Tag Archives: University of Oxford.

From our President: The importance of innovation

Even the University of Oxford now recognises the importance of innovation. Of course, the University has long been innovative and innovating in the sense of creating inventions and academic breakthroughs. But seeing these through to new products and processes was not necessarily the University’s thing. Indeed, it has long been a criticism of the UK’s economic and corporate makeup that we have been good at inventing, but if you wanted to see the inventions put to profitable use one needed to go to the US, Germany, Japan or China.

But the University’s own spin-out organisation, Isis Innovation, is now held in high regard globally. Many of the University’s degree programmes are both innovative in their design and also teach various aspects of innovation, such as the Master’s in Evidence-Based Health Care. And the University recently convened a high-level Working Group with representatives from other leading universities globally that suggested various ways in which the ‘innovation agenda’ might be usefully taken forward.

For my part, with Professor Ulrich Hilpert of the University of Jena in Germany, I’m convening a two-day conference at Kellogg on how public and corporate policy might best promote innovation, drawing on the experience and expertise of leading Germany industrialists and trade unionists, as well as other experts from across the globe. The papers will be considered for publication in a special issue of the Academy of Social Sciences’ journal, Contemporary Social Sciences.

To be held at Kellogg College on February 17-18, this is an invitation-only event, but anyone who would like to be included, please let me know. Papers are welcome that explore diversities of innovation – both product and process – across countries and industries; that consider the roles of personal, corporate, institutional and government activities in promoting innovation; and that explore Innovation as the outcome of human labour and of the relationships between individuals and groups.

Particular topics of interest include, inter alia, labour and labour markets; culture as a basis for divergent opportunities; continental division of modes of innovation; metropolitan industrial policy; regionalisation of innovation; the relation between innovative industries and the services they require; the role of government for innovation; modes of innovation as science-based, technology-based and tradition based; knowledge for innovation, including scientific and ‘blue collar’; islands of innovation; sectors, industries and history; education as a basis of innovation; and governmental structures (including federal vs. centralized) as an important issue for developing appropriate innovation.

Soundly empirically based papers are preferred, although high quality scholarly essays will also be considered.

Jonathan Michie,
January 2015

Follow Jonathan on Twitter @Jonathan_Michie

“I’m not in Kansas anymore, but I feel at home”

Amanda Shriwise at the Gaudy Dinner, September 2014

Amanda Shriwise at the Gaudy Dinner, September 2014

Kellogg student Amanda Shriwise is studying for a DPhil in Social Policy. In this article, Amanda shares her experiences of life in Oxford and what it means to her to be a student at Kellogg College.

It was rather hard not to be aware of Oxford’s history  of academic excellence  when I applied to read for an MPhil in Social Policy  over four years ago.  However, I began to realise how truly special this place is when a friend of a friend  at Oxford sent me a book in the post upon hearing that I was offered a place. The book was entitled ‘Oxford: an architectural guide’, which
seemed like a sensible reading suggestion before turning up in the ‘city of dreaming spires’. But the connections run deeper than that. The book was written by Geoffrey Tyack, a fellow of Kellogg College. As fate would have it, Kellogg became my college home for both my MPhil and now my DPhil studies. Further still, I have had the pleasure of meeting Professor Tyack and following him on a tour of both Oxford and Kellogg’s grounds, and the friend of a friend who sent me the volume is now a dear friend of my own. I could not have foreseen any of this when I received the book in the post, but I sensed that my life had changed when I opened the package.

