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Government on the hunt for Advanced Research and Invention Agency CEO

First CEO of the high-risk, high-reward research agency will be in charge of shaping the research, culture and setup of the organisation and define its strategy to identify and fund ground-breaking science and technology

The government is looking for a CEO for its newly announced Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA), which will fund and develop science and technology projects in the UK.

The agency, announced by the government in February 2021, is backed by an £800m public investment and will support high-risk research that offers the chance of high rewards in terms of transformational impact on society.

The government is looking for a CEO to shape the vision, direction and research priorities for the agency, