Innovation Task Force – Fifth (and last ?) Plenary Meeting

The task force met collectively for the fifth time last friday from 10am-6pm.     I’ve previously posted on the first,  secondthird, fourth 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 two of the private sector members who were abroad,  and also bar one of the HEI heads.    Junior Minister Conor Lenihan also attended for the morning,  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 Taoiseach himself had hoped to be present at least for a part of the meeting,   and sent sincere apologies due to other more imminent priorities.  The meeting was scheduled from 10.00am until 4.00pm,  but ran over by almost a further two hours with almost everyone staying on.

To me,  the meeting was a story of two halves.   The morning session,  as I’ll explain just below,  in my view was a little impaired;   I think the afternoon session was much better.

As I posted,  the fourth meeting in December considered the first full draft,  and made a number of comments on it.  The meeting was just before the Christmas and New Year period and,  with the consent of the Secretariat (in the Department of the Taoiseach),  I offered to take the draft report and re-structure it over the holiday period in the light of the comments received.   I accordingly did so,  including supplying draft text for missing explanatory sections,  and also explicitly referencing almost all of the various public submissions received in a long series of footnotes.

In the New Year,  the Secretariat and Chair reviewed my revisions,  made a number of further ones themselves before distributing the report by email to all task force members.  A very extensive set of comments were then received back by email – in my view,  the large number of comments arose perhaps because now the report had reasonable structure and logic,  and could be read in its entirety.   The Secretariat unfortunately then had insufficient time left before the fifth meeting last Friday to adopt and resolve all the various comments:  instead they produced a shortened abridged version of the full report which was distributed by email shortly before last Friday’s meeting.

I deliberately did not say much in the morning session,  apart from one intervention (as below) towards the end.   I wanted to listen carefully and observe the pageantry around the room as various parties expressed their positions.   One of the unfortunate aspects was perhaps that the current abridged version removed some emphasis which is in the full report,  leading some commentators on Friday morning to assert that there was insufficient attention in our collective work on aspects such as the role of arts and humanities,  foreign direct investment,  sector specific issues and so on.   Some of the civil servants of the task force obviously have many duties and responsibilities,  and I had the impression that a few – not all! – may even be “attention challenged” – perhaps having insufficient time to devote to a full consideration of all the issues presented.   Part of the morning session then became focussed on the messages and mechanics of the launch of the report.  Personally I felt that this was premature,  and that we might have been much better focussed on discussing and agreeing the substance of its contents,  before then considering how to present it publicly:  the communication of the report will of course be vital,  but let us at least agree the contents of it first..

I think another issue is that to some of those present – and arguably to some in the media and public at large – the word “entrepreneur” has certain overtones and connotations in the Irish context which are not always positive.  We have crafted a very careful definition of what we mean by “entrepreneur” at the start of the report:  nevertheless those attention-challenged may not notice the definition,  and instead use their own notion of entrepreneur.  Afterwards I reflected on this problem:   we need a word which captures the creation and delivery of new offerings to (primarily) the global export market,  creating jobs and inspiring others to also try.   Perhaps a new word is needed for us to use – perhaps a contrived word such as “innovateur”,   combining “innovator” and “entrepreneur”,  forcing the Irish reader and listener to reflect on what exactly we mean — even if in fact it is already a word in French.

I’m afraid I spoilt the theatre a little at this stage,  and challenged the team by asking do we even agree what problem are we trying to solve ?   How do we know when we are solving it (a question I asked at the first plenary meeting!) ?   I then put up my DETE employment slide from my posting on thursday evening last.  I tried to stress the critical importance of building a positive feedback effect,   in which jobs supported by DETE in turn spin off further jobs,   which in turn spin off yet further jobs and so on — I so strongly believe that a multiplicative effect,  “leverage” and “viral” impact,  are so so critical to build,   rather than a simple “additive” strategy which may have led to the flat employment graphs to date.   But I’m unsure whether I made my point sufficiently well,  whether everyone understood it,  and whether they agreed with me.

We broke for lunch.

Immediately afterwards,  we were joined by Trevor Holmes (of the IDA) and Alan Hobbs (of Enterprise Ireland),  who gave a short presentation on their planning of the launch event for the report.    I think the mood changed as a result,  and a more positive atmosphere resulted as enthusiasm and excitement returned.   The afternoon session became much more cohesive than the morning session.

