Celebrating Birkbeck’s TRIGGER project

Lucy Tallentire from the School of Business, Economics and Informatics reports on a celebration event for the TRIGGER project (Transforming Institutions by Gendering Contents and Gaining Equality in Research) – which aims to increase the number of women in university sectors where they are underrepresented.trigger850x450On Wednesday 21 June, the Birkbeck TRIGGER team held a special event of celebration, discussion and networking at BMA House, to mark an end to the four year research project. The event provided an opportunity to share with an audience of friends, supporters and collaborators the team’s final research findings, and hear from external guests from various fields within academia and business on the challenges and successes of gender equality initiatives.

Since its inception in January 2014, TRIGGER has produced vital research to support the increasing presence of women in higher education and business where they are underrepresented. The applied project – a partnership between institutions in the Czech Republic, France, Italy and Spain – has considered and developed initiatives to foster organisational change by promoting the role of women in research and academia, in STEM subjects and in management positions.

A Legacy of Mentoring and Leadership

In his welcome address, Professor David Latchman, Master of Birkbeck College, praised the innovative nature of TRIGGER, which has helped the College to rethink the way it approaches equality through Athena SWAN more broadly, too: “While this celebration marks the end of the TRIGGER project, it is important to note that the initiatives the team have introduced, such as College-wide mentoring and carefully tailored leadership seminars, will go on past the life of the scheme itself.” As Chair of the College’s Athena SWAN committee, Professor Latchman went on to describe the transformative influence that the mentoring programme has had on women academics at Birkbeck, especially on early career researchers.

The TRIGGER project team then took to the stage to present on the following areas of research and impact:

  • Networking
  • Academic Mentoring
  • Rethinking Research Methods to Investigate Sex Differences
  • Commercialisation of the work of women scientists
  • Gender cultures in research and science
  • Gender and Leadership

Each member of the team reflected on the outcomes of their individual part in the project, and on how these outcomes were both impactful and applicable. The project’s focus group sessions, for example, provided a platform to hear the personal experiences of women and men in the institution to analyse the way in which the infrastructure could better support and maintain gender equality in the workplace. Similarly, panel events with external collaborators in London, Dundalk, Lund and Pisa built on internal discussions and offered insight into how these initiatives could be transformed and applied to fit in with organisations beyond Birkbeck.triggerFollowing their research dissemination, a panel of experts in their respective fields of academia and industry were given a chance to react to these findings and comment on their own experiences.

Among concerns such as the gender pay gap, lack of support following a career break, and ‘the glass ceiling, the issue most frequently addressed by the panel was that of unconscious bias, and the need to step away from calling it ‘a woman’s problem’.  Gemma Irvine, Head of Policy and Strategic Planning at the Higher Education Authority in Ireland, described the effect of this on a woman as ‘not a lack of confidence in herself, but a lack of confidence in the organisation to treat them fairly and provide the right infrastructure for change. Unconscious bias is not something that can only be fixed by women – but those who have privilege are often blind to it.’

What can we learn from the TRIGGER project?

Simply recognising unconscious bias does not remove it from the system – and as a society, we must work day-to-day to chance the deeply entrenched stereotypes and imbalances. We need skilled leaders – both men and women to advocate for leadership for women – but there is also a need for women to identify role models, and aspire to the next stage in their career. The TRIGGER project has demonstrated the power of mentoring and of networks, but also the value of a balanced network; while women do not network as readily as men, removing all men from women’s networking opportunities is not a solution to the problem.

Ultimately, the short and intermediate changes, or outcomes, are not enough; we must strive for impact, changes in decision making and a culture shift to a ‘no closed doors’ policy for men and women. Only in collaboration with projects such as TRIGGER can we achieve broader changes within research and industrial communities and wider society. We must stop treating the symptoms of gender equality and start identifying and chipping away at the foundation of the problem to make a change.

The TRIGGER team would like to thank the panel, audience and its many international supporters for their work over the last four years. Find out more about TRIGGER on their website.

