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Friday 25 September 2009

Innovation Taskforce - second plenary meeting

We had our second plenary Innovation Taskforce meeting today in Government buildings, from 9.30am-5pm. I reported on the first here.

The meeting today was chaired by Dermot McCarthy (Secretary General Dept. of Taoiseach). No Minister, junior nor senior, attended on this occasion. The CEOs of Enterprise Ireland (Frank Ryan), the IDA (Barry O'Leary), SFI (Frank Gannon) all attended, together with the Chair of the HEA (Michael Kelly). The Secretary General of Dept Education and Science attended (Bridget McManus) but not the Secretary General of the Dept. Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Sean Gorman) who had attended the first meeting.

The meeting started with a summary of the outcome of the inaugural Global Irish Economic Forum at Farmleigh, last weekend, by Joe Hackett of the Dept. Foreign Affairs. A number of the Taskforce members had also attended, and were able to give some further colour to the meeting on what had transpired. I myself had been invited, but unfortunately could not attend due to family reasons. Overall, the forum had apparently been very upbeat in mood and atmosphere. A summary produced by the IMI of the outcomes of the parallel sessions on the friday afternoon was circulated, and a fuller report containing the outcome of the saturday discussions is in preparation.

The meeting then proceeded to the main agenda item and specifically presentations and discussions of the work to date of each of the four working groups. This took a number of hours. The general impression which I gained was that the first two working groups - WG1 on incentives, intellectual property and venture capital; and WG2 (of which I am a member) on commercialisation, technology transfer and convergence - are thinking very closely alike indeed, and in particular focussing on an innovator-centric approach. By innovator-centric, we mean that everything we consider (agency support and co-ordination, tax, R&D, intellectual property, angel investment and mentoring, venture capital funding, exit mechanisms, etc) must all be in the context of how to make innovators successful. By innovators, we include not just founder innovators for start-ups but also innovators within the multinationals operating in Ireland and indeed also within the public sector; and not just Irish resident, but also attracting innovators into the economy from overseas. By innovation, we include not just innovative new products for the global market, but also likewise innovative new services and business processes.

WG3 - on achieving the innovation island - is focussed primarily on marketing the nation, and included today a presentation by the IDA on their new branding campaign to promote Ireland, particularly for the USA market. WG4 - on the international innovation hub in Dublin - is at this time primarily focussed on the implementation of the TCD-UCD Innovation Alliance, although Dermot McCarthy noted that this should serve as a template for other similar initiatives nationwide.

We also had a short discussion about exemplar projects to illustrate Ireland as an innovation economy. Personally I very strongly feel that any such initiatives which are supported by any public investment should be focussed on maximal leverage for the Irish economy, so that clusters of new companies and initiatives can be catalysed for the global market, by smart, insightful and disruptive State intervention: we need to create inflection points for growth.

We had a short discussion about public engagement. To date, some 92 submissions have been received in response to our public invitation for suggestions and comments. Many of these contain some excellent, and thoughtfully articulated, suggestions. In addition there are a number of cognate taskforce initiatives being undertaken by the government, including for R&D by DETE; the green economy by both DETE & DCENR, and higher level education review by the DES. We are considering how we may further engage with these myriad stakeholders and submitters, possibly via one or more group meetings.

We also discussed how best to continue to engage with the public at large, through continued press and media interviews and opinion articles; and in due course nationwide, ideally apolitical, public dissemination. We are, naturally, particularly conscious to do so in a highly cost effective manner.

Our next meeting is at the end of October. The four working groups (WGs) are continuing their work, but also are being facilitated by the Secretariat to clarify on what we all agree on at this stage, and also on what we at this point do not yet have a common view. Equally, a table of contents for our final report (due in December) will be drawn up by collaboratively by the chairs of the WGs, and some initial drafting work begun, before we next meet.

Overall, I felt today was refreshing and honest, and I was actually encouraged by our progress despite the large size of the group. A tremendous amount of effort and time is being devoted by members of the task force, with a large number of meetings and discussions engaging a very wide audience at home and overseas. All of this work is being carried out pro bono, and I am heartened by the commitment of all despite the very challenging national circumstances.


Paraic said...


Thanks for being so generous of your own time and so open in terms of the workings of the taskforce. I hope that, unlike the McCarthy report and the Commission on Taxation report, we don't hear Ministers telling us in the New Year how the recommendations of the Innovation Taskforce must be implemented over a number of years and must wait and are not practical and..and..

All the best with it - and do let us know if there's anything we can do to help.


chris horn @chrisjhorn said...

Very warm support, thanks Paraic.

There really is an enormous amount of time being freely given by many members of the Taskforce, and a sincere positive attitude to how do we collectively rebuild the economy...

The nub of our discussions today is to agree what our (the 28 of us..) vision for the future of Ireland should be, and then hopefully get buy-in for that from the public at large in an a-political way.

There's a wonderful commitment, pro bono, some game-changing ideas, but our challenge is can we harness the energy, and is there the commitment and capacity to execute and deliver...

best wishes

Aidan said...

thanks for posting on the progress of the Innovation Taskforce (very well written record of it too).

I am surprised at the size of the TF and whether it will be possible to come up with concrete actionable proposals that everyone can agree on. On the other hand, I am not surprised that many people want to be involved and to contribute to this area.

Thanks again for the great posting and keep them coming please,


Siobhan O'Dwyer said...

Hi Chris,

It's really interesting to hear how the second session went. I'm looking forward to hearing about the recommmendations as they come on stream.

I also wanted to point out how incredibly valuable the information generously shared by people on #itaskforce has been to our business and I'm sure to many others too.

This sharing and exchange of information across key sectors, if broadened out to include new research, emerging trends, legislative changes, supports, pioneering commercial initiatives etc. would be enormously useful to entrepeneurs, researchers, advisers etc. I notice already that some groups are being established as spin-outs from itaskforce.

It would be a pity if the whole thing became fragmented now. However if someone doesn't act quickly that's what will happen. I'm sure you have considered this?


chris horn @chrisjhorn said...

@Aidan: a concern I have is that we may come up with a very long list of recommendations, which would then possibly result in an "a la carte" "pick'n'choose" response of some being implemented and not others. So I hope we can be clear about a relatively small number of really key recommendations, and then a longer list which helps support and reinforce the chief ones..

@siobhan o'dwyer: having an up to date one stop shop listing all current information would be useful, and probably something that could/should be done by the community at large, rather than by the civil service, at least in my view... - perhaps a public community wiki would be a way (want to start one ?...)

Brian O'Donovan said...


I would like to repeat the earlier comments thanking you and all of the task force members for the time they are giving to this initiative. I would also like to compliment you for the way you are opening up the discussion further through your blog.

One point I noticed about your most recent report was the lack of politicians attending the meeting. This could either be good news (because the presence of politicians might slow down the process) or bad news (because it indicates that the politicians don't have any real commitment to implementing the outcome). Which do you think it is?


chris horn @chrisjhorn said...


Conor Lenihan did attend the entire first meeting, and I understand his primary brief from the Taoiseach is the Smart Economy - hence his role across the 3 Departments DETE, DCMNR and DES. I had hoped he might have attended the second, at least in part.

The taskforce is reaching a critical stage at which draft text and recommendations are now being put together for the final report. I expect there will be further engagement with Ministers as this progresses.

best wishes