During my time at Oxford, Kellogg has been the point of origin of many such connections. Just a few weeks ago, I reminisced with a fellow Kellogg alum at a conference in San Francisco over the whereabouts of those who attended an American-style Thanksgiving dinner in what
was then my basement flat in Kellogg’s accommodation at No. 7 Bradmore Road. Every time I walk by Christ Church, I remember meeting other Kellogg women (more than one of whom has now rowed for the University) at Tom Gate for an early morning rowing outing. While submitting paperwork at Oriel College last spring, I opened an office door and was pleasantly surprised to find the first person I met at Kellogg upon arrival several years before. Over dinner at Kellogg, I met the Vice-Chancellor, who happened to know a couple of chemistry professors from my undergraduate home in Kansas. Experiences like these have presented opportunities to repeatedly connect my past with the present, which makes me feel at home.
Serving as Kellogg’s MCR President in 2011-12 gave me the opportunity to aid in facilitating these connections, which I believe are at the heart of why Kellogg is such an outstanding community. It was a pleasure and privilege, topped only by how rewarding it has been to watch the student body continue to thrive under strong leadership in the years to follow. While I realise that 25 years amounts to a rather miniscule amount of time in the life of an Oxford college, my experience serving in this capacity made me realise just how much we have to celebrate in this year’s anniversary. Some might be inclined to attribute this overly celebratory (and dare I say emotional) instinct to my American roots. While this may not be an entirely unreasonable assessment, I believe the cause for celebration is based in something more substantial. Since 1990, the College has moved to its current site and has continued to expand, accommodation has been added and refurbished, the number of fellows and students, both full and part-time has increased, research and financial support for students has grown, and it has continued to further its commitment to life-long learning – all while holding seminars, conferences, formal meals, and even an annual ball!

As the college grows in numbers and years, I hope that it continues to deeply value and foster the connections that it facilitates by remaining organised around the notion of home: a place open to all of its family members both past and present; a place where we thrive, make mistakes and continue to learn and grow as individuals; a place that encourages curiosity and an eagerness to make a contribution to something bigger than oneself. I am very grateful for the rich connections, friends as dear as family, and the home I found at Kellogg, and I look forward to seeing how it carries on in the years ahead.

Amanda Shriwise

A Word from our President – Supporting Research Students

Oxford is putting increasing emphasis and resources into doctoral training, with impressive success in attracting additional national funding towards this end.  I’m delighted to say that Kellogg fellows have been at the forefront of these successful developments.  Most impressive during the past academic year has been Oxford’s success in winning Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funding for new Centres for Doctoral Training, including Kellogg Fellows Andrew Martin for Cyber Security and Niki Trigoni for Autonomous Intelligent Machines and Systems, as well as the continued success and development of Charlotte Deane’s Centre for Systems Approaches to Biomedical Science.

The Medical Science Division’s Clinical Graduate School is led by Kellogg Fellow Chris Pugh, and the Social Sciences Division has just launched a centre for doctoral training, led by Kellogg Fellow David Mills.  The Continuing Education Graduate School is led by Kellogg Fellow Adrian Stokes, and this welcomes research students from across the University to its events and activities – which of course are designed to suit part-time students with other demands on their time – but in practice this description often applies to full-time graduates students in other departments, so it is no surprise to see them attracted to events put on to cater to those with busy lives.  Indeed, the Social Sciences doctoral training centre is developing online research methods material in collaboration with Continuing Education, and this is being led by Martin Ruhs – another Kellogg Fellow.

Of course, these developments are departmentally based, but the new centres for doctoral training did have to receive backing from colleges as part of their funding bids, and Kellogg was pleased to agree to give such support.

We look forward to welcoming students at these centres to Kellogg, and to hosting many of the seminars, workshops, conferences and training events that the centres for doctoral training will be organising.

As a graduate college we have a particular duty and interest in supporting graduate students.  And as the primary collegiate base for the University’s part-time graduate students, we have a mission to ensure that part-time students receive the very best Oxford experience.  It is thus no accident that Kellogg fellows have been working so hard – and successfully – at improving Oxford’s support for research students, both full-time and part-time.