Many thanks to all the panelists:

  • David Stringer-Lamarre, Fortis Consulting/Chairman, IoD City of London
  • Amanda Bennett, Fairplay Enterprises Ltd
  • Sally Hardy, Regional Studies Association
  • Aggie Cooper, Aramco UK Ltd
  • Dr Gemma Irvine, The Higher Education Authority, Dublin
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Applying Big Data to Economics

Lucy Tallentire from the School of Business, Economics and Informatics at Birkbeck and CSIS PhD candidate Seongil Han report on a recent conference at the Birkbeck Centre for Data Analytics (BIDA).bidaWhat can we learn from Big Data, and how can Big Data analytics be applied to the field of Economics? These were just some of the questions answered by a one-day conference held by Birkbeck Institute for Data Analytics (BIDA) on Monday 5 June. The event was organised in collaboration with the Department of Economics, Mathematics and Statistics, to bring together researchers from statistics, applied mathematics, computer science, finance and economics to enhance the research environment and promote cross-disciplinary collaboration within the College, and with a wider external audience.

Birkbeck’s Professor Stephen Wright kicked off proceedings with an insightful presentation on the application of Big Data to large-scale surveys and maps. In his research project of residential land supply in 27 EU countries, he examines sources such as Google Maps, ONS/Ordnance Survey and Open Street maps to explain large differences across EU countries and identify whether there are restrictions on residential land. Professor Wright concluded that a large proportion of the regional variation in supply of residential land in the EU can be explained econometrically and is very strongly determined by regional geography and history.

Guest speaker Giovanni Mastrobuoni, Professor of Economics in Department of Economics, University of Essex, provided a unique insight into the role of Big Data analytics on police patrols and crime. Based on recent evidence that police deployment reduces crime, the project was designed to identify whether the elasticity of crime with regard to policing remains the same, and whether it is worth randomly increasing mobile police presence in an area. The results suggest, however, that big data is only useful with good prior identification; elasticity is negligible if identification is low, and random mobile patrolling cannot reduce crime significantly.

The second part of the conference focused on big data in business, economy and strategy. Professor Roger Maull, from the Department of Digital Economy in University of Surrey, discussed business models in relation to the digital economy, introducing 3 new approaches to the economy for big data – digitisation, datafication and digitalisation. He explained business models with industry dynamics and emphasised the following qualities:

  • value proposition, or what the customer pays for;
  • value creation, or how one delivers what the customer pays for;
  • value capture, or how the customer pays for it.

Big data has allowed significant advancements in personalisation and customisation, which also link to HAT (Hub of All Things): an IT business services to store and customise the personal data, as a real business model for personal data.

Final speaker Ernesto Damiani, from the Etisalat British Telecom Innovation Centre, Abu Dhabi, introduced the prospect of big data analytics as a service. He started by highlighting the 5 Vs of big data:

  • Variety in analytics model: static ways vs dynamic ways;
  • Volume;
  • Velocity;
  • Value;

He also compared traditional analytics with big data analytics and explained a change in paradigm for data analytics, which is supported by the example of Google.

The conference succeeded in providing a comprehensive introduction to the many ways in which big data analytics, such as text mining techniques, can be applied to Economics and business. Big data analytics continue to attract a great deal of attention in academia and industry, with an increasing amount of unstructured data available on web; it is vital to apply big data analytics to various problems to supplement qualitative information to conventional descriptive analytics and infer the predictive analytics.

BIDA would like to thank the presenters and all those who attended for their insightful comments and discussion. You can find out more about the Birkbeck Institute for Data Analytics on their website.

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“Arsenal, Arsène, David Dein and Me” – An Interview with Alex Fynn

Ahead of an event with Alex Flynn, author of Arsènal: The Making of a Modern Superclub, at the Birkbeck Sports Business Centre on Monday 28 November, James Fisk from the School of Business, Economics and Informatics interviews the author

arsenals-business-strategyThe book provides a comprehensive overview of the modern era for Arsenal, what led you to write the book?

Most of my career was spent in advertising and then, subsequently, I moved in to sports marketing. In advertising I had been successful because I was comparatively honest and would tell clients what they should hear, rather than what they wanted to hear. Comparative honesty was a huge liability in football marketing with it being a cut-throat business. It was a difficult role to have. I enjoyed working for a number of clubs in the Premier League, the Football Association and the Football League, but to some extent I was a fish out of water. I advised people on what they needed to hear and so many of my consultancies were rather short-term. This was then exacerbated by UEFA and the Premier League who centralised control of marketing and I did less and less consultancy work.

