Report: 12th Social Study of ICT workshop (SSIT12)

Health Information Systems: Searching the Past – Finding a Future

Hosted by the London School of Economics on 18 April 2012, the 12th Social Study of ICT workshop (SSIT12) looked at the past and the future of Healthcare Information Technology (HIT). The workshop series is organised by the Information Systems and Innovation Group.

The keynote speakers focused on such questions as „how helpful is information technology for patients, practice, or payers?“ and „the important role of ‘open’“.  Both speakers, Ross Koppel, University of Pennsylvania, and Bill Aylward, Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Trust, highlighted the problem of closed systems and the feeling of being held hostage by HIT vendors.

Ross Koppel gave a lot of examples of bad UI design of healthcare information systems with sometimes deadly consequences, e.g., when the dosage is calculated wrongly. He showed how people work around software issues with again sometimes bad consequences for patients.  Bill Aylward then focused on ideas of openness and transparency in open source development and bug tracking as a way of dealing with quality issues. Developers and HIT users are often very far apart during software development. Open Eyes shows how to bring them closer together in an open source project.

For Bill Aylward HIT should be more like air traffic control software with problem-focussed user interfaces and swift response times. HIT instead has its data all over the place which requires its users to wait 2-6 minutes in average for just opening a patient record. His vision: an ecosystem of apps like on iOS devices such as the iPhone where data is shared but apps are independent.

The other speakers explored the „consequences of using electronic patient records in diverse clinical settings“ (Maryam Ficociello, Simon Fraser University), viewed „evaluation as a multi-ontological endeavour“ (Ela Klecun, LSE), and took us on a „Journey to DOR: A Retro Science-Fiction Story on researching ePrescribing“ (Valentina Lichtner, City University).  The last session closed with talks on „Real People, Novel Futures, Durable Presents“ (Margunn Aanestad, University of Oslo) and „Awaiting an Information Revolution“ (Amir Takian, Brunel University).

The speakers provided lots of evidence for the need of software that can explain (at least some of) the design rationale of the software engineer in order to bridge the gap between software engineer and user. Bringing them together like in the Open Eyes project is one way of dealing with the issue. But not all users can be included in the development. New users will not know about the design rationale and will not have access to the respective software engineers. This is where explanation-aware software design (EASD) comes into play. EASD aims at making software systems smarter in interactions with their users by providing such information as background information, justifications, provenance information.

Workshop programme


Report: CPHC conference and BCS symposium 2012

The annual Council of Professors and Heads of Computing (CPHC) conference and the annual research symposium of the BCS Academy from 10 to 12 April 2012 provided me with a lot of new insights in current issues and the structure of UK’s (computing) academia. (Thanks, Miltos, for your many explanations and your patience!) The event was hosted by the University of York.

A current hot topic for CPHC and BCS is Computing at School (CAS). Simon Humphreys, coordinator of the CAS initiative, and Simon Peyton-Jones, Chair of the board of members, reported on current developments. The working group is a grassroots movement supporting teachers of computing and ICT. It has currently  more than 1300 members, growing weekly, and is about to launch a computer science teachers association. Only recently the UK government has understood the difference between ICT and Computing and that learning how to use Excel etc. is not enough. This is quite similar to the situation in Germany where the German Informatics Society (GI e. V.) tried to make government (and journalists too, btw) learn this distinction for many years. Now, we, the computer science researchers and lecturers, can tell government what we expect students to know when they come to university. The problem is — and the discussion showed that quickly — we do not know yet what we deem essential, even though we agree on coding to be as an important basic skill as, for example, knowing basics in chemistry, physics, and mathematics. As the UK government wants to make changes effective already in September we need to act quickly. As universities can and should support schools in coming up with a curriculum, CAS is looking for partnering universities to help schools make better informed decisions on what and how to teach our subject.

➔  Todo: Check UWL’s involvement in local school development.

CPHC conference programme (pdf)BCS Academy Symposium programme (pdf)

Report: SciTech 2011 – Innovation UK

The SciTech 2011 conference at The Barbican conference centre in London was quite an interesting introduction to UK R&D and innovation. Especially the speakers in the morning session gave me a lot to think and learn (more) about.

Imran Khan—Director, Campaign for Science and Engineering in the UK—took a look at growth opportunities for UK High Tech exports with a focus on the BRIC nations. He stressed that High Tech companies rely on PhDs and that they know it. He made the point at the end of his talk that he thinks

„the sales of airwave spectrum for 4G telephony is science and engineering money and should be spent in science and engineering“.

Catherine Coates—Business Innovation Director, The Engineering and Phyiscal Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)—presented facts and figures on how research is funded by EPSRC. She pointed out that EPSRC wants to „make the UK the most dynamic and stimulating environment for research and innovation in the world“Some tools for that are Centres of excellence, EPSRC centres, Centres for doctoral training, and Industrial Doctorate centres (19 IDCs are currently funded). The UK, I learned, is the „most productive country in terms of citations achieved per £ invested“. EPSRC’s strategic goals: delivering impact, shaping capability, and developing leaders.

