As previously, this is the season of internal evaluations of the activities and achievements of Swindon Office Directors during the last year (though since the governance changes I provide only advisory comments on Directors of our Institutes enjoying sustainable support), and I carried out a number of these.
I attended two back-to-back meetings at Portcullis House last week. The first was a discussion organised by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology on Bioenergy. Chaired by Lord Oxburgh, this featured interesting talks from speakers representing BP Biofuels, DECC, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and the Forestry Commission. A strong consensus emerged around the views that biofuels had a significant role to play as part of the Bioeconomy, and that key to their success was a genuine social and environmental sustainability.
The second meeting was a ‘diamond jubilee’ celebration of 60 years of British Science achievement (pdf), with talks on Life Sciences (Prof Dame Nancy Rothwell). Chemistry (Prof Lesley Yellowlees) and Physics (Prof Brian Cox). It was thoroughly pleasant to be reminded of the litany of British scientific achievements since 1952, and Dame Nancy’s excellent presentation ended with a couple of thought-provoking slides on seeking to understand why the UK was and is so astonishingly good in the (Life) Sciences. [...]
Last week began with one of the regular meetings of our Audit Board, focussing especially on this year’s accounts, and also including the Research Councils’ Pension Scheme accounts for which I am Accounting Officer.
We had a very interesting meeting with Joann Roskoski, Deputy Assistant Director of Biological Sciences at the US National Science Foundation. We already have a number of joint programmes with the NSF, and it was most interesting to see the consonance of our thinking in areas such as sustainability, ‘big data’, open access and the like. In this regard, I read an interesting blog post on the extent to which (non-open-access) scientific journals help or hinder scientific progress, and another that involved blogging a thesis. [...]
Last week included lengthy meetings assessing the proposals for quinquennial funding from the Institutes to whom we give strategic support. These proposals fell into two categories, viz National Capability Grants and Institute Strategic Programme Grants, with separate Panels for each. I was very pleased with the care, thoroughness and expertise displayed by the Panels as they reviewed some very complex and wide-ranging materials. Their deliberations will feed into a series of Institute Assessment Panels carried out on site throughout the autumn, for final decisions to be taken by Council early next year. [...]
Among last week’s meetings, two concerned strategy. The first was one of the biannual meetings of our Strategy Advisory Board, where among other items we looked at a more proactive approach to International engagement. Science is a global enterprise, and international activities are an important part of our portfolio. Historically we have been perhaps slightly more reactive to opportunities than we might have been. However, since these activities can leverage considerable external resources, both intellectual and financial, it was time to recognize that we ought to become more strategic. A related item concerned our role in cohering strategic partnerships with and between our many stakeholders.
A second Strategic meeting was one of the quarterly Joint Strategy Group meetings between all the RCUK Chief Executives and Sir Adrian Smith, Director General of Knowledge and Innovation, and his team, where we were brought up to date with a variety of recent and upcoming happenings. [...]