I wanted to be involved in the game and so turned to writing about it, something I do because I enjoy it and have access to that milieu and, essentially, that’s why I’ve written about Arsène and Arsenal. Indeed, I was one of the first people in England to meet him, having met him in 1985 when he was still the manager of Monaco… and I’ve known David Dein for 50 years or so. The book was written because I had access to all the main protagonists and it’s an intriguing story to tell, something I did with co-author, Kevin Whitcher, who is a big Arsenal fan. I look at it from an objective point of view, whilst my co-author, who  is the editor of the fanzine ‘Gooner’, provides a far more subjective view. He has an unrivalled depth of understanding about his club and I have a breadth of experience working for other clubs and organisations in football so it makes for a good partnership.

What influence do you think the appointment of Arsène Wenger has had on English football?

An enormous influence! He was a revolutionary, changing the way the game was played, changing the way players prepared and trained. His influence on the contemporary game in England really cannot be underestimated. I think that the problem has been that other managers and clubs have copied his innovations and then evolved and advanced them in their own ways. Arsène can be stubborn and, perhaps, in this respect, hasn’t moved on as fast as he should have done. Although, I would consider him a football genius, as with any genius they can occasionally get things wrong; they need to be challenged and to have quality personnel to back them up – something many of the key Premier League managers he’s faced have had. Arsène’s not had substantive back-up, certainly not in the way Sir Alex Ferguson had at Manchester United.

Wenger introduced a paradigmatic shift within the English game, but where do Arsenal go from here? There are recurring jokes within the football fan community that Arsenal fans call for Wenger’s resignation periodically, following defeats to other big clubs. What does the future hold for Arsène and Arsenal?

Well, you’ll have to wind back a few years. You have to accept that the policy of the club is made by the owner and, this owner in particular (Stan Kroenke) really believes  in self-sufficiency – you spend only what you earn. This means not going into debt to win trophies and, for context, the last time Arsenal made a loss was back in 2002. They could have spent much more than they have done in recent times. Arsenal have somewhat reluctantly accepted that paying higher wages and transfer fees gives them a chance of success.

Again, it’s worth bearing in mind that, until recently, success for Arsenal was finishing in the top four and qualifying for the Champions League competition. But the bar Arsenal set in those early years of Wenger’s tenure was much higher, so today fans are left disappointed. HOWEVER, this season is the first in a long time that Arsenal have every position covered, something they’ve often lacked in previous campaigns, although they still lack enough World-Class players. I think it’s down to Wenger’s obstinacy, his desire to be successful without breaking the bank and fitting in with the owner and the boardroom culture at Arsenal. Whilst other clubs tend to prioritise prizes over profits, I think at Arsenal profits come before prizes.

The appointment of Wenger heralded an influx of foreign management talent into the Premier League. How do you think he’s influenced the FA and their appointments of the England national team manager?  

I think, in this context, it’s actually far more appropriate to discuss David Dein. He took the initiative to find Wenger and bring him to England. I think you could say that without Dein you’d have no Wenger. With no Wenger perhaps the Premier League wouldn’t have undergone the changes it has – at least not this quickly. Wenger really was revolutionary in those days; he was a target for the FA when they were looking for a manager. Of course, Dein’s remit was first and foremost Arsenal, but he is a big fan of English football and, when the FA came calling, he tactfully directed them away from Arsène Wenger and on to Sven Goran-Erikson, which wasn’t actually a bad move for the FA.

Now Dein is no longer at Arsenal and by Wenger’s side (although they are still friends and talk regularly). English football, and Arsenal in particular, have really felt the loss of David Dein. Arsenal have felt the loss in as much as Dein would have challenged them, his driving ethos was always to get a winning team. The irony, of course, is that to have an optimum business you really need a successful team.  And success means winning trophies and titles, or at least making a good fist of doing so

With regard to England, Dein has always been passionate about the national team, supported by strong club sides and in this respect, his loss has been that of both Arsenal and the England team. At the moment, the Premier League is not an English league, it’s an international competition that happens to be in England. We won’t ever have a strong national side as the league is dominated by foreign owners, coaches and players who, quite rightly prioritise their clubs.

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Can policy transform regions into entrepreneurship and innovation hubs?

