Innovation Taskforce Implementation Group – inaugural meeting

The inaugural meeting of the Innovation Taskforce Implementation Group was held this evening,  from 5pm-6.30pm,  at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation,  with Minister O’Keefe in the chair,  and also attended by Minister of State  Lenihan.   The press release from last month which announced the formation of the Group is here,  including the membership.

The meeting was well attended,  including officials from some of the agencies who are not formally appointed members of the Group.   The room itself was frankly a little cramped 🙂

The format of the meeting,  after opening remarks by the Minister,  was a Department by Department report on the status of implementation of each of the Taskforce recommendations.   As preparation for the meeting,  we had been supplied with a document listing each and every recommendation,  and a commentary by the lead Department concerned of the status of the implementation of each recommendation.

After the various status reports,  there was a short discussion of some issues arising and some reactions.

One top level aspect in which I am personally interested is the metrics for measuring progress of innovation in the economy.   While this is included in the specific recommendations of the Taskforce (see nr 13.1) and we were told that work is progress to put a formal measurement system in place,  I am very keen that readily understandable metrics are regularly available…

The Minister requested that the detailed working of the Group remain confidential,  since some of the work is (or could be in the future) subject to Cabinet decision.   He also indicated his strong interest in promoting outputs,  ie results – by implication, premature announcements or disclosures may be unhelpful.   I therefore feel obliged to be a little cautious in what specifically I can write about in this blog at this time..

Overall,  as a personal view,  I was encouraged in general by the various reports from the various Departments giving progress since the Taskforce report was published just last March,  although I feel there is a tremendous amount of work yet to be completed.

Meetings of the Group will continue approximately at two month intervals.


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6 Responses to Innovation Taskforce Implementation Group – inaugural meeting

  1. Dear Chris,

    Can you ask the Minister to make the Irish Patent Office on line (for filing, prosecution), please? It is already being bypassed because it is not yet at this fairly essential level of access.


  2. I’ll be honest Chris. As far as clever thinking about how to fill the hole that was created by the collapse of public and private sector construction in Ireland in recent years, I have not been very impressed by what I have heard or looked at since late 2008. We have the technology available in 2010 to enable Ireland to export its construction services to a wider global marketplace. But the right kinds of people simply are not being asked for their opinions. I replied to a request for comment today in relation to AutoDesk’s new technology, and I compiled it into a blog entry also, which you can read if you like. It follows on from ideas I have been throwing back and forth with Fred Brooks on software project management, for a little while now.

  3. Here is a kind of technology which be down your road Chris. I was trying to tie together a number of threads in technology and research in my blog entry.

  4. Stephen Minch says:

    I’m not sure if everyone is on board as far as broadband infrastructure is concerned.

    I note that DCENR are going their own way on NGN and will be setting up their own task-force. It seems like an unnecessary duplication.

    Down at the NRA they’ve just concluded a period of consultation concerning access to broadband ducting in National roads. They seem to have adopted a fairly minimalist view of their remit. On the evidence so far, they have no wish to become a “one-stop-shop”.

