We asked participants in the Oxfordshire Transformative Technologies Science and Innovation Audit to consider the benefits and challenges of the process. Dr Cleo Hanaway-Oakley of the University of Oxford offered these reflections.
In today’s busy world, it is all too easy to keep beavering away independently, without ever stopping to chat to one’s neighbour. Sometimes all we need is a common purpose, a reason to come together. For us, in Oxfordshire, the Science and Innovation Audit (SIA) provided such a purpose. It allowed us to look in real depth at some of our existing regional strengths, and identify new synergies.
The SIA: a compelling reason to work together
On 9th November 2015, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) invited organisations to form a consortium to express an interest in completing an audit of their science and innovation activities.
The aim was to bring universities, research and innovation organisations, Local Enterprise Partnerships, and businesses together to map out their strengths and identify areas of potential global competitive advantage.
Although Oxfordshire has a strong history of working collaboratively to understand our local innovation economy, we had never – until the SIA – had an opportunity to come together and think strategically and in depth about what Oxfordshire can offer the UK as it develops strategies to compete on future-facing technologies.
Local research connections
One big challenge, for us, was the sheer amount of research and innovation activity taking place in our area. Oxfordshire is a small, stocky region; we have two world-class universities and a plethora of successful innovation-focused businesses and organisations working across a wide range of sectors and industries. We started close to home, building on connections we already had through discrete collaborative research projects, joint appointments, and common interests.
Through face-to-face meetings, phone calls, and email communications, our consortium began to take shape, and we became ‘The Oxfordshire Transformative Technology Alliance’, comprising:
- The University of Oxford
- Oxford Brookes University
- The Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP)
- The Oxford Academic Health Sciences Network
- The UK Atomic Energy Authority, and
- Additional representatives from industry, local government and academia.
Reflecting on excellence
As soon as our consortium coalesced, we got to work on discerning and delineating our USP. The SIA process forced us, collectively, to take a step back and reflect on the areas of technology and innovation in which we not only excel, but in which we can make a real, tangible difference to the lives of people across the UK and further afield.
Instead of focusing on a relatively broad field or sector, such as ‘life sciences’ or ‘high-tech. manufacturing’, we decided to focus on a few technologies that will underpin the industries of the future.
We needed to concentrate on specific transformative technologies with the potential to be valuably disruptive in the future; we decided on: autonomous vehicles, space-led data applications, digital health, and technologies underpinning quantum computing.
The consortium members convened further groups of businesses, academics, research organisations and other intermediaries to look in depth at the scope of what Oxfordshire has to offer. We concluded that our region has the scope, resources, and drive to be part of the UK’s leading team in these key areas.
Together, we decided that we did not want to focus on established industries. Instead, we want to look forward to those places where the UK will need to compete in ten, twenty, or thirty years.
The inevitable technologies that we are now focusing on will transform the world, whether or not we invest. But we don’t want the world to move on without us – if you wait for something to get a catchy name, you’re too late!