After Trevor and Alan left,   the Chairman brought us through a number of topics in which there had been conflicting comments and views expressed by email on foot of both the draft full and draft abridged reports.  These included topics as diverse as the role of angel funding;  consistent intellectual property processes from the higher education institutes (HEIs);  the role and nature of “flagship” projects;  engagement with top tier international venture capitalists;  mathematics and science attainment in our schools;  entrepreneurial (should that be “innovateurial” ?) culture in our HEIs;  and State aid rules.  As I listened – and participated from time to time – to the discussions,  I felt that there was reasonable agreement on each,  as particular viewpoints were explained and understood – perhaps in a way that a reading,  particularly a rapid reading,  of the written texts would not have achieved.

There was also discussion on the role and structure of employment projections in the report,  and equally on the commentary in the full report with respect to the various public submissions that had been received.   There was a discussion on implementation of the report,  and the process for updates on progress of the smart innovation economy.

The Secretariat have undertaken to produce a revised abridged report and full report in a reasonably short period of time.   We have scheduled a further full plenary meeting next month should it be needed,   but I believe there was a general view that the work could be signed off via email.

The work of the task force will then be taken to Cabinet and,  with its approval,  then be launched to the public.  We hope that this may be sometime in March.

It was an interesting day,   and I think we ultimately ended up in a reasonable place with reasonable cohesiveness.  The Secretariat have a responsible and full task ahead of them,  and I naturally look forward to reviewing the next iteration fairly shortly.


About chrisjhorn
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24 Responses to Innovation Task Force – Fifth (and last ?) Plenary Meeting

  1. Aidan says:


    thanks for the continued updates on the progress of the taskforce. I suspect that this in itself helped the progress of the discussions.

    I look forward to seeing the report, but more importantly to seeing what follow on actions will result from the recommendations. The launching of the report in March will be an important milestone but is only the beginning of the implementation process.

    Will the TF continue to monitor implementation or will there be a recommendation to form any sort of steering group to monitor this?

    Thanks again for the updates,

    • chrisjhorn says:

      Re implementation, I obviously cannot speak for the Government. There have been some discussions about monitoring and a steering group, and I hope some text and recommendations on this will make the final form of the report – we’ll see. In any case, I think there is considerable community interest, so informal unofficial observation may emerge in any case…

      Thanks for commenting Aidan
      Best wishes

  2. Chris

    Whatever about renaming the term based on perception in the context of Irish innovators what has to be understood more is what makes Entrepreneurs Entrepreneurial.

    To that end I would recommend a most insightful paper published in 2001.

    As far as I am concerned it is the best I have seen in many years.

    Definitions you may not have mulled over 🙂
    Entrepreneurotics – multiple start-up Entrepreneurs
    EntrepreSchizophreneurs – Entrepreneurs who create multiple start-ups in diverse industries.

    Finally congratulations on completing the task. I really hope that the end result is not merely to become a political football and finally gather dust in the Department of Everything (bar) Trade & Employment.

    • chrisjhorn says:

      Hi Gerard,

      thanks for this, I hadn’t seen this paper before – looks really interesting….

      I don’t want to mislead — I’m not sure the task is actually completed yet, but it appears well on the way. We’ll see.

      best wishes

  3. Neil kenealy says:

    I had a look at the submissions on the dept of Taoiseach website. Each had to be downloaded as separate documents which made it very hard to search through for related topics. So I can see how big a task it was for all of the committee to collaborate on such diverse data. The people who meet at davos have a similar problem and last year they set up a special collaborative network which is described here in a special report from the Economist
    it’s a specially designed private version of facebook for collaboration. I think that a similar collaboration network would be a great way if continuing the work of the task force. Neil

    • chrisjhorn says:

      I must admit that the IT infrastructure made available to/approved by the Dept of Taoiseach for this kind of work was less than ideal. There are, in my view, much better systems available, at low cost or even free on the net, including reasonably secure.

      If I were to be involved in anything continuing into the future, I would press for one of these..

      best wishes

  4. Myles Rath says:

    The concern of the task force members about the meaning of the word entrepreneur may be justified –

    We have crafted a very careful definition of what we mean by “entrepreneur” at the start of the report: nevertheless those attention-challenged may not notice the definition, and instead use their own notion of entrepreneur.

    However, I believe that your taskforce should be even more concerned about the meaning that is attached to the word innovation by the government and, in all probability, by some members of your taskforce.
    This is of profound importance because almost all the emphasis is on the basic research end of the research/development/innovation spectrum; in the mistaken belief that basic research will lead to significant development of the economy in the short to medium term. It may do so in the longer term; but in the meantime we are failing to promote/encourage/embed a culture of continuous innovation in all enterprises, large and small, indigenous and foreign-owned, and within all sectors of the economy. The latter approach is almost guaranteed to yield large returns, and in the short to medium term also when it is urgently required.

    My hopes rest on you, Chris, on the basis of several of your entries in earlier postings.
    1. In your post of December 17, 2008 entitled Accident and Emergency Beds? you wrote

    I remain concerned, because in my own view, the Irish state agencies – and in particular Science Foundation Ireland – have insufficiently focussed on the opportunity to translate world class research undertaken in Ireland into innovative products and services for the global market. In my view, Science Foundation Ireland is myopically focussed on Science: but what we also need – perhaps need even more – is a focus on Engineering. Ireland needs to take the most interesting scientific results globally available to engineer innovative new products and services for the world market.

    2. In your post of March 13, 2009 entitled TCD-UCD Innovation Partnership: a cottage industry perhaps ? you wrote

    The technology underpinning innovation need not always be developed in Ireland: innovation scoring requires technology assembly and integration, identifying and selecting the correct technologies, regardless of their global origin ——-a successful innovation may simply bring together pieces of technology which already exist, but which have never been put together before in such an innovative way.
    The Lebone group met as undergraduate engineers at Harvard University. They observed that the coupling of two existing technologies – microbial fuel cells and standard high efficient light emitting devices (LEDs) – could provide light in rural Africa. The same technology can also be used to re-charge mobile phones. Their product is used by simply inserting two wires into rotting compost or dung, and the microbes bio-electrochemically generate small amounts of direct current which is then used to power highly efficient LEDs, or to re-charge mobiles.

    This example shows how an innovative, pragmatic solution was derived by understanding a market problem (off-the-grid power generation throughout much of the third world), identifying existing technologies (microbial fuel cells and new generation LEDs) invented and researched elsewhere, bringing these technologies together into a new product, field testing and then initiating a new business venture. The successful innovation score did not require extensive scientific research to be carried out by the innovators.

    3. In your post of October 13, 2009 entitled An Irish Smart Economy: Aspiration or Reality ? you wrote

    I am drawn by the story of Taiwan’s Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation ——– TSMC did not innovate new products, or services; fundamentally it disrupted the global semiconductor industry by an innovation in process. It was spunoff from ITRI by the Taiwanese State and Philips (a 27.5% shareholder; as the world’s first purely semiconductor foundry, whose business was solely to manufacture chips designed by other companies. The necessary R&D was how to carefully articulate designs for chips so that third parties could specify them, and TSMC could manufacture them to specification. As a result, small teams of designers – elsewhere in the Taiwanese economy – emerged as new start-ups offering new own new chips (manufactured under subcontract by the partially State owned TSMC), and radically changed the global industry.
    TSMC —- was a world first, and enabled a new generation of Taiwanese companies to race ahead and capture a global market. TSMC fundamentally was an innovation in business process, not an innovation in product or service resulting from advanced R&D.

    I made my own submission to the Innovation Taskforce because of the concerns that seem to lie behind these posts. The emphasis on basic research is entirely misplaced in a situation where it receives the lion’s share of the public RD&I budge. SFI has been captured by a coterie of “big scientists” who have little understanding of interrelationships and roles of all the components of a “knowledge economy”. I focussed on the approach which has been very successful in Finland. The Finnish and South Korean examples were highlighted by the OECD, who also identified four types of innovation: product innovation; process innovation; marketing innovation; and organisational innovation.

    The mechanisms around the establishment of new ventures and how these generate wealth and/or employment are undoubtedly important – but it is only part of the problem. As I said initially, we seem to be failing to promote/encourage/embed a culture of continuous innovation in all enterprises, large and small, indigenous and foreign-owned, and within all sectors of the economy. Promoting innovation in its broadest sense throughout the economy would almost be guaranteed to yield large returns, and in the near future. I hope that a balanced approach is taken in report of the Taskforce. If the misguided belief system that seems to have been embraced by the SFI dominates in the Taskforce report it will be a fiasco; and it will slow down our recovery and future development enormously. An unbalanced approach must be resisted.

    Footnote: Chris, engineers seem to be, by definition, problem solvers. However, many “scientists” are also problem solvers and many more could be. As a retired agricultural scientist I operated under the philosophy that it was our role to bring the principles, concepts and ideas from the relevant sciences to bear on the problems of the agricultural and related industries. We “fed” off advances in the basic sciences as well as using the more applied sciences to address real problems. It is a question of philosophy and orientation. Medicine is obviously very similar, as are most professions. Intellectually the process of problem solving is usually much more challenging that much of the work in the basic sciences. Problem solving and innovation must not be seem as lesser activities intellectually, academically and, certainly not, economically.