Stian Westlake—Policy and Research, National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA)—presented a plan for innovation. In his view measures need to put in place regarding „research funding, procurement for innovation, access to finance, education, immigration, evidence-based policy, making Europe a true single market for services“. The plan comprises only policies. It still leaves out politics. Here,

„we need to make politicians implement changes“

by showing them ways to gain something for themselves, thinking also in their time frames of four to five years. Politicians at the moment very well grasp that research and development is key to innovation, but they also need ways to implement this.

Mike Short—President of the Institution of Engineering and Technology—concluded the morning session. He focussed on mobile phones and the Internet being the drivers of innovation of the last years. He sees three waves of „mobile“: connecting people, connecting people to the Internet, connecting everything. Spot on, I’d say.

The next session comprised a set of master classes. I selected first „Engineering global biological solutions — a knowledge transfer continuum“. Prof Nigel Titchener-Hooker and Dr Karen Smith, both University College London, reported on their knowledge transfer work in biochemical engineering. They described the impressive work of the UCL Advanced Centre for Biochemical Engineering, available degrees (and how the biochemical degrees are complemented by engineering courses to accomodate the needs of the biochemical engineering industry). The Centre not only focusses on education for industry needs but also provides training for senior leaders in bioprocessing industry (e.g., in 3-day courses). The Centre has a 12 strong advisory board of international caliber. A (printed) newsletter is sent out regularly to more than 5,000 subsrcibers to keep the community informed. Intership placement provide job opportunities and knowledge transfer.

One of the remarks I found notable was a clear statement on what the Centre is not doing:

„We don’t do contract research.“

Prof Titchener-Hooker described such research as short-sighted (as money would be the only outcome of it) and not REF-relevant (as typically no publications about respective research are allowed).

In the second master class, Dr Clive Edmonds—Chief Executive Officer, Scienta Group—and a colleague (forgot to note the name, sorry) gave a talk on „Innovation and Commercialisation: engines for growth“. Dr Edmonds promised right at the start that he would not tell us anything new. He kept his word, but he also reminded us about a lot of things in a very good presentation such as:

  • To innovate is not only a verb but a mindset.
  • „Innovation means you make money from it.“
  • Innovation projects need: passion, purpose (a clear business objective), and pragmatism (dynamic approach to and drive of the project)
  • typically 60% of total profit come from 14% of breakout innovation (of course, risk is much greater than with incremental development)
  • Motivation + Creative Thinking + Expertise are needed for innovation. Not necessarily to be found in one person, but in a team.
  • True innovation takes place on the edge of chaos.
  • No success in innovation without having innovation culture!

Innovation (as well as creativity) needs the right environment to flourish in – in companies as well as in universities I might add. I wonder about Scienta Group giving a talk on innovation and growth at university. Hm …

The afternoon session was not as interesting to me than the morning one. You might find the list of „Ten thoughts that will change the world next“ collected by Jheni Osman—host of the conference—of interest:

  • 3d printing (Sir James Dyson)
  • Quantum computers (Iain Lobban, GCHQ)
  • Ubiquitous computing (Michail Bletsas, MIT)
  • Mood-sensing TV (Dan Heaf, BBC)
  • Biomechatronics (Lesley Gavin, BT)
  • Cancer-busting beams (Steve Myers)
  • Biochar[coal] (Prof Tim Flannery)
  • Protocells (Rachel Armstrong)
  • Anti-ageing tech (Aubrey de Grey)
  • Conscious-o-meter (Prof Marcus de Sautoy)

The final talks were given by Dr Malcolm Parry—Chairman of The UK Science Park Association and MD of Surrey Research Park—on „Science Parks: Bringing a new knowledge domain to research“, followed by Andrew Miller—MP, Chair, Science and Technology Select Committee—on „The future of UK science“, and, finally, Prof Steve Caddick—Vice-Provost (Enterprise), UCL—on „University-business collaboration: driving innovation and growth“. Prof Caddick repeated some of the points already made by Prof Titchener-Hooker in his master class, albeit now on a university level. (You may want to have a look at the four grand challenges UCL identified: global health, human well-being, sustainable cities, and intercultural interactions.)

So, what do I retain from the conference:

There is quite a lot we, the University of West London, can learn from UCL. Granted, they are a much bigger university, but nevertheless. I also think we—as in we at the School of Computing and Technology – are doing quite a lot quite well already.

Second, from Scienta Group I take with me the need to have an innovation culture in place, at the level of the Centre of Model-based Software Engineering and Explanation-aware Computing, the School of Computing and Technology, and the university.

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