Thursday, 8 December 2011

Catapults Are Go!

The new Innovation and Research Strategy was published today by the Dept for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). This sets out what the Government is going to do to encourage collaboration between the private and public sector, and embed innovation in the heart of any recovery.

The marvellous Mark Leach has had an early look at this, and has summarised the doorstop document brilliantly in the WonkHE blog. As he says, 'it's long, it’s nebulous and it can sometimes read more like a laundry list than a truly coherent strategy document.' So you're in for a treat.

He's done a great job in summarising it, and I won't try to do the same. If you want to get a flavour of what BIS are planning, go to his blog. However, one of the highlights of the Strategy is the strange construction toy language that the BIS use throughout. They talk of the Research Councils developing a 'gateway to research', 'catapults', 'launchpads' and 'clusters', 'hot spots', and 'acceleration'.

You can just imagine them, in short trousers, playing with their Meccano sets, building their gateways and catapults, humming the theme tune to the Thunderbirds as they identify 'hot spots' around their 'launchpads'.

However, whilst I love this language, I'm not entirely convinced that they've chosen the right metaphors to use for developing sustainable, productive relationships. After all, weren't catapults intended ultimately for projecting inert objects great distances to maim, murder and maul? And don't hot spots exist primarily in vulcanology to describe an area of deadly, life-destroying volcanic activity? And aren't launchpads primarily associated with the costly cul de sac that was the Apollo space programme?

That's the danger of using words creatively in policy documents: you never know what it might trigger in the audience's mind. Moreover, after Iraq, you would have thought that Whitehall would be somewhat wary about sexing up dossiers to appeal to a disinterested public.

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