Good morning good morning. Listening to this evidence session on UK ARPA.
Always v impressed with Greg Clarke’s chairing of this committee - noting that he is picking up on the very important question of who the customer would be for ARPA, and who gets to set the challenges for the future of the country. Is it the government? Researchers?
Of course no one has mentioned *citizens* or *civil society* which I ofc feel is at least part of the answer.
.@MazzucatoM is talking about the need for sector-specific versions of ARPA (such as ARPA-H for health), and the need for different mechanisms for public-private innovation.
@MazzucatoM Richard Jones is talking about the importance of ARPA delivering stuff and solving engineering problems. (I would beg to differ here - surely more important for them to *learn* and disseminate, and also no acknowledgement of the narrative importance of ARPA.)
Marianna Mazzucato now talking about the importance of patient finance - both witnesses bringing up the importance of clusters and collaboration across siloes. Returning Qs from the cttee seem to be about *how* the challenges for innovation are selected.
Very pleased to hear Richard Jones mention Joseph Licklider, because I’d always mentally pronounced his name as Licklidd-er (as in, yoghurt) when it is ofc Lick-lie-der. Every day a school day, etc.
Greg Clarke asking if there should be a national conversation about what UK ARPA should be and what it should be for before it launches. (I like this.) Witnesses a bit less convinced, and saying perhaps that could happen in parallel, as part of a system.
Qs now about reporting structure for UK ARPA - into UKRI, Cabinet Office, No 10? Mazzucato now talking about importance of not being siloed. (I would add, that too tight a political connection would make any truly patient or long-term innovation almost impossible.)
Interesting that Mazzucato is not against Cabinet Office; Richard Jones saying that innovation policy has been pushed and pulled around structures of govt and not sure if it really makes any difference (ouch) or if UKRI is mature enough.
Andrew Griffiths asking about how to make a risk-taking approach permissible within the accountability structures of govt, which is *truly* a question for our times.
Richard Jones talking about the importance of replicating ARPA’s structure of hiring programme leaders and giving them some autonomy - who Mazzucato is now calling “visionary leaders”. (I am *so interested* in how this 60-yr-old, heroic template for innovation persists.)
Richard Jones: “We hear a lot about the need to reduce bureaucracy and if that’s the case you probably wouldn’t have a very transparent process.” Not sure this is *at all* the case tbh.
New panel. Mark Walport coming in with a massive mic drop. “I’ve always been taught that form should follow function, and yet we’re having a discussion about a form - ARPA - without knowing what it’s function is."
*its* ofc
Walport: “Very often public good has been left to the market … there is not a well embedded philosophy of procuring innovation … there needs to be a long-time horizon”
Jo Johnson backing up Walport’s point - saying over a year into UK ARPA chat with no detail on what it should do. Says should be a green paper or white paper from govt.
Johnson: “I don’t see any reason why UKRI as a young organisation couldn’t incubate an ARPA-like body … to do high-risk, high-reward, use-inspired research”. Says it could sit as a distinct council within UKRI, and could damage/fragment research system otherwise.
Johnson says should get on and do it within UKRI and spin out later - I paraphrase, but essentially saying too much procrastination about where it should go is stopping starting.
Dawn Butler asking Mark Walport about the weaknesses of UKRI, which he is taking rather well, frankly.
Walport saying there is a culture of micro-management and that UKRI could have more autonomy, and thus be more successful. Also agreeing on the importance of hiring “the very best programme managers” who are empowered, given freedom.
Dawn Butler: “We need to have a more intelligent conversation around science and innovation … we are lacking that conversation about how we innovate.”
Jo Johnson, who has just said too mch time has been spent talking about where ARPA should sit, is now asked another question about where ARPA should sit. (Possible q a lot of bikeshedding is going on here.) Johnson: “The bigger issue is how we define its mission."
Walport: “UK Research Innovation is all about boldness and openness.. the very nature of UKRI is that it is bold… I would hope that over time UKRI gains greater freedom... If you open the oven door every 5 mins while [something] is rising, it won’t rise very effectively."
*speculates on what Prof Sir Mark Walport puts in the oven*
Jo Johnson talking about the inevitable lag that legislation introduces - speculates at least 18 months. Now Andrew Griffiths asking about the operating model.
Walport talking about Richard Barber’s 1975 report into ARPA… - saying quality of people is vital to the success of the org
Walport talking about freedom to operate for staff and competitive salaries. “Create the conditions in the rest of government that allows an ALB to [pay high salaries]” at a time when this is being challenged across government.
Tl;dr everyone seems to agree that project leaders should be paid loads of money - one of the constant quandries of public innovation and a question as to what public service means.
Graham Stringer saying that they’re talking about ARPA because it’s Dominic Cummings’ idea; says the fact that DC consulted Walport and Johnson is evidence he has consulted widely. (Not sure this is q the definition of “widely”, but anyway.)
Graham Stringer skirting round some Rumsfeldian territory here - “the more we know, the more we don’t know”.
Nice line from Walport: “The market tends to be quite risk adverse. It’s venture capitalism, not ADventure capitalism."
Lots of speculating on the Valley of Death problem (Which I think refers to this start-up funding quandary…) Johnson sticking to his guns on the matter of “use-inspired research”
Walport saying that £800m not really that much money. Need to pick one thing. “If it tries to do everything, will end up doing nothing."
Johnson: “High risk, high reward is not a clear enough mission statement.”
Johnson saying that ARPA not sufficiently different to the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. Another Q on the internal structure and whether or not ARPA’s sainted programme leaders are the be all and end all.
I do not feel that this is a very modern way of doing things. Bit heroic, high risk of entrenching lack of diversity and v trad ideas of genius. Everyone talking about rarity of these special skills and how much to pay for them.
Aaron Bell talking about supporting the levelling up agenda with ARPA by situating it outside of the golden triangle (Ox-Cambs-London).
Interesting and important tension here as to how ARPA might be staffed: should it be tasked with overcoming the monoculture of trad innovation (innovate on the innovation model), and/or should it speak to immediate need to stimulate wider UK economy? Ofc both could happen.
(This is not a Q asked by the committee but in my view, it should have been.)

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5 Oct
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I am not at all against the odd rhetorical flourish, but I would like to know what that means and how we will know when we’ve achieved it.
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In a democracy, social infrastructure should be decoupled from ad tech and surveillance.
In fact, in this report, I have called for the reverse - for a Community Tech Stack. If you support that, please do get in touch. Contact details on the website.
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My underlying concern is that the app is extremely reliant on (1)
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Whichever way you look at it, privatisation-by-incompetence is a sorry state of affairs.
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