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Podcast with Clare Cameron, MoD Director of Innovation – Defence’s Language of Change, Ep 5

Podcast with Clare Cameron, MoD Director of Innovation - Defence's Language of Change, Ep 5

The Army Innovation team is leading on the Army BattleLab project which sits within the wider Defence BattleLab infrastructure. On the run up to the opening of this facility later this year, there will be a series of events which seek to engage with industry, academia and wider stake holders.  To sign up to these events, and to receive the project newsletter, please email the team at ArmyCap-FFD-Innovation@mod.gov.uk.

[00:00:00] This podcast series is sponsored by the British Army Innovation Team. This team is set up to encourage and facilitate innovation across the Army and supports wider Defence initiatives too.  One of their, projects, The Army BattleLab, is due to open this year in the South West of England. If you would like further information about this project why not get in touch directly with the team via the show notes?

[00:00:24] Welcome to this Wavell Room podcast series, which focuses on Defence’s language of change. This series seeks to explore some of the key ideas about change. What does it actually mean to innovate? Are we less adaptive and agile than in the past? What does it mean to empower? And most importantly, why is any of this different from what has gone before?

[00:00:44]This series aims to understand what we mean by some of those Defence buzzwords we keep hearing over and over again. Over the next few weeks, look forward to hearing from a whole host of different people from the military, the academic world, industry, and also the sporting world to [00:01:00] understand their views on this language of change, which has dominated military conversations for decades.

[00:01:05] This week we welcome Clare Cameron. Clare is a senior civil servant in the UK and is currently the Director of Innovation for the MOD. In this role, she oversees both the Defence Innovation Unit and the Defence and Security Accelerator. After competing a history degree, Clare was accepted into the civil service fast stream programme and has subsequently built up 20 years of experience working both in the Cabinet Office and the MOD, which also included a deployment to Afghanistan.

[00:01:37] Frosty: [00:01:37] Clare, we’re going to start with the same question that we ask all of our guests. Defence is a wash with buzzwords. If you had to advocate for one buzz word, what would that be? And why?

[00:01:48] Clare: [00:01:48] Yeah, good question.

[00:01:49] And totally agree with the kind of a wash bit. I think I’m going to go for agility and that specifically not agile [00:02:00] in terms of sort of the methodology for doing business. So that is, that is something that I advocate strongly, but I think agility is what we really need to be aiming for. And I think one of the reasons I think this is a helpful way of thinking about things is because  it applies to what  we need to do and what we need to change in terms of our military capability, but also how we need to go around and about doing that in terms of our, our processes and our taking risk and the pace at which we go after things.

[00:02:28] Frosty: [00:02:28] It’s interesting you the, you bring agility up so early on in this series, or in fact, the first episode of the series was an interview with Peter Roberts from the Royal United services we talked afterwards about it, but we are continually in a, in a state of flux was his view which creates a bit of chaos, but then that creates people who are agile. . As you  have looked at Defence, do you see agile people who are able to do that?

[00:02:55] Clare: [00:02:55] Absolutely. And we’re absolutely stuffed full of people that are [00:03:00] absolutely up for the challenge and able to be agile. I think we definitely have, have some elements of the department that is on the, on the Armed Forces that are quite capable of beating it out of people if we’re not careful and that’s what we need to change.

[00:03:14]But in terms of the talent and the mindset of people throughout the organisations, there’s, it’s absolutely. There.

[00:03:21]Frosty: [00:03:21] You’re coming up to two years as the lead for the Defence Innovation Unit. And we’re just about five years now into a ten-year Defence innovation initiative from your view as a top, how do you think it’s going? And in five years time, what is it going to look like?

[00:03:40] Clare: [00:03:40] Definitely, definitely not at the top, but It’s going, it’s going well, it’s a massive challenge.

[00:03:46]If, if I think of the challenges taking well, transforming the Armed Forces and Defence in terms of enabling that innovation, enabling us to be innovative. Of pulling through the [00:04:00] technology and changing the culture of Defence. It’s, it’s no small feat and I’m glad we gave ourselves 10 years.

[00:04:06]Will it be completed in 10 years? I doubt it it is going to have to be a continuous continuous effort. I think though whether or not and I’m sure it won’t be in the same way that we’re doing it now, but I think we are making a huge amount of progress. It’s sort of, as if we just said there’s huge enthusiasm and there are people across the Armed Forces and the department that are really going after this.

