Interlock Research

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This is based on the notion that no individual or group can ever understand anything fully on their own.

There will always likely be gaps in people’s knowledge of which they are unaware and this will tend lead to incorrect action being taken, or important action not taken, leading to unintended consequences.

The concept of Interlock Research is an attempt to overcome this and at the same time embed individuals who actually formulate policy in the process, meaning accurate ideas and appropriate policy can feed in by a form of “osmosis” or “lateral diffusion.”

This notion can be applied to the enormously complicated world of Energy and Energy Policy.  The point is that each actor (a person or a group) will only have a partial view, if left to themselves.

However if the issue is broken down into small sub-area, each understood by an individual expert (as evidenced by their track record in that area) or group  and they are in lateral communication, along the lines of interactions of their sub-area, then collectively they can understand it, because all the  participants will have the ability to inform their colleagues of any blind spots, if necessary seeking them out to do so.

Furthermore, if some of the participants are involved in actual policy formation any insights and overall mental models, can be fed into policy formulation, by a process of “lateral diffusion” or “osmosis” (like the Sunday Soviets – see below – “Lessons from the Second World War“) and this applies whether it is policy of governments or corporations.

Energy Policy Interlock Research and Interlock Diagram

Taking the issue of energy policy as an example this is how it works.

Researchers (used in a very general sense – the term could mean policy makers, civil servants, energy researchers, managers) looking at this issue might have in their minds, or indeed draw up a diagram setting out the how they thought the issues interconnected like this:

They would locate an individual expert for each of the above nodes.  Those experts would work together and discuss the interactions and extend the interlock diagram – it might then look like this:

The process would be repeated with more experts for each node being recruited who again will add extra nodes and experts:

Basically this process can be continued indefinitely until it is mutually agreed ( or by most players) that an accurate diagram (or good enough) representing actual real world interactions between nodes, containing inputs from all the necessary experts is arrived at. (experts in the broadest sense – includes both policy administrators, Financial directors, as well as boffins, engineers, investment experts etc)

Participants can then go about deciding the optimum policy measures / allocation of resources and technology – but of course this process will have started as soon as the first two get together.

Whether or not the strict process above is gone through or described as above, it is argued that in effect any successful enterprise follows essentially this pattern – be it building a bridge or a missile system or organising a village dance.

But in something as complex as energy policy it may well be worth formalising it as outlined. In any event something very close to it is happening in the Claverton Group – we have representatives from Government, National Grid, House of Lords, and the CBI etc – all at least paying some attention to the issues raised here.

Tacit Knowledge

Tacit knowledge – knowledge that cannot be written down, and found in computer data bases, sounds like a simple, even trivial idea, but it is in fact another vital ingredient for getting things right. Research has shown that it is also transmissible by social networks of experts – this is another function of the Claverton Energy research Group – see [[Tacit knowledge and the Relevance Paradox]] where it is shown that tacit knowledge is necessary to build atom bombs for example. The power of the idea is also shown below.

Lessons from the Second World War.

It is arguable that lessons learnt from WW2 (many in Claverton  think an equivalent crash programme of re-building our energy infrastructure similar  to the US W2 industrial mobilisation will be needed to combat world recession, climate change an peak oil) have application to our present difficulties over energy policies. For example:

It is well known that radar made a major contribution to winning the war against Germany. But in fact in many respects the Germans had technically much better radar than the British. Britain’s superiority was in being able to use it to identify targets and get the meagre quantity of availabel fighters to intercept rapidly, (which was in fact no easy matter) and the British achieved this to an extent which the Germans found inconceivable.

The clever bit was not only the rapid and integrated development of the technology, in line with the operational need of the pilots and their tactics, (which evolved as the technology evolved) but also all the associated administration – where would you put the radar stations, who would tell the fighters where to go, the organisation of the ground controllers, the charts, the tables the WAAF’s with their croupier sticks, the maps etc.

This was achieved in part, by close, non-bureaucratic lateral communication – (ie non hierarchic) at all levels across the different pyramids of power, and often short circuiting the conventional chain of command.

A well known and often quoted example of one of the ways this happened is the famous “Sunday Soviets”- informal meetings which involved Air Marshall’s down to humble radar technicians. (who were expected to tell the Air Marshall when he was talking nonsense):

“Whilst at Worth, Dorset, in 1940, he (AP Rowe – the head of Radar Research) conceived the idea of inviting senior military personnel, {fighter pilots}, etc to visit the Research Labs on Sundays to meet with the rest of the research engineers and scientists working in the team. These gatherings were very informal and even the most junior staff were encouraged, (indeed expected, – Ed.) to contribute their ideas. If an idea was put forward that had merit, it could be adopted there and then (my emphasis -Ed.) because all the main decision-makers would be there. Such informality (and trust) at such a powerful level was unprecedented”.


