil servants are involved at the moment since the Taoiseach personally took the initiative, and asked his own team to assemble a taskforce, for which I’m privileged to be one of its members.

    But I really do agree with what I understand is the main thrust of your point above: why wait for the civil servants ?…

    The more that we can do ourselves, harnessing our own energies and enthusiasm, without needing to involve the civil servants, so much the better. The civil servants are in general wonderful people when you meet them face to face: but the system in which they operate is in general energy-sapping and has a great deal of inertia..

    So: why wait for them, or rather why wait for their system ? Why not just go ahead right now and make it happen instead ?

    Now, you suggest funding it with a 1% increase in corporation tax which of course would involve the civil servants: so right away that’s going to slow things down. Could the project instead be undertaken by funding it directly from private sector, avoid negotiating a 1% increase in corporation tax, and just go make it happen quickly ?…

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment David

  10. Pingback: Innovation Task Force – Fifth (and last ?) Plenary Meeting « Chrisjhorn's Blog

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