  5. Myles Rath says:

    Chris, I am very pleased to see the emphasis you put on the establishment of readily understanable metrics for measuring the progress of innovation in the economy. I have been harping on about suitable metrics for the SFI at every opportunity. Your comment under your post on The Renaissance of Engineering captures the importance of metrics very succinctly
    “Changing tack, my experience in IONA was that as CEO you generally get what you chose to measure. So, be EXTREMELY careful about what you measure! The system – in my case, my team – responds to what you measure. Its almost Heisenberg like: if you chose to focus on one set of metrics, you may lose sight of and distort other metrics which are also important. Trying to derive a holistic perspective, so that the system doesn’t become biased by your particular selection of measurement criteria and doesn’t try to optimise those at the expense of others, requires some careful — dare I say engineering — perspective.”
    For many people the concept of metrics may seem a bit remote and esoteric. However, the following two examples of the effects of bad metrics illustrate their importance: (1) the enormous fixation of the stock market on quarterly earnings has been a powerful force for short-termism in decision making, even culminating in fraud in an attempt to meet market expectations in extreme cases such as Enron; and (2) the payment of bonuses in the financial industry based on metrics that were short-term and did not factor in long-term risk has done incredible damage all around the world. The choice of metrics is not therefore some fanciful addendum when the important elements of policy have been decided. Rather it should be central when you are dealing with an innovation system made up of many very diffuse and dispersed components.
    OECD REPORT – MEASURING INNOVATION. It is noteworthy that the issue of metrics is not unique to Ireland. The recent OECD Innovation Strategy report calls for improvement in the measurement of innovation and of its link to macroeconomic performance. It states that science, technology and innovation surveys need to be redesigned to take a broader view of innovation and improved measurements are needed to link science, technology and innovation policies to economic growth. It further states that we must move forward from innovation inputs and activities to a system which measures the outputs and the impacts of innovation activities.

