On the new Advanced Research and Invention Agency

Nico Macdonald
3 min readSep 5, 2022

[Also posted to LinkedIn]

ARIA holding page

ARIA, the UK’s Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA)(@ARIA_research), is soon to formally launch in the UK (New Scientist). It is a ‘new independent research body to fund high-risk, high-reward scientific research… led by prominent, world-leading scientists who will be given the freedom to identify and fund transformational science and technology at speed’ (GOV.UK), and ‘will help to cement the UK’s position as a global science superpower [and] build back better through innovation’.

ARIA is a new independent research body to fund high-risk, high-reward scientific research — GOV.UK

ARIA was the brainchild of the late-of-Downing-Street Dominic Cummings, in part inspired by the US Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) — now DARPA — and the work of its early leadership in JCR Licklider and Bob Taylor, as well as Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center, now PARC and the work there of computer scientist Alan Kay and others. Cummings argues that ‘Science must be core priority of UK + of No10… And science funding must become much more diverse with much less friction’ (@Dominic2306). Having been involved over many decades with the UK Technology Strategy Board, Innovate UK and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), as well as with the university side of research, innovation and commercialisation, these are sentiments with which I very much agree.

https://twitter.com/Dominic2306/status/1549289273005842437

The recently appointed leadership of ARIA, Ilan Gur and Matt Clifford, wrote in The Economist (August 11th, 2022) about how ARIA had been inspired by (D)ARPA’s ‘empowerment of brilliant people’ and ‘tolerance for taking high risks, minimal bureaucracy, and a flat structure’ which, again, are laudable and reflect arguments I have made over the last decade or more.

I am applying for one of the non-executive directorship roles at ARIA and hope that I can leverage my knowledge and experience in Media, Digital and ICT, and of UK and European entrepreneurship and startup culture. And my experience in the academy of engaging with government around research and innovation. Also the bigger perspective I helped to bring to the UK innovation debate with BIG POTATOES: The London Manifesto for Innovation (2010), co-authored with Dr Norman Lewis, Alan Patrick, Martyn Perks, Mitch Sava, and Professor James Woudhuysen.

ARIA was inspired by (D)ARPA’s ‘empowerment of brilliant people’ and ‘tolerance for taking high risks, minimal bureaucracy, and a flat structure’ — Ilan Gur and Matt Clifford, The Economist

Whether I am successful or not, I will give ARIA my support and hope it can start to deliver on its vision, not least as the UK badly needs to transform its sclerotic performance in government-led innovation in order to increase productivity, quality of life, and wealth creation. Of course, R&D and innovation cannot be instrumental, and ARIA also needs to address the instrumentality of much government-funded R&D. To this end my colleague Paul Reeves is leading a response to ARIA’s call to propose a ‘Shape Our Vision’ roundtable and, hopefully, these roundtables will help focus UK thinking on what our real priorities, approaches, funding models, and attitudes to leadership should be.

More generally, we really need a review of the success of UK innovation strategy over the last two decades. And anyone concerned about Innovation, R&D and Industrial Strategy should be planning to meet with whoever is the new Secretary of State — to be announced in the next few days, likely Jacob Rees-Mogg (@thetimes) — to share our perspectives. Do respond here if anyone would like to be involved in such an initiative.

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Nico Macdonald

Educator, facilitator and consultant on innovation and creativity. Tutor @CIEELondon @LSBU_ACI / External Examiner @CSM_news. BIG POTATOES manifesto co-author