[00:04:27]There’s a huge ecosystem. There’s another buzz word that’s kind of grown up with innovation units and experimentation kind of bits of the force structure and all sorts of different ways of doing things that are being tried out, which is brilliant. We’re also and something that my team is, is focused on trying to really get after breaking down the barriers to innovation.

[00:04:49] So. How can we change the way our commercial staff operate so that we can take more risk? How, how can we change the way that DE&S and Defence digital operate and make it [00:05:00] easier to pull things through? Now, we’ve got a long way to go, but , we have made some progress. There’s also a lot of kind of catalysts out there.

[00:05:07] There’s the Defence and Security Accelerator for example, there’s the national security strategic investment fund. So that’s a fund funded by the treasury, but using venture capitalists to invest in technology that we’re interested in, so that there, there are all sorts of things going on coordinating it and making sure that it’s more than the sum of its parts is part of my challenge.

[00:05:28] And that’s on the kind of more to-do list. I would say. We. We’ve been thinking over the last year, kind of, I suppose, as you say, it was coming into the fifth year that we, we very much went to at the beginning for let a thousand flowers bloom. It’s part of the way that we run Defence, it’s the delegated model.

[00:05:48]And, and absolutely want to make sure that we gather and take forward and exploit those ideas that can come from anyone and everyone in Defence. But there’s also a recognition [00:06:00] that. One person’s idea. Won’t be exactly the same as somebody else’s, but there might well be connections and overlap and we’d must make sure that we don’t duplicate and that we make the most of what we invest.

[00:06:10]We also want to make sure that while we’re innovating and improving incrementally, there might be, and there needs to be things that are transformational as well. And have we spotted those and are we making sure that we can spot those and then invest in double down on them? So that’s, so that’s, that’s also in the, kind of more to do list.

[00:06:29]Which, which were using the current spending review and, and some financial planning rounds to try and get that balance right. Between, between the sort of priority led versus ideas led.

[00:06:42] Frosty: [00:06:42] I was going to ask, so a thousand flowers, bloom, do you have, do you have an example of a, of a blooming flower?

[00:06:49] Clare: [00:06:49] That’s a good question. Goodness. So many. So for example projects, it’s probably not very tactful. It’s an RAF project that’s immediately spring to mind that is about [00:07:00] bioprocessing and how we can reuse fuels. That came from. Somebody relatively junior in the, in the RAF and it’s been taken on, it’s now got a contract place to, to, to take it forward which I would which was the first example that sprang to mind probably because I was just reading about it.

[00:07:18] Frosty: [00:07:18] That’s quite recent. Isn’t it? I mean, I think I’ve  read about that. So, I mean, I think that’s a really, that’s a really cool example. Say somebody, a junior ranking in the RAF putting forward that the bio fuels could be used in, in what fighter jets.

[00:07:32]Clare: [00:07:32] Well with yes. With any luck. I mean, that would be that’s, that’s what we were aiming for.

[00:07:36] And and I mean the whole, the whole sustainable agenda is. Fascinating. Actually, it’s fascinating for Defence because there are areas where we can innovate. And there are areas where inevitably we have a niche niche requirements because of who we are and what we do. But they will also, it’s all going on.

[00:07:56] It’s all going on out in the civil world as well. So we [00:08:00] need to, what’s the expression, fast follow in quite a lot of these areas, but then this is a great example where we can, we can lead the way as well.

[00:08:06]Frosty: [00:08:06] I really sorry to go down a sustainability rabbit hole, but I definitely, I think is something that Defence could, could miss, because it’s easy to, well, I don’t think it is missing actually.

[00:08:16] I think it’s on it, but, and you’ll probably give me examples of how it is. But there’s definitely that kind of, well it doesn’t affect Defence? Because what we do is naturally damaging and we don’t need to worry about all that sort of stuff, but actually we would really benefit by having vehicles that can go for further on less fuel.

[00:08:34] And we read a

[00:08:35] Clare: [00:08:35] whole lot of stuff. There’s, there’s, there’s huge amounts of kind of operational benefit that could come from it. Kind of not having to carry around your fuel or whatever it is if we get it right. But also, I think the most important thing is about our our legitimate legitimacy from, from, from the, from the British public.