  5. Hi Chris,
    Greatly enjoy reading your comments and admire your candour.
    I work in the public service and I’m convinced that there is a role for the public service entrepreneur/ innovateur. Indeed I think it is vital. Any views on this?

    Incidentally another term I’ve come across (I think Charles Handy used it) is contrapreneur – self explanatory of course and there’s plenty of them.


    • chrisjhorn says:


      I am absolutely convinced of the role of the public service entrepreneur – and in fact I’m delighted to say that I’ve met at least two working in the public service at the moment, during the taskforce work — I’m sure there are many more.

      Transformation of the Irish public service is one of the key goals of the smart economy – as published by the Taoiseach last year – although not specifically within the terms of reference of the innovation task force…

      “Contrapreneur” is nice!

      best wishes

  6. Thanks for the updates on the Innovation Taskforce Chris, its good to see it progress its objective in a reasonable time – a business timeslice.

    I’d be inclined to retain the trusted internationally accepted terms of innovator and entrepreneur as their roles are known however diffusive they are.
    Entrepreneurship is a topic that is taught in HEIs, however poorly delivered and received. While we work with HPSUs where the role is critically important we do not define or redefine the role being undertaken rather we look for the attitudes and actions that emanate from these entrepreneurs and help to focus these energies on the more timely decisions.
    Innovators however are more complex because they frequently wear the techno hat without the business flare. the best are those who can comfortably straddle both mores.
    I’m looking forward to the report of the Taskforce. Will it become shelfware and gather dust with just the informal enthusiasts as implementers. Or will it fit into an industry transformation where we will see an increasing proportion of advanced technology businesses become coloured by its pervasive influence?

    • chrisjhorn says:

      Thanks Michael.

      My musings on the use of the term “entrepreneur” were my own: I suspect that the final report will use the term “entrepreneur”.

      Re shelfware or not – I think almost all of us (the 28) on the task force have been asking ourselves this question since before our very first meeting way back last June!…..

      Interestingly, the report does in its current version contain some specific recommendations on how the work may be continued after publication, so I hope that not only will these recommendations appear in the final report, but that they will also be acted upon. We’ll see…

      best wishes

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  8. Pat Millar says:

    Hi Chris,
    I have been reading through the report – just the summary and some other areas so far. I certainly hope that we can get the recommendations implemented and in a timely fashion. I run a small business and from my discussions with colleagues, customers etc there is a significant appetite for change and a willingness to be a part of that and to support it.

    I believe that everyone has a role in transforming Irish industry. I hope the implementation committee consist of a broad enough selection of people and especially good representation from indigenous SMEs.

    There is a fair bit in the report about seed and venture capital for new businesses which is welcome but I also think many business could benefit from partnershisp and sharing information and experiences.

    Certainly the development agencies have and do play a role in helping business to get established and grow but I would like to see them doing more to help businesses help each other by facilitating partnerships, information sharing, networking etc – there would be little or no cost to the exchequer for this.

    Ata a simnple leevl this might be a start up who could benefit from the advice of other companies who have setup businesses already and who can offer advice on their experiences and what worked well and what did not. Another example maight be a company wishing to open up a UK office who could get a lot of benefit from a few conversations with other companies that have done that before.

    In the area of seed funding there are also business with suplus cash (yes even in the current climate) who would be willing to invest in other companies and a mechansim for putting these type of organisations in touch with each other would be useful (again little or no cost to the public purse.

    Thanks for all your efforts on the report


    • chrisjhorn says:

      I agree with you. Mentoring, coaching, sharing experiences collectively as a nationwide professional resource would be excellent. It would also be a place for inexperienced entrepreneurs to come, and to seek advice.

      It could be done online, but with appropriate moderators to ensure the content was reasonable quality. Simple facebook or linked in is possible, but perhaps a board or ning might be much better…

      I’ll put some thought into organising this. If there are any volunteers out there who would like to jump in now and help me, please drop me a note..

      Good suggestion Pat, thanks

      • Aidan says:


        I think that Ning is probably one of the best out there for an active network.

        There is a great network related to design thinking that I am a member of, called Wenovski. Take a look as a good example.

        (Let me know if you need an invite to get access but I think it’s open)

        I don’t mind helping out where I can,


      • chrisjhorn says:

        Thanks Aidan, weighing up myself Ning vs. a standalone board. Will be in touch directly by email with you after weekend..