This post was contributed by Helen Lawton Smith, professor of Entrepreneurship at Birkbeck’s Department of Management. Prof Lawton Smith attended a workshop – ‘Can Policy Transform Regions into Entrepreneurship and Innovation Hubs? Theory, Evidence and Practice’ – hosted by the college’s Centre for Innovation Management Research (CIMR) on Friday 4 December

Angel of the North - Image courtesy of Tom Blackwell under CC via Flickr.com

Angel of the North – Image courtesy of Tom Blackwell under CC via Flickr.com

The latest CIMR workshop brought together both those who design policies and those who analyse the policy making process. It hosted representatives from the north of England, suggested to be comparatively disadvantaged economically, and the prosperous south. International comparisons were offered to provide insight into what works in policy making and what should be avoided.

 

 

The speakers were

  • Professor Roy Sandbach, ‘Innovation North East… building regional prosperity’
  • Dr Elvira Uyarra, ‘Key challenges of ‘smart’ policies for regional transformation’
  • Dr Adrian Healy, ‘From principles to practices in Smart Specialisation: Lessons from European Regions’
  • Professor Bjorn Asheim, ‘Smart Specialisation – an innovation driven strategy for economic diversification’
  • Rupert Waters, ‘Challenges for policy-makers in Buckinghamshire’
  • Professor Jeremy Howells, ‘Innovation intermediaries and innovation: Changing dynamics and future perspectives’
  • Dr Federica Rossi, ‘Evaluating the performance of regional innovation intermediaries: insights from the experience of Tuscany’s “innovation poles”’
  • Dave Waller,’What makes a successful innovation ecosystem: great innovation and technology; great policies; plenty of investment funds; great culture or none of the above: just leave it to the market’
  • Dr Ana Colovic, ’Why are cluster policies created and how do they work? A comparison between Austria, France, Japan and Sweden’
  • Dr Rosa Fernandez, Chair of final discussion session

The following five themes were addressed throughout the day:

  1. Is it possible for regions to be transformed into Entrepreneurship and Innovation Hubs?

Policy makers everywhere are under pressure to transform lagging regions into leading centres of entrepreneurship, while continuing to support already successful areas of innovation. Roy Sandbach opened the workshop, drawing on the North East Strategic Economic Plan of 2013. The Plan encouraged the North East to ‘become an exemplar for open innovation and Smart Specialisation’, through innovation which would create economic value, social good or both. The Plan hoped to create the conditions and networked solutions to transform the region.

Other speakers argued that the role of policy is to develop new paths for policy, extend existing ones, and create an entrepreneurial state embedded in the economy. Jeremy Howells suggested that the role of policy makers is primarily to change the behaviour of firms, in order to convince them that it is in their interests to innovate.

Adrian Healy spoke on the political reality of delivering Smart Specialisation, using experience from a seven country FP7 Smart Specialisation Project. He argued that innovative and entrepreneurial regions develop independently of politics. Healy cited evidence from academic studies that 80% of economic growth is demand-led, so that only around 20% of structural change could be addressed by policies. He also suggested that policy can sometimes follow practice, such as when private sector developments are imitated by policies which provide supporting infrastructures. In addition, he argued that public procurement can have a crucial role in stimulating entrepreneurship. An example he gave of this was the North East subsea programme, which was not part of the regional development strategy.

Dave Waller also shared his own experience of local innovation policy and practice in England. He demonstrated the dissonance between local politics and economic theory, using an example from Oxfordshire. The result was wasted resources, duplication and fragmentation. Waller suggested more international benchmark evidence was required, building on work such as mapping research and innovation in Amsterdam.

The first theme was not without controversy therefore, and Sandbach concluded with a lesson for the Northern Powerhouse; ‘We must drive the Powerhouse as an economic vision fuelled by innovation rather than as a political item with insular, local devolution debates at the heart.’

  1. How important is analysis, international comparison and evaluation in developing appropriate policies?

In order to make effective policies, all the speakers agreed that policy makers need to be exceptionally focused on analysis. This might include analysing the national and regional context, the area’s potential for innovation, current programmes, global benchmarking, networks, entrepreneurial activity, university strengths or local corporate innovation strategies.