(You will find the above description in any book on the development of radar)

In Germany there was no such co operation – boffins just designed the stuff as to what they thought was needed and handed it over to the users.

Similarly, if one looks at the memoirs of say Dr RV Jones – Scientific Advisor- to the Air Ministry “Most Secret War” it is littered with examples of him ringing up one of his chums from Public School or Oxford in the Air Ministry or some Top Secret research lab, and maybe borrowing an aircraft, (quite unauthorised) to do some vital experiment such as studying the German night bombing system (and then defeating it).

The Leigh Light, a key technology in the defeat of U boats was secretly developed by an RAF Personnel Officer, who amazingly “borrowed” a Wellington Bomber for his early trials. This again was completely unauthorised, and when an Air Vice Marshal cam across it by chance, and how much better than the official programme  merely said “How soon can it be in production?”.

In contrast, Germany’s war machine was highly centralised and bureaucratic. Hitler in fact banned all research that could not be completed within a couple of years of the war starting. There seems to have been no centralised hierarchy of research boffins, uniting all the different arms, all able to chat laterally to each other at a low level across the base of the pyramid. Anyone attempting to do what Leigh had done would have been whipped off to the nearest concentration camp.

The Sunday Soviets would be out of the question in Germany – it was in fact pointed out by a lower ranking officer in 1935 in pre-war trials that the U boats could easily be defeated by radar and ASDIC / SONAR (which is what happened of course), but this advice was brushed aside by the hierarchy – (U Boat Warfare – Jak P Mallman Showell, Ian and Allen page 11)

Hitler was well known for fomenting rivalries between the various sectors – the Luftwaffe, the Army, SS, Krieg’s Marine and so on. This kind of bureaucratic infighting prevented for example the fitting of long range fuel tanks to German fighters which would have had a major and perhaps decisive effect on the outcome of the Battle of Britain (German fighters could only spend about 20 minutes over UK before having to retire for more petrol. Long range drop tanks, which had been designed, but not fitted, would have given them over an hour over England)

Hence, it is argued,  that a key factor in the UK’s success was the massive, spontaneous and self organising, lateral communication networks, and interlock diagrams that could link all necessary professionals, enabling fruitful dialogues to occur and decision to be made, without a complex bureaucratic process, these informal decisions being adopted later on by the hierarchy and formalised into policy. Of course it didn’t always work.

Modern Applications of Interlock Research

It is argued that this also applies to free markets market models, where the players are in theory competing rivals. But this is not entirely true. For a start, there is a constant shuffling of staff from one organization to another, and secondly there are widespread social networks wherein people from nominally competing  organisations routinely discuss technical matters. For example Dave Andrews and Bob Carne – Wessex Water,  Alan Burgess South West Water, Denys Clarke Southern Water ) set up the UK Water Energy Managers Forum, which is in fact a co operation group / Lateral Access Network for people in competing Water organisations including all leading companies.

The main purpose in setting up the Claverton Energy Network was to facilitate the extension of these types of existing informal networks, to enable a sensible, complete and logical understanding of energy issues. It is  also believed, that in the same way that at AP Rowe’s Sunday Soviets “…….If an idea was put forward that had merit, it could be adopted there and then because all the main decision-makers would be there……..” since many people in the Claverton network are in or closely related to government, some of the insights that this network generates can (hopefully) be picked up and used either by governments or industries. (There are already definite examples of this happening)

We think this visualisation of an informal decision-aiding advice network spanning all the different bits of government, the energy industries and academia, which is what we appear to have, is quite different from the policy formulation model the government uses – that of consultations – which are highly cumbersome, time consuming, bureaucratic,often percieved as a sham to cover a pre agreed agenda (what the Prime Minister of the day has decided) and involve Civil Servants, trying to distill down, thousands of probably conflicting views which they probably don’t have the technical background or training to fully understand; and as a result simply can’t reflect the technical, political, and historical complexity of what we are faced with, and can’t be understood by any one person, whereas a very large network can reflect, map and understand the complexity.

Its also different to the standard model of isolated commercial organisations competing in a market guided only by the signals of commercial success or failure – in both these contrasting contexts that I believe networks like Claverton have something to offer.

Our network, we hope  can carry on helping to resolve the very dificult issues in energy policy, and come up with integrated solutions, which can by “osmosis” seep into not only governments, but industry and the big players as well. We won’t necessarily come up with explicit solutions, but by teasing out the issues, and providing some of the missing information and thinking, we can help others more highly placed to make the correct decisions.

(Of course that completely ignores the effects of lobbying by the big players which can secure what they want at government level, irrespective of how sensible or otherwise it is – but at least we can present  a reasoned well informed view.

We believe initiatives like the Claverton Consensus, the Claverton Book will also very useful for galvanising thought within the group, and exposing and examining differences, but in addition it is the numerous individual private dialogs which this group has undoubedtly facilitated, and what individuals take away back to their organisations that are what will produce a useful outcome.

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