Friday, June 26, 2009

UK joins Canada and the US in "Not Knowing Quite What To Do" with their Space Program

According to this article just posted on the BBC News website, "an expert panel has been asked to lay out the challenges and opportunities facing the British space industry."

The new group (called the Space Innovation Growth Team) has been commissioned to deliver its assessment of the situation within six months and make recommendations on how government can help maintain the sector's competitiveness. The UK space industry turns over £6bn annually and supports some 70,000 jobs.
Andy Green, CEO of Logica
The new panel will be chaired by Andy Green, the chief executive officer of Logica, a British based firm which provides IT support to other space focused organizations.

The panel mandate from the British government is to outline a 20-year strategy by "identifying the key industry trends and then listing the actions industry and government need to take if they want to fully exploit the coming changes" according to the article.

The UK thus joins Canada (with a much delayed update to our Canadian space policy commissioned originally when Steve MacLean became head of the CSA in September 2008 but so far not released) and the United States (with the Augustine Committee presently meeting in Washington) as essentially not knowing what to do with their space program.

Why am I so cynical about these commissions? That's easy.

I essentially don't believe that an institutional response to a problem (which is what I perceive of these commissions as being) is suitable in a situation where collaboration, innovation and action is required.

Let's be blunt about this; politicians and government institutions form commissions when they don't know what to do or don't really want to do anything but need to create a perception of activity.

They might even hope that someone in the newly formed commission will be bright enough to eventually write a proper report including at least one good idea which the public will either support or reject.

But if the report is never finished, then no harm is done because the government has at least done something by commissioning the original report.

If the report is ever completed, then the government gets to perform a second decisive action by either partially (or totally) accepting (or rejecting) the findings, an activity which can itself be stretched out into quite a large number of perceived and distinct decisions (which is really helpful for governments when they have trouble deciding things but need to convince the public otherwise).

By focusing on a specific report or commission, we loose sight of the fact that there are actual things that need to be done and lots of us with some idea of what those things are and how to go about doing them who are likely to continue doing these things, even without formal encouragement.

You know the type. They're the people who don't especially need to wait for a commission to "wrap up it's findings."

But for the rest of us (those who really, really want to help develop "policy") there are also current tools which give each of us the capability to be heard and immediately influence ongoing debate at the highest levels (and that's what the discussion of space policy should above all be encouraging).

So even if we'd prefer to have a committee to develop policy, there is no need to wait passively anymore for the final result. We can nudge them in the right direction and tell our governments what a space program should be doing whether it's exploration, education, R&D or industrial infrastructure development.

Governments might even eventually grow to appreciate our viewpoints, comments and self evident (or self absorbed) answers.

Clay Shirky, a writer on the social and economic effects of the internet offers below a couple of suggestions for moving forward and into a world where we can talk back to authority and not simply wait passively for commissions or governments to solve our problems.

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