The workshop heard about geographical disparities, which result in varied difficulties for policy-makers in different regions. A major problem in the North East, for example, is that it has the lowest Business R&D expenditure in the UK and business formation rates have fallen by 10% in the past year. The North East is ranked lowest of 12 regions, and 89th in Europe on Attitude, Ability, Aspiration analysis, and thus presents a particular set of challenges. By contrast, London is ranked second on the 2014 Santander Enterprise Index. Analysis must also relate to the theoretical underpinnings of policy.

That there is a dialogue between academic practitioners and policy makers was very clear. Policy practitioners draw on academic theories (often developed by economic geographers) such as the theory of ‘anchor firms’. Anchor firms are different bases of analytic, symbolic and synthetic knowledge. Elvira Uyrrara argued that analysis should also relate to the formulation of programmes, including their scale of delivery and their tools for measuring and evaluating. She highlighted the diverse set of concepts that underpin Smart Specialisation and argued that the theoretical underpinnings are still in progress.

  1. What is the significance of Leadership, Engagement and Collaboration within and across regions?

There was a general consensus after Roy Sandbach’s presentation that the basis of an effective strategy relies on the set-up of a sound and inclusive governance structure. Entrepreneurial strategy requires a shared vision about the future of the region and the thorough integration of monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.

A contested issue, however, was whether Roy Sandbach was right to suggest that business leadership would always be the driving force in regional transformation, Bjorn Asheim argued that in some contexts, the public sector or universities can be directive. In some areas, it was claimed that local entrepreneurs were disinterested in the policy-making process, such as the SMEs in the North East.

In Europe, Smart Specialisation (SMART) is the single largest attempt at an orchestrated, supranational Innovation and Entrepreneurship strategy, which requires leadership, engagement and collaboration. Dave Waller, having faced the challenges of regional innovation strategies for Smart Specialisation, argued that SMART should be about addressing structural weaknesses and facilitating conversations between the right people.

SMART relies on networking, and the support of regional stakeholders. Elvira Uyrra pointed out that SMART has been criticised for not having a fully developed theoretical framework and for being too vague in terms of its target and mix of policies.

The points resonated with Jeremy Howells and Federica Rossi’s presentations on innovation intermediaries. Howells argued that intermediaries are a conceptual lens through which to view the dynamics and evolution of systems of innovation, and are of major policy significance as catalysts within a system.

Federica Rossi also identified intermediaries as important for changing the behaviour of firms and thus indirectly changing the capacity of regions to innovate. Using the case of Tuscany’s innovation poles, which aimed to provide a range of knowledge intensive business services and to strengthen the regional innovation system, she highlighted critical problems in evaluating interventions. These included a lack of sector differentiation, inadequate indicators and missing activities.

  1. What are the social and economic priorities of regional transformation?

Although innovation and job creation are obvious priorities of regional transformation, Bjorn Asheim highlighted other areas of focus, such as gender, migration and diversity. Adrian Healey also spoke about gender profiles of different sectors, as some are predominately male, and others dominated by women. It was concluded that equality of opportunity certainly needs to form part of any policy-making agenda.

Ana Colovic highlighted national differences in approaches to the design and implementation of cluster policies. She questioned whether cluster policies need to be designed if innovation is going well independently. In addition, she noted some of the challenges for policy makers in reality, such as considering whether all the policy tools available and variety of implementing agencies are made clear to actors. Colovic concluded by thinking about the contrasting budgets allocated in different countries for innovation strategies, and questioned what the appropriate level of budget would be to meet both local and national priorities.

  1. What would success look like?

Rosa Fernandez told the workshop that for Roy Sandbach, success would mean 60,000 new jobs created in the North East – but where would they come from? Dave Waller recognised success more in stronger leadership and governance, the development of useful tool kits, better spatial, temporal and more granular mapping of economic activity, and the application of Smart Specialisation principles to all aspects of EU programming.

Adrian Healey, on the other hand, measures success in terms of the gains made from shared governance, shared leadership, common objectives, overcoming fragmentation and getting beyond existing structures. He argued that success would rely on changing the mind-set of local authorities, as the only part of the system not fully connected is the public sector.

The biggest challenge for regions is to build capacity. However, as Henry Etzkowitz argued, the sheer scale of Silicon Valley’s financial and talent resources makes it difficult for Europe to compete. Maybe it need not all be bad news however, as the UK and Europe could yet be a Land of Opportunity.

Find out more

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