Opening Session: Sarah Porter, Head of Innovation Group, JISC

Sarah Porter, Head of Innovation at JISC, opened the JISC Innovation Forum 2008 by welcoming delegates to Keele University.

She talked about how JISC development activities have started to be called innovation and acknowledged questions such as “Is this just lip service?” “What do we mean by innovation?”

Innovation isn’t just about change but about creating something new, according to Wikipedia’s definition. “This captures what JISC is trying to do” said Sarah.

Who is here?

A varied range of academic staff are present at the Forum – from library managers to researchers and technical developers. There are 50 different job titles amongst the 300 delegates and over 100 different organisations are represented.

Sarah would like delegates at the forum to acknowledge that we are all part of “an innovation community”. She hopes delegates will share knowledge and practice and, importantly, share ideas. Building links and making connections is also what the Forum is about.

JISC is trying to use technology for change and to support institutions. JISC works across organisations.

Why do we need innovation in education?

Sarah outlined some of the reasons innovation is important:

  • To improve practice and quality
  • Users’ needs are changing – we need to understand what people want and respond
  • Education needs to engage with business etc. and use technology to do this
  • Government and global policy is changing
  • Pressures in universities -eg; widening participation and the need to retain researchers

How does JISC support innovation in education?

Through JISC services and programmes, JISC are trying to promote shared knowledge, help institutions develop innovative strategies and policies, and also collaborate with international communities to make links.

Ongoing JISC programmes and network examples include:

  • Super Janet network – since the 90s
  • Digital libraries – since 1996

Many services and commercial companies have come out of this work.

More recent work includes:

  • The 19th century newspapers project
  • Medical journals hosted on Pub Med Central
  • E-learning programme
  • Virtual research environment

Challenges for the future

  • Having incremental and sustainable changes in institutions
  • Sustainable technology –technology making a positive environmental contribution
  • Open source vs. sustainable business models – how can we continue to fund development?
  • Flexible and appropriate technology which suits users’ needs
  • Maintaining and developing excellence in research


“Go forth, share, discuss, innovate and enjoy!” said Sarah.

Q and A

Mark Johnson-University of Bolton

What about evaluation?

Sarah: One of the challenges is impact evaluation – we need methods to capture unexpected outcomes too and JISC are looking into ways to do this.

Some feedback on the session: [youtube][/youtube] – Richard McKenna, JISC Director of Programme Management and Operations

1 thought on “Opening Session: Sarah Porter, Head of Innovation Group, JISC

  1. Ross Gardler

    “Open source vs. sustainable business models – how can we continue to fund development?”

    Why “vs.”?

    Open Source provides many viable business models. There are a large number of highly successful businesses who build, support and maintain open source software. similarly there are a very large number of businesses who are open source and contribute to its sustainability.

    Two quick examples which are relevant to our sector:

    XenSource (developed at the University of Cambridge) was sold for $500 million to Citrix – see

    The Apache web server serves the vast majority of web pages from UK institutions (and the world in general). The Apache Software Foundation, which maintains this software, along with a large number of less widely used outputs, for an annual spend of less than $168,000 in the last fiscal year. See

    Having said that, I agree we need to work at creating and sharing resources whilst at the same time building sustainable models.

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