Norman's News - Systems not Siloes

Added Wednesday, March 7 2018

I am preparing for a couple of busy months; speaking at the Annual Chartered Business School conference, the UK-India “Systems not Silos” conference, the Euroashe meeting alongside the EU minister’s meeting in Tallinn and a side trip to Riga to hear how Latvia aspires to rival Estonia one of the world’s stars in the digital firmament. 

I am also reviewing the outcomes of our first Future of Work in Northern Ireland Solutions Summit, which was held last week and brought together 250 business/government and education delegates to discuss the impact of automation and how best to support businesses going forward and preparing our young people for the future workplace. Watch this space for further updates.

In the meantime, my thinking starts with the Dowling Report.

Dame Ann Dowling, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering (among many other distinctions), was commissioned by the UK government to prepare a report on Business-University Collaborations. Her report and the government response can be found at .

I missed this first time around. It’s short and pithy and essential for any interested in the development of our knowledge economy.

  • Public support for the innovation system is too complex.
  • People are central to successful collaborations.
  • Effective brokerage is crucial, particularly for SMEs, and continued support is needed for activities that help seed collaborations.
  • Pump prime funding would stimulate the development of high quality research collaborations with critical mass and sustainability.
  • Technology transfer offices need to prioritise knowledge exchange….
  • Government strategy on innovation needs to be better coordinated and have greater visibility.

The UK has summarised the Dowling Review as demanding a ‘Systems’ perspective to Research and Innovation funding as well as recent structural changes within the UK Research and Innovation system. Such reforms are expected to leverage more economic benefit from publicly-funded research to ‘make the whole greater than the sum of its parts’.

I like to think that Dame Ann was in part convinced by a couple of hours spent in the ECIT Board room overlooking Catalyst Inc when she, Prof Sir John McCanny and I chatted about tech-transfer, yes, but also about the people side of economic development and of breaking down or at least puncturing the silos of excellence that separate the cultures of Academe and Business.

The meetings for which I am preparing and some other projects in GB with which I’ve been associated (Connecting Capabilities, specifically) are the direct outworking of Dowling and they are being embraced with enthusiasm.

Sadly, I see little of this here. As money tightens; so tensions and competitiveness rise. There is a retreat to the silo. I saw this at the end of my time in England and it resulted in the destruction of a major capability in Applied Physics. I also know that we understand how to fix it. I was delighted to hear how well we can translate Agri-food research to farm-based innovations. The late Paddy Johnston brought our cancer research to international quality as well as our cancer patient outcomes. We must do this too for the whole of the knowledge economy including manufacturing, before the stresses and strains of BREXIT really bite!