      • Thanks for your reply to my comment below Chris.
        Your, Pat and Aidan’s discussion here of a possible mentoring forum strikes me as a good idea. From my own experience, open and unbiased advice and input for start-up entrepreneurs in the form of an online discussion forum, moderated by people who know what they’re talking about, could be quite invaluable. I would have found something like this fantastic in the early days. My interest and experience would be in the micro-business arena, not sure to what extent that would match up with what you’re thinking of, but if there is anything I can do to help set this up, just let me know. Orla

  9. Orla Shanaghy says:

    Chris, just to say thanks for a useful and interesting article in today’s Irish Times on “positive priming” in relation to Irish start-ups and the findings of the Innovation Taskforce.
    I was particularly glad to read your comments on the concept of failure in entrepreneurship. My husband and I have started micro-businesses in recent years. We have found the dynamic around “failure” in this country to be potentially quite discouraging for entrepreneurs, especially in micro-businesses. Rather than the “American dream”-style model of failure(s) in business being almost a badge of honour, as you mention in your article, we found that the overriding concept of failure here is often that of something to be feared, scorned, and if at all possible, avoided by not trying in the first place. This must surely put off a lot of would-be small entrepreneurs. Articles like yours in major newspapers hopefully go some way towards counteracting this phenomenon.

    • chrisjhorn says:

      Hi Orla,

      There were very strong forceful views in the Taskforce on the Irish intolerance of bona-fide failure. Not all of the draft text on this point made it through to the final published version of the report, but importantly our key recommendation on bankruptcy did (see recommendation 10.7).

      Part of our discussions too were how to reconcile risk adversity in Public Procurement (Dail Public Accounts Committee etc) with using public procurement to stimulate world class innovation – this led to the “flagship” project structure in our report (see recommendation 8.1).

      best wishes

      • Aidan says:

        Orla, Chris,

        I agree with the comments about how failure is viewed and agree that this must change in Ireland, as being innovative and taking risks requires the ability to accept both failure and success.
        The other aspect of this is scale. In order for Ireland to become more innovative we need more people trying things out and taking risks.
        I need to look back at the figures, or maybe you already have them, about the success rate of major businesses. How many businesses are needed in an ecosystem that can create a small number of global companies of size. Conservatively, if we said that 1 company out of 10,000 that starts out trying to become a successful major global company makes it, then are we ready in Ireland for the hard work, the risk taking and in some cases the failure of the other 9,999?

        As I said, I don’t have the numbers at hand so please correct me if I am wildly inaccurate but it is the concept that I am highlighting, not the actual numbers.


      • chrisjhorn says:

        Thanks Aidan,

        I suspect the ratio of start-ups needed to generate one Fortune 1000 company is probably higher than 1:10,000 but I don’t have the data either.

        However, larger companies provide exit opportunities for smaller ones too – and most large innovative companies sustain themselves by a continuous process of acquisition..


  10. gjbrandon says:


    Congratulations at last on getting this to a conclusion and publishing the report.

    How many of the “we” who created the report are collectively participating in the delivery of the content or has that still to be agreed upon? Hopefully we don’t get “The Life of Brian” Scene 21

    It is just that after the Colm McCarthy report and the Commission on Taxation it is hard to keep cynicism at bay, even if a sense of humour can be maintained. There is a lot riding on the content. How many companies have reached “Death Valley” and not made the cut, not because of the skill, expertise but lack of scarce resources in funding? They are not failures and unless the bankruptcy laws are amended we will lose more entrepreneurs who leave because of this barrier to re-entry.

    The system will not work only if the attraction is to bring in successful outside entrepreneurs or expect the same FDI model to work as before. Helping those who don’t make it is just as important as important as assisting those who “may” make it.

    • chrisjhorn says:

      Hi Gerry,

      I’m pretty sure that all 28 of us- “we” – personally sign up individually to almost all of the content in each case. However naturally individuals cannot necessarily guarantee that their organisations/employers also endorse the report.

      There is indeed a tremendous amount riding on the report. Colm McCarthy and the Commission on Taxation have made valuable inputs to Government too, but at the end of the day they too are just further inputs into the system – it is up to the Government to decide what it wants to do.

      I believe that those bona fides who don’t make it first time should be helped get up and try again; and again and again if necessary. Experience of failure breeds ultimate success. If you have failed in the past, and lost money, can you convince investors this time you’ll do better ?…


  11. gjbrandon says:

    On average the wins outweigh the failures 🙂 TG

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