John Dodds: Case study

at Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS)

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Director, Innovation, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

The opportunity to take part in the Policy Fellowships Programme came at a perfect time for me as I had recently taken up a new role as Director of Innovation in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and it was just dawning on me how much I had to learn.

CSaP gave me the opportunity to immerse myself in a rich stew of ideas and experiences about innovation. The questions I framed focused on the nature of innovation, the conditions in which it flourishes and what government can do to promote it, but I went into the programme with an open mind as to what I would find, with my questions as the starting point.

BIS already has contacts in parts of the University and the programme gave me a useful opportunity to strengthen these relationships. But where it really scored was in giving me exposure to new research and new ideas that I wouldn’t have linked up with without its helping hand. Over five days, I came into contact with both researchers and practitioners, exploring what makes innovation tick on a range of scales from the global to the unique “Cambridge Phenomenon”.

In my very first meeting I met Jaideep Prabhu at the Judge Business School and was bowled over by his wealth of knowledge about innovation in India. Later, I met Andy Hopper and Ross Anderson at the Computer Lab with their first-hand experiences of setting up and growing innovative businesses. Hermann Hauser and David Cleevely gave me their insights from many of years of being active investors in Cambridge businesses. Martin Daunton took time out from his duties as Master of Trinity Hall to share with me his historical perspectives, and from David Good I strengthened my understanding of the role of universities in their local society.

This illustrates a broader point. While I went into the programme with a set of questions framed around my area of policy interest, I emerged not only with useful insights on those, but with a much fuller understanding of how universities add value. For someone whose university experience had been three years as an undergraduate followed by a taught MSc, it was enlightening to start to understand the extent to which a university like Cambridge is woven into its local economy.

My five days of immersion are over, but I am looking forward to staying in touch with the contacts I met during my visit and also, I hope, building links with other Policy Fellows.