Jonathan Michie

For the Sake of Argument

When Professor Jeremy Gibbons presented a seminar on his work to the College last year I joked with him that he was suggesting we should hang a notice over the door to the college: “Let none ignorant of logic enter here”. Indeed, we have many Fellows and students within the College who are associated with the Software Engineering programme run out of the University of Oxford’s Department of Computer Science – a department that is renowned for the development and practical application of formal, logical methods. Such disciplines may seem esoteric to you only until you realise that they are often at the core of the security of your payment cards and to the safety of complex systems such as aircraft and medical devices. You have almost certainly trusted both your life and your wallet to those ‘esoteric’ logics practiced with such diligence on Parks Road.

However, I intend here to take a somewhat contrarian view to my colleagues on the Software Engineering programme (and only partly to provoke them into a response). I have a view that logic is the lesser form of argument; that logic sits at a lower rank in the trivium than that occupied by rhetoric. After all, is not logic really more than repeated tautology? A sufficiently smart person does not need the mathematical proof, since the truth or falsehood of the conclusion is entailed immediately from the premise: TRUE = TRUE. I am thinking here perhaps of Srinivasa Ramanujan who seemingly without effort created mathematical theorems of the most wonderfully beautiful and yet (to folk like me) incomprehensible kind.

Image One

(We shall, of course, forgive the great Ramanujan for being a fellow of The Other Place)

However, such things are beyond me. And therefore, since I cannot prove a logician to entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villein. As I shall explain.

The greater form of discourse, and that which is practiced most frequently within the walls of this University, is that of Defeasible Argumentation. A defeasible argument is one in which two equally intelligent, informed and ethical individuals may reasonably come to a different conclusion.

My current research interest spans these two great edifices of argumentation: Computation on the one side and defeasible argumentation on the other. I have found that the unfurrowed middle ground between disciplines can often be the most easily productive – fertilized as it is by great minds in both fields but otherwise left available for opportunistic cultivation by us farmers of lesser degree. Those who know me will be aware that I hold three university degrees in four different subjects – almost certainly because I was unable to muster sufficient skill in any of those subjects to ‘go the whole way’. Still, I have made a useful career of transferring knowledge from experts in one discipline to those of another – making such translations of language and metaphor as were required by the circumstance.

I recall, that after I handed in the first written product of my Doctorate my supervisor pointed out of the window with a sigh. “Do you know what that building is?” He said.

“The library?” I hesitantly replied. For, after all, it was most familiar to me – had I not walked past it many times on my way to the Student Union bar during my three years at that university as an undergraduate?

“You and it need to become better acquainted.” he said, insightfully but rather hurtfully in my view.

I had not become terribly familiar with the inside of the Library as an undergraduate. On the first day of a Physics Bachelors Degree one may acquire a copy of some large tome containing hundreds of pages of impenetrable mathematics and diagrams. A good exemplar of this being Eisberg and Resnick’s “Quantum Physics of Atoms, Molecules, Solids, Nuclei and Particles”  (although I am now horrified to read one of its reviewers describes this as largely free of mathematics. Time may have taken its toll – but I do not recall it having been so). With diligence the more enthusiastic and able student might read most of such a book by the time they graduate (although comprehend rather less of it). You may understand why the thought that one’s fellow students in their studies of literature, philosophy and the arts might consume not just ‘some’ but ‘many’ books is a source of great consternation to us ‘hard scientists’.

Amongst the many benefits for my fellow students of consuming knowledge in such a voracious manner was not only their absorption of the facts of the matter, but also the process of reasoning by which such arguments are formed and communicated. That is, the development of the acuity of mind that would allow them to obtain some better understanding of truth in the face of partial, incomplete and occasionally erroneous premises.

In struggling up the rather Sisyphean intellectual ladder of writing my own PhD thesis, I finally myself gained some semblance of skill in making coherent arguments. Having experienced such torture myself, it is not then surprising that I now enjoy imposing the strictures of intellectual rigour on my own students. (I can do so with a clear conscious since I know it to be both for their benefit and certainly for that of their future employers and associates). That pleasure has been marred only occasionally by an incoherent, vacuous or spurious written arguments within an assignment submission. Still, I cheer myself in the long cold evenings of winter with the thought that if one could not fail student assessments then there would be little point, nor pleasure in setting and marking them.