[00:08:54] If we’re, if, if we’re not trying as hard as we can to keep pace with, and if [00:09:00] not, kind of be best at the sustainability agenda in the round. Then I don’t think that the British public, I mean, why, why would the public support us, if we’re not trying to do our bit and, and that’s obviously so important for us being able to get out and about and do our jobs around the world.

[00:09:16] So for me, that’s the most compelling argument as well as. It being the right thing to do and as well as actually, it also hopefully having some operational benefits along the way. And I think the, the Army is is leading the way with some of this, with their vehicle electrification activities and programme.

[00:09:32]Frosty: [00:09:32] Okay. All comes all comes back to Clauswitz which essentially people, military and government. Why not? Defence defined innovation in 2015 as generating ideas and putting them into practice to overcome challenges and exploit opportunities. Five years later, we seem to be in an environment where almost everything is labeled with this tagline.

[00:09:53]Does this definition still work or does it need to be refreshed?

[00:09:56]Clare: [00:09:56] I think. innovation is often used by [00:10:00] all sorts of people who, and it is a bit of a, it’s definitely a buzzword. And I’m, I’m not yet uncomfortable with that. And I don’t think it kind of gets in the way of that different definition. If. If anything it’s the downside is it can be used instead of, for example, science and technology, which is a shame because of course the distinction for innovation is the putting it into practice.  It’s not innovation unless we’re actually using it. And and it’s made it and it’s made a difference which doesn’t inherently imply with the phrase science and technology. So I think there can, there is a downside, but I, I don’t think we need to change definitions at the moment.

[00:10:40] Frosty: [00:10:40] D do you think that there’s any, any danger that we can start guessing innovation, fatigue.

[00:10:46] Clare: [00:10:46] Well, there is a danger, definitely. And it’s beholden to all of us working on it to kind of try and avoid that by showing the successes and maintain the momentum. And it. It’s difficult, isn’t it? People talk about change fatigue.

[00:10:59] And so on in [00:11:00] order, particularly in, in Defence, we can’t stand still. We’ve got to continuously change. The adversaries aren’t standing still, and particularly in this time of technology development, which is just as we all know faster than before. So, so I, I feel really strongly that that’s the mindset that we need.

[00:11:16]And therefore we should, and we should embrace and should be excited by an innovation as part of that. But it’s definitely beholden upon me and, and, and others and all of us working on it to make sure, but that that’s a positive message rather than something that gets tiring.

[00:11:33]   Frosty: [00:11:33] Hey, I think you’re you’re absolutely right when you say we can’t stand still and.

[00:11:38] Yeah. Somewhere where a lot of serving personnel. Now we’ll remember where we definitely didn’t stand still. Was Afghanistan. We changed tactically a lot to match the threats and we tried to change and evolve to outpace the threats. And you’ve served there or  you were deployed there, we re you on Herrick 9?

[00:11:56] Clare: [00:11:56] Yeah, that’s right 2008/9.

[00:11:59][00:12:00] Frosty: [00:11:59] So from your experience working as a policy advisor on Herrick 9. How do you see the difference in innovation in theatre versus the innovation you see now? I suppose in peace time and at the centre of the organisation.

[00:12:15] Clare: [00:12:15] So it’s a really good question. And I think it’s something that is often said that the, the Armed Forces are absolutely fantastic at innovation when on operations. And why can’t we be better at it when we’re kind of in in inverted commas at home? And I think there’s absolutely a huge amount that we can learn. I suppose I saw it twofold.

[00:12:31] One is innovating the ways that we do things with the same equipment or, or, or resources that we’ve got. And that’s absolutely what happened. On operations. And then the other bit is integrating new things that come in and it’s a form of urgent operational requirements when we were in Afghanistan. So those are both things and integrating those.

[00:12:54] There’s new bits of new UORs in to legacy systems was, I [00:13:00] mean, it was fantastic the way that it was done and why can’t we do that better? So those, I think looking at it from those two approaches, but fundamentally the thing that was different was the approach to risk. And why can we not take that more   balanced and sensible approach to risk, which w which is what I think I saw the military do on operations and why, and, and do more to, to do that in our decision-making here. And I think that’s what we’re trying to. Really focus on and bring to life, whether that’s in the way that we make commercial decisions, whether that’s in the way that we think about legal risk.One of the things I spent quite a lot of time  doing at various points is thinking about the legal risk on operations. And as long as there was a case to be made, then, then we could make the case to ministers. That’s just not the way we do it. When we’re looking at the legal risk on a contract.

