JISC Innovation Forum 2008

I was invited to my first JISC Innovation Forum which took place over Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, and was held in Keele University. Apart from a smattering of light duties - a couple of meetings, helping to 'referee' a session (more later) and taking turns to staff the joint UKOLN / CETIS / OSS Watch / TechWatch stand, I was free to get stuck into the real business of this event which was, for me at least, learning & networking.

The forum has a significant online presence, both in terms of the supporting infrastructure (blogs, transcripts etc.) as well as delegates' own blog posts etc. - look for stuff tagged with ' jif08'.

Some of the highlights of the forum included:

The keynote speech from John Selby, Director (Education and Participation), HEFCE

John gave a really clear outline of some of the issues facing JISC in a changing economic climate. Speaking a little about 'socio-technical' systems, he offered the view that JISC needs to focus on the nature of such systems, portraying them in terms of the following progression:

Innovation -> Implementation -> Sector change

John suggested that JISC tended to concentrate on communities rather than the sector, that communities could be exclusive and that managing technical and social change together is challenging. We should not take for granted that the buzz within the innovative JISC community is recognised or shared outside this community. He also reminded us that JISC is funded by 'a tax on the sector' - I have not heard this description used before.

John offered a stark warning when he described the last decade as a 'golden era' in terms of funding and security, and predicted that the next few years would not be so golden.

Finally, John admitted that HEFCE's strategy is not clear enough, and that HEFCE needs to prioritise and clarify its role in terms of how it deals with the sector and with the Government.

More: transcript and link to presentation slides.

The 'Identity - Starter for Ten' session

I was asked to help facilitate this session and I'm very glad to have been involved. It was decided to use a technique known as the 'gold-fish bowl' to create a free-flowing 'debate', where only two people (out of a room of ~35) could speak at any one time, but the either (or both) of the speakers could be replaced at any moment by any of the other participants. We had a small set of rules to govern proceedings and my role was to 'referee' the session - which turned out to be very easy. So easy in fact, that I couldn't help but join in briefly! The starting discussion was around notions of Identity and the management of this in an institutional context. I imagine that those well-versed in these issues probably didn't learn anything particularly new, but what transpired was a series of arguments, made by some people with real expertise, which gave a pretty good introduction to this area to those who 'lurked' and learned. The feed-back I have received so far has been excellent - here is a short video of a self-described 'lurker' (sorry - I don't know who you are!) explaining how he enjoyed the session (interviewed by Lawrie Phipps of JISC who also proposed the Goldfish Bowl approach in the first place).

More: the gold-fish bowl rules and a transcript

The closing keynote from Jason DaPonte, Managing Editor, BBC Mobile Platforms

Jason gave an instructive speech about some of the issues the BBC is facing in its quest to 'deepen the relationship between itself and its users'. He characterised the 'mobile' context as having the following characteristics:

  • personal
  • immediate
  • location-aware

An application of this approach might be realised in plans to consider moving from the BBC's 'where I live' paradigm to one of 'where I am'. In my view, and this is informed by my recent acquisition of a location aware iPhone, this aspect of mobile service delivery is becoming rapidly very interesting.

In another part of his presentation, Jason made reference to a DEMOS report, Making the most of collaboration, which sounds very interesting - I have not yet had time to read it. This report examines the state-of-the-art of 'public service co-design' - Jason hinted that the higher education sector did not come out of this too well....

More: transcript and link to presentation slides

Other good moments included being a part of the winning team at the competition (identifying European countries by map outline, and identifying movie posters) over dinner. My 3G iPhone may have been a contributing factor....

And I did enjoy showing an interactive 3D molecule viewer on the iPhone to Jim Downing and Simon Coles, eminent chemists both, and getting the reaction - 'so what's the underlying data model?'. To which I could only respond, 'I have no idea - but look how funky it is....'.

While a few aspects weren't so good (a bizarre and nearly unusable WIFI service and uncomfortable accommodation) I think the forum was a great success overall - I learned plenty and was able to contribute.