My principle discipline is now Complex Systems Engineering. Thus, inevitably, my interest has turned to the tools, methods and processes by which we, who have not been blessed with an education in the arts, may better practice the disciplines of coherent argument. A primary source in the understanding of such methods is that of the work of Steven Toulmin, and in particular his 1958 work “The Uses of Argument”. In that treatise Toulmin introduces a model of defeasible argumentation which may be illustrated thus:

Image two

Such diagrams intrigued me from the start. They have much in common with the semi-formal, diagrammatic ‘languages’ such as ‘UML’ and ‘sysML’ which I present as an element of the course on Systems Engineering I teach through the Department for Continuing Education. But in this case, they do not represent the structure or behaviour of a complex piece of technology, but the structure of an argument.

I first employed such diagrammatic models to address a problem we have in the development of large-scale, complex systems; that of explanation.  For, whilst engineers are normally skilled in documenting the design of a complex system, they often fall short in an explanation of why things are they way they are. This is important, since these large systems are often constructed by hundreds of people from different disciplines working in parallel. If these disparate individuals do not understand the ‘why’ they may easily undermine the solution through the course of the systems life.

The diagramming notation I invented (The ‘Essential Logic Model’ or ELM) uses a form of graphical argumentation to explain the design. An ELM ‘tells the story’ of why a system is the way it is.

More recently I set out to plough an adjacent field; the intersection between the modelling methods and tools of Systems Engineering and that of Business Strategy. The method developed as part of that work is called ‘PESTLEWeb’. PESTLEWeb is intended to help people understand and communicate the context for business strategy development. It uses a form of visual argumentation to explain how issues in the business environment have impacts on emerging business strategy. Such diagrams are most usefully created in a collaborative manner. Thus, in order to better understand how such collaboration might be facilitated I developed the PESTLEWeb.com website to enable users to create and share models. The theory and some of the research behind this work is available in my thesis on PESTLEWeb.

Image three

The latest incarnation of this technology is called it-will-happen.com – which uses visual argumentation to help individuals and teams think-through their route to a specific objective.

Key research questions here revolve around how such tools should be designed. They have to be approachable and must require little learning to be effective. They must be ‘intuitive’ and yet they are intended to move the user towards more rigorous thinking through visual explanation and argument. Another important question is now ‘knowledge’ can be abstracted from any individual diagram to provide a library of reusable information. That is, how they can be used to mine ‘the wisdom of crowds’ – the collective intelligence of a group. In this, the research moves by a circuitous amble back into the fields of computation and statistics and the tools of what, in common parlance, is called ‘big data’. And so, I have been there and back again; from logic to defeasible argumentation and thence finally to return to computation.

Finally, I wonder if I should revisit my proposition to Professor Gibbons; that above our door we should not exhort our members towards logic but to coherent argument and explanation. After all, there is much to be had of both within Kellogg College.

Dr Rob Collins, February 2014

About the author:

Dr Robert Collins is a Visiting Fellow of Kellogg College and has been teaching on the MSc in Software Engineering at the University of Oxford for the past 10 years. He also teaches the Systems Engineering Fast-Track course through the Department for Continuing Education.

Welcome to the Kellogg Blog


A rainbow over Kellogg College, January 2014

The Kellogg Blog is intended to provide insight into the intellectual activities and the expertise of fellows, students, staff, and friends of Kellogg College, University of Oxford.

In particular, the Kellogg Blog is a forum for expressing opinions, ideas and experiences relating to life at Kellogg – in order to give prospective applicants, colleagues and the wider academic community a more rounded appreciation of life in College. The blog is also a forum in which to share insights and opinions, enhance debate and provide a platform for discussion of important questions for researchers, academics and students across the breadth of academic disciplines that Kellogg represents.