    INDECON REPORT ON SFI. It is again noteworthy that the Indecon Value for Money Review of the SFI in 2008 included in the following recommendations –
    (1) An increased focus on effective industry collaboration and measures to enhance commercialisation of research;
    (2) Increased focus to align collaborations by SFI-funded researchers with the requirements of industry based in Ireland; and
    (3) A system of ex-post review, which would —————–place greater emphasis on economic impact and value for money, should be put in place for completed SFI-funded research.
    The absence of suitable metrics, or even worse the use of inappropriare metrics, can undermine the objectives of an otherwise well-designed blueprint for innovation. However, when unsuitable metrics are combined with a defective or unbalanced blueprint little progress is likely. I believe that the blueprint we are following in Ireland, especially in the importance it attaches to basic research as a driver of innovation, is very misguided and is very seriously unbalanced.
    Ireland’s current economic woes arise partly from ignoring well-established principles (eg budgetary policy should be counter-cyclical), and partly from following the widely-accepted,but deeply flawed, ideas about light-touch regulation and the ability of free markets to self –correct. Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize winning economist, presents a comprehensive and fascinating analysis about “How Economists Got It So Wrong” in the New York Times in which he concludes that (the recent great US recession) was the result not only of lax regulation in Washington and reckless risk-taking on Wall Street but also of faulty theorizing in academia. According to Krugman the theoretical framework developed by the so-called fresh-water economists was so dominant that adherents like Alan Greenspan could not believe that the system could crash. Likewise the power of (bad) ideas is shown by the fact that Charlie McCreevy was still defending light-touch regulation in late 2008 when the proverbial dogs in the street knew this approach had done enormous damage all round the world. The power of (bad) ideas should therefore not be underestimated and I believe we are following the wrong paradigm in our innovation policy, at least as far as the primacy attached to basic research in the process.
    My interest in innovation policy arose from my conviction that a great deal of the money which Science Foundation Ireland has been spending on research was being wasted, at least in terms of any return to the Irish economy in the short to medium term and probably in the long term also. I was very surprised to find that I could not locate any theoretical framework or definitive guidelines for the optimum design of national innovation policies, especially as regards research policy, although the recent OECD documents address many of the broader issues. As a lecturer I used to advise students (1) to beware the conventional wisdom; and (2) that any principle or concept that did not accomodate all the known observations or information was an incomplete or a flawed principle or concept.
    Funding academic research, mainly basic research, through SFI and other agencies accounts for a large proportion of the state support for innovation in Ireland. This places basic research at the core of the innovation process. There are, however, many observations which do not fit in with this view of how innovation occurs. We should not simply ignore the information that does not fit in with our current approach. I strongly believe that we must critically review all the assumptions on which our whole approach innovation is based because the use of a defective blueprint or model will always lead an outcome somewhere between sub-optimal results and disastrous failure.
    ACADEMIC RANKINGS. A lifetime in research in Ireland has persuaded me that there is a very weak correlation between the standing of researchers based on their published scientific papers and their contribution to the real world outside academia. The research of some of the those with the highest publication record has contributed almost nothing tangible in the real world; and the converse also holds true. Nevertheless the SFI uses bibliometric analysis of research publications as one of its key metrics.
    The poor correlation between high academic ranking and success in innovation also seems to hold true for institutions and countries. Finland and Israel are noted for their high levels of innovation. However, neither country has even one university ranked in the top 100 in the THES world university rankings, while Ireland has two. Britain, hardly known as a hotbed of innovative activity, has eight universities inclued in the top 50; Germany has none. It is folly to ignore facts such as these, but in Ireland we seem to have the equivalent of “regulatory capture” in relation to innovation. A subset of researchers who believe in the primacy of basic research seem the “captured” some of the key funding agencies. Their view of innovation seems to have been broadly accepted by the government and this viewseems to have led them to accept very fanciful suggestions about the creation of thirty thousand jobs from the Trinity-UCD Innovation Alliance, almost without question.
    NATHAN MYHRVOLD, who founded Intellectual Ventures after retiring from his position as chief strategist and chief technology officer of Microsoft Corporation had some very interesting observations on invention and innovation in a recent interview on Bloomberg Television. Intellectual Ventures is focused on the funding, creation and commercialization of inventions so his views on the process are noteworthy.
    Firstly, he pointed out that invention and research are different. In Ireland we seem to think that new knowledge coming from research will lead to the establishment of new products of commercial value. Myhrvold starts by identifying a problem; then follows up with an open-ended brainstorming session to try try to identify various approaches that might yield a solution to the problem; and then seek out people and institutions who might have the capacity to investigate the most promising approaches. The process does not start with researchers who then try to find places where their knowledge might be applied, which is largely the approach taken in Ireland. We should instead focus far far more on involving in the planning stage those who know what the problems are, and then we should fund research into the areas which might yield results. “Innovation capture” by scientists in Ireland seems to have short-circuited the process. (The cliche that research is about spending money to create knowledge while innovation is about applying knowledge to make money is apt. In Ireland we are dangerously close to the wrong end of this spectrum.)
    Myhrvold also commented that many highly educated, technically qualified graduates, including PhDs, are not suited to invention. They are very often constrained by their knowledge base and are not comfortable when they are asked to think outside the box or to move outside the comfort zone of their existing knowledge base. This does not mean that academic researchers are not essential in any innovation system – but not as the originators of new inventions. They are vital to the production of a new improved “widget”, or to the more efficient production or distribution of the existing bog-standard “widget”; but they are poor at coming up with the the new “fidget” or “tighet” or “midget” or whatever the next big thing will be.
    FINLAND, ISRAEL ETC. The previous comments highlight the limitations of academic researchers at the invention end of the innovation spectrum. They are very valuable, however, when they are directed to real problems which have been identified by those much closer to the end-product or the final service to the consumer. In Finland, TEKES, the organisation responsible for applied research is much closer to business and industry and seems to be structured in a manner which is much more likely achieve real innovation. It is also much better funded than the comparable agency in Ireland. The position in Israel is a little less clear from the information available on the web but seems to be similar to the position in Finland. In both countries it is clear that the relevant agencies have not been subject to “innovation capture” by research scientists as seems to be the case in Ireland.
    Overall, there are some serious flaws in our innovation system. It seems to be unbalanced and badly structured with far too much emphasis on the research component of the innovation spectrum. However, if we had suitable metrics to measure the contribution which the various projects make to the real economy it greatly improve the payback to the community in general from our expendidure of on innovation. This would hold even if the conceptual framework on which our innovation system is based was deeply flawed. It would also greatly inform our approach to innovation if we carried out even a brief study of the contribution of a carefully selected number of our research organisations which are taking different approaches to innovation and which are operating at different places along the innovation spectrum. Such a review, combined with the introduction of even a small number of suitable metrics , should greatly improve our innovation system, and should be a priority.

  6. Pingback: Innovation Taskforce – Second Implementation Group meeting « Chrisjhorn's Blog

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