JISC Rapid Innovation Event

I have just spent an interesting and inspiring 24 hours at the JISC Rapid Innovation Programme meeting, which was organised by UKOLN (disclaimer: I work for UKOLN), and funded through the JISC-funded IE Demonstrator project. The venue chosen for the event was certainly an unusual one - the City of Manchester Stadium, home of Manchester City Football Club. I thought the venue worked very well for this event and would recommend it. The event was primarily aimed at developers from the JISC Rapid Innovation projects, but with a significant number of others delegates drawn from JISC programme management as well as the the wider developer community With this event, we decided to address an issue that has become apparent as JISC has started to engage more directly with developers in the HE sector: developers are often untrained, and sometimes not naturally disposed to explaining their projects to others, especially when those others are not themselves developers. So we hit on the (admittedly somewhat artificial) exercise of requiring a representative of each project to deliver a 45 second ‘pitch’ to the assembled audience, which was recorded to video. The project reps were then given a 15 minute consultation with one of a set of panels of three ‘experts’, led by people from media and communications backgrounds, where they reviewed the video of their pitch and discussed ways of improving upon it. These were held in the Stadium's executive boxes overlooking the pitch, which was pretty cool! The reps were warned that they would be required to deliver a new, improved 20 second pitch the following day…. This exercise was something of a gamble to be honest. We were confident that a significant number of the project reps would appreciate why it is important that they be able to clearly explain what their project is about in a few sentences, in terms that a wide variety of people might be able to understand. We hoped that the majority would be able to benefit from these exercises to the point where they could deliver a compelling, clear pitch for their project. The results, I’m really happy to say, were outstanding! The improvement over 24 hours was remarkable, and JISC now has a portfolio of clear explanations of the 40+ ‘rapid innovation’ projects, not to mention a group of developers better equipped to explain what it is they are working on. As well as a training exercise, this event delivered a series of ‘lightening talks’, panel sessions and ‘show & tell’ opportunities - a set of features which has become a staple of developer-centric events. Twitter was actively used as a back-channel to the event so you can get a small sense of what was going on from that stream. I also used this event to ‘officially’ launch the DevCSI project - but managed to cock up my presentation - by ‘losing’ my presenter’s display with all my notes. As I’d decided to go for a one word per slide approach for much of the presentation, this was a bit of a disaster for me. Oh well, I gathered some real interest in this nonetheless and some opportunities for events and other engagements. If you’re interested, you can read more about this on the project blog. I’d like to extend a big thank-you to everyone who came, many of whom stepped some way out of their ‘comfort zone’ to engage with the ‘pitching’ exercise. I’d especially like to thank Mahendra Mahey (UKOLN) who did most of the organising together with David Flanders (JISC), as well as the ever-professional UKOLN Events Team (Natasha Bishop and Michelle Smith) who seemed to work non-stop for 24 hours. Our army of professional bloggers was fantastic, offering expert advice on the pitches as well as conducting interviews, all of which have already been transcribed to the IE Demonstrator Blog, with a large number of the projects. David Tarrant (Southampton University) and Julian Cheal (UKOLN) provided excellent technical support, maintaining a networked news service which was displayed all over the venue. This event was a pleasure to be involved in - there was a great spirit of cooperation throughout which bodes really well for future events with the developer community.