Elizabeth Hogden

Elizabeth Hogben

Head of Science and Innovation (Japan), British Embassy Tokyo

Part of Global Science and Innovation Network

21st November 2016 Tokyo

The network that puts British science and innovation on the map

From sniffer bees to inflatable incubators, shaking hands with robots and with royalty, a job in the UK Government’s global Science and Innovation Network is never dull. Made up of 90 staff based in British Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates, the network helps build research and innovation partnerships with more than 30 countries around the world.

I am based in the British Embassy in Tokyo and have a background working on science and engineering issues in the civil service and in the food industry. People in the network have a wide variety of backgrounds, from professional diplomats to locally employed staff with rich experience of a particular area of science or technology in academia, industry or the public sector.

Steve Thompson, Science and Innovation officer at the British High Commission in Wellington, has been in the network almost 10 years. He had a highly international career previously as Director General of Research in Canada, CEO of NZ’s science funding agency, and CEO of the Royal Society of New Zealand. “I have had a life-long curiosity about why things work and how we can use that knowledge.”

Cate Setterfield, Science and Innovation Officer, British High Commission Canberra, is one of the newest members of the network. “My background is in communications and public policy. Most recently I worked in science and innovation policy at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. I also worked as a journalist and had a stint doing communications for Australia’s chief scientist.”

A background in science or engineering is useful but the essential characteristics are a passion for science and engineering, a deep appreciation of what it can do and an ability to communicate this.  Tom Crawley, Senior Science and Innovation Officer at the British High Commission in Singapore, suggests “you need an understanding of the intersections between science, engineering and policy; whether that’s specific issues such as antimicrobial resistance, or the links between science and engineering and economic growth. Diplomacy is essentially about to creating and developing international partnerships.” Cate Setterfield also notes “my policy and communications background means I have a good network of contacts and am experienced in writing material that is free from jargon.”

Connections are the key

The network covers a wide range of science and engineering areas. Gareth Davies, Head of Science, Innovation and Energy at the British Embassy Seoul, explains “the spectrum of subjects that SIN officers cover means that we have to be generalists and we usually cannot go too deep into the science or engineering of every project or activity we support. Our role is as a facilitator, supporting UK researchers to reach out and connect to people and organisations with common research interests and ambitions.”

Promoting UK as an innovative country open to international partnerships has never been more important. Despite each team being quite small (often just one or two staff), the network is hugely influential. This is thanks to the quality of staff but also close working with partner organisations based in the same location (such as Department for International Trade and British Council). We share knowledge and experience across the network and maintain strong links to the ‘hub’ in London (based in our home departments of FCO and BEIS).

A network for impact

Working as a network is critical to making an impact. From raising awareness of the growing risk of antibiotic resistance in bacteria around the world, through to environmental issues and cyber security, SIN staff work with colleagues from the Foreign Office and other government departments to help tackle major global challenges.

When the UK Government made tackling dementia a key priority of its G8 Presidency in 2013, the network came together to find ways to engage younger generation in their countries. From initial efforts from teams in Canada, Japan and Europe, the initiative has grown into a global movement. Mario Rivero-Huguet is a Senior Science and Innovation Officer in Montreal. “Thanks to the SIN’s outreach and access to global networks, the World Young Leaders in Dementia (WYLD) has expanded beyond the G7 and European Union, and now counts members as far afield as Vietnam, Nigeria, New Zealand and Argentina.”

Mikael Allan Mikaelsson is a Science & Innovation Policy Advisor in the British Embassy Stockholm and also one of the network’s Regional Leads for Energy. “I am proud to work in the area of low carbon innovation to address climate change, to help build international partnerships and see these come into effect.  SIN’s work with UK stakeholders also helped to inform the UK Government’s international strategy on low carbon innovation. The network made an important contribution to developing Mission Innovation, the historic international framework agreed at COP21 in Paris last December.

In the last few years the network has also been at the forefront of relationships with developing countries, through initiatives such as the Newton Fund, positioning the UK as a leading partner for these countries as they use science to further their development.

Let us take you to the cutting edge

The work is incredibly rewarding. Science and innovation is an inherently forward-looking, optimistic endeavour, which makes it a very motivating area in which to work. There can’t be many jobs where you are invited to travel at 500km/h on the MagLev test track through the beautiful mountains of Yamanashi, or drink tea with talking robots at the G7 Science and Technology Ministers meeting in Tsukuba. Tom Crawley explains “Every day brings some new way in which we could bring people together to develop solutions which improve peoples’ lives, or strengthen our economies.”

Rhona McDonald, Deputy Director for Science and Innovation covering the West Coast of the USA, has experienced the weird and the wonderful. “Stand out moments have ranged from advising a US company that collects cadavers for medical research how they could expand into the UK to working with the US national ignition facility where they filmed some of the last Star Trek.”

Part of our role is to promote UK strengths to potential commercial partners or investors.

We often cover very broad thematic areas, which mean that we get to see new technologies across many fields that are often years away from commercial readiness, but that are potentially game changing, as well as those that are close to market and ready to make a difference now.

In Japan, I have had the privilege of working with some amazingly energetic and dedicated UK visitors. Young entrepreneurs like James Roberts (inventor of the MOM inflatable incubator), Joel Gibbard and Samantha Payne of Open Bionics (a robotics start-up developing low cost prosthetic hands) have captivated Japanese audiences at our events to promote British innovation.

It is hard not to be a little bit star-struck at the Science and Technology in Society Forum, an annual gathering of international science leaders in Kyoto. Where you might be eating your bento box lunch across the table from Shinya Yamanaka, pioneer of advanced therapies using stem cells, or Hiroshi Amano whose work on LEDs has led to cheaper, safer, more environmentally friendly lighting. Japan is second only to US for the number of Nobel prizes awarded this century – a reminder of the value of UK researchers being able to connect with talent from around the world.

Gareth Davies sums it up “I am quite simply astounded by what the human mind can conceive. To know that my colleagues and I in the SIN Network have played even the tiniest part of making these breakthroughs and technologies possible by supporting the international collaborations behind them is something for which I feel often immensely honoured.”

I am immensely proud of what we achieve as a network and feel very lucky to have been able to do this job for the last 3 and a half years. I hope this blog will help civil servants (and other people interested in international science and innovation) understand what we do, why we do it and get in touch to work with us

If you would like more information about Science and Innovation Network activities, click here. Subscribe to the FCO blog for more updates on UK’s global science and innovation activities.

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