[00:13:51] For example, I think there’s a huge amount to learn.

[00:13:53]Frosty: [00:13:53] It’s interesting. What you say about how, you know, being able to take that adult approach to risk on [00:14:00] operations. I mean, at the risk of sounding like I’m spinning war stories. Absolutely I don’t mean to, but as a platoon commander on. In a position where I could take those sorts of risks.

[00:14:08] I was able to expend an awful lot of money very quickly if it was in something that we had already purchased. Right. So if it was a javelin missile or an awful lot of indirect fire or direct fire, I can expend hundreds of thousands of pounds in a short period of time. But if I wanted to spend cash, that was harder.

[00:14:26] And is that something you think the military struggles with is understanding. Risk with money and being willing to take risks with money. And I’m sure many people listening will, will recognise that, you know, if they, they had their civil military cooperation teams, they’d have to fill out all sorts of forms to spend a few hundred dollars on a well say, but they could take it throw a few, couple of smoke grenades and spend twice that money in seconds.

[00:14:51]And is that, is that a problem you recognise with the Ministry of Defence.

[00:14:56] Clare: [00:14:56] I think, I think that problem that you’ve just described [00:15:00] is, is about that delegation and empowerment you were talking about. So as the platoon commander, you had absolutely that delegated authority to, to use what munitions you needed, because that was in order to achieve your mission and do and do what it was and do whatever you needed to do, particularly if it was in kind of to defend yourselves.

[00:15:19] But then as soon as it was somehow the same delegated authority, hadn’t come down in terms of the, of spending cash to build a well, and what  an extraordinary contradiction. And that’s where our, and our processes weren’t aligned. And I, that those contradictions, without doubt still still apply.

[00:15:38]And I’m sure there’s all sorts of good examples that might probably still exist in the kind of exercising arena. But. So we, we, that financial risk and delegation, it’s so essential for innovation. And we’ve just, I promise you having this debate day in, day out as kind of the outcomes and the spending review kind of gets get, get [00:16:00] decided How can we delegate to the lowest sensible level of authority, these decisions, and how can we really make the case that we will not be able to innovate the way we need to, if we don’t change this.

[00:16:12]And, and it’s really hard when the financial realities sort of bite. And we really, and it’s also really hard when we need to. Change our relationships, essentially with the treasury in order to get these authorities. And that trust that’s required, which actually comes to a, a kind of central point of all of this, which is the trust.

[00:16:35] And you can use another buzz word of empowerment, but essentially it’s trust. But if there isn’t the trust, then you’re not going to get the delegated authority, whether it’s financial or commercial, anything else. And we need to build that. Across the system, which is obviously easier, said than done

[00:16:53]Frosty: [00:16:53] You were, if  You were a Defence prime contractor who, or any business looking to work with the MOD from [00:17:00] outside, looking in, what do you think their biggest concerns or challenges would be doing that, that delegated or authority issue you just talked about?

[00:17:09] What would be something that they’d be concerned about?

[00:17:12] Clare: [00:17:12] You’ve asked me what they would say first, before what I’d say. And so I think that their view, which I have heard from the horse’s mouth, a number of times you would imagine them they, they see that industry and MOD aren’t collaborating well and not well enough to to take advantage of the developments in technology, which is obviously the pace of change means that we all need to operate it. And industry recognises that it needs to change as well as Defence needing to change. I think it’s, I think it’s fair to say. I think they get so frustrated that the MOD is so fragmented.

[00:17:46]They see duplication of effort and kind of inefficient approaches. And I think that wastes their time and our time and that, and that’s very frustrating. There there’s a kind of slight [00:18:00] dis-incentivisation from them because of course it can, it can waste our time, but it can, it can, it can be beneficial for them.

[00:18:07] So we just got to work that through. And of course the other thing they’d say is that they do need a fair return on their investment and that’s that’s business. And so that’s kind of building that into the model as we go forward. And this is of course, something that the forthcoming Defence and Security Industrial Strategy has been looking at very closely.

[00:18:27] And hopefully we’ll have some new ways of working, which will begin to get after some of this.

[00:18:32]Frosty: [00:18:32] Almost all innovation books and articles mentioned the willingness to take risk as a cornerstone for success.

[00:18:38] And we’ve talked in this already about the willing about risk and about acceptance of risk on operations and back home. I mean, most parts of the military, I suppose, wider Defence as a whole learn about managing risk. And certainly in the Army, we talk about, you know, controlling likelihood, mitigating impacts that sort of stuff.

[00:18:59]So [00:19:00] if we’re, there’s a bit of a paradox here and how do you think that’s balanced when we’re trained to reduce risk, but we need to take risks.

[00:19:10] Clare: [00:19:10] So I think it’s a really good question. The macro example I was thinking of when I was thinking about his question was actually the response the department as a whole  is kind of having to the Haddon – Cave enquiry into the Nirmrod crash.

[00:19:24] Where I think we’re now largely lots of people are of the view that we’ve overcooked it. We’ve gone too far into the risk averse way. And we’ve got to kind of move the dial back again. And obviously that was a very tagic incident. But at the same time we have to have proportionate responses to it all because otherwise we can’t do our jobs.

[00:19:46] So I think it probably is a paradox.  I’m not sure I’ve got a clever answer to it. I think the clever answer is you’ve got to, I’m a pragmatist and we’ve got to be  pragmatic. And if you’re really properly looking at risk, you’re looking at. What can’t be done as well as what can be done.

[00:19:59] So if you, if [00:20:00] you are mitigating risks so far that actually you’re losing the opportunity, then that’s got to be part of the risk judgment. And, and so much of it is about kind of making conscious decisions, having, having the information you need and having that approach of needing to get needing, to get things done as well as reducing risk and.

[00:20:19] And I think that example of  legal risk on operations. Well, sometimes we take a huge amount of legal risk because we needed to do what we needed to do. And there was a risk that we would be go to court and there was a risk that we would have been found unlawful, but that was a risk the ministers were prepared to take in order for us to achieve what we needed to achieve. So there are risks that we just need to live with.

[00:20:40]Frosty: [00:20:40] I was pleased to hear you bring up opportunity because I think a lot of people can forget that with any risk, there should be opportunity.

[00:20:48]Clare: [00:20:48] It’s all about achieving something. And that has the opportunity. So if the opportunity is for us to. I don’t know, take this idea, spend half a million quid if to do [00:21:00] it really fast and take the opportunity because there’s an SME that as a small business that is, is going to go under.

[00:21:06] If we don’t really get on with it. Well, come on and let’s just find a way of being able to, to use that money more quickly and find the route through interminable approvals. Such that actually somebody somewhere kind of relatively junior in the system can make a sensible decision to take that, take that opportunity with a risk of it being seen to be financially mismanaged or what, or commercially unsensible or whatever it happens to be written off, I guess managed, managed, but taken

[00:21:33] Frosty: [00:21:33] So opportunity would be a good time to talk about your silver bullet.

[00:21:38] So Claire , you’ve got, you’ve got one silver bullet. You can change one rule or one system. One change that would make your organisation or the wider MOD better able to deliver its key outputs and better able to innovate by instincts. What would you use that silver bullet on?

[00:21:56]Clare: [00:21:56] It really is very silver.

[00:21:58] My bullet, [00:22:00] because I think I would use it to generate trust throughout the system, across the Services between Defence and the centre of  government and between Defence and industry. If one bullet can achieve that I’d be amazed.

[00:22:20]Right to me, that would really transform everything the world would be  our oyster with  I think if we achieved that.

[00:22:26] Frosty: [00:22:26] Fair enough.

[00:22:27] Thanks very much Clare.

[00:22:29]This podcast series is sponsored by the British Army Innovation Team. This team is set up to encourage and facilitate innovation across the Army and supports wider Defence initiatives too.  One of their, projects, The Army BattleLab, is due to open this year in the South West of England. If you would like further information about this project, why not get in touch directly with the team via the show notes?

[00:22:53] Remember to subscribe to the Wavell Room through whoever your podcast provider is and comment and give us a [00:23:00] rating too.


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