Alex Churchill: Case study

at Ministry of Defence (MoD)

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Deputy Head Science & Technology Strategy, Ministry of Defence

My Policy Fellowship at Cambridge has given me insights and perspectives on innovation and technology forecasting which were completely new - and which I would otherwise have never come across.

I decided to undertake a Policy Fellowship in part because of former colleagues and previous experience working at the University of Cambridge, but primarily I wanted to see how developing a special network of external advisers could be brought to policy making.

I started my Fellowship with a clear focus on how to take forward a recent White Paper on National Security through Technology. Over the course of my initial week of networking and meeting people, it became apparent that my well-formed questions were not really the right ones. CSaP enabled me to reshape my thoughts on how MOD’s policy should be implemented.

Furthermore, my simple model of innovation was too linear to be representative of the real world. In testing my ideas with a broad range of individuals - all experts within different disciplines - I was able to draw on a wide range of experience of research and different models to illustrate how innovation really occurs, particularly when disparate disciplines come together.

The CSaP team had arranged a full set of meetings, in a February week that turned out to be very snowy and icy. Key highlights were exploring what the Judge Business School has to offer, the CAPE model, views from a former Cabinet Secretary, as well as external perspectives from RAND Europe, and visiting US Army students. As you would expect, Cambridge has a few different and pleasant aspects to offer as well, such as formal halls, which are not without their own type of intellectual challenge and debate. I was also given the rare chance to explore the archives and go into the strongroom of the Churchill Archive, which allowed me to see government decision-making from a completely different viewpoint.

From my initial week, I have been able to establish further work including with the Institute for Manufacturing, to develop new methods and approaches on identifying potential future technologies relevant to defence and security, including potential funding collaborations. This is being played directly into work underway in developing an evidence base to support decision-making in the next Strategic Defence and Security Review.

The Fellowship has opened a window on a very special place. Not only does the University of Cambridge have a collection of unique and very special thinkers across a broad range of disciplines, Cambridge itself offers insight into a successful innovation eco-model.

Note: to download The Defence and Security Technology Competency Report: Collaboration and leverage towards the UK 2035 landscape, prepared by the Institute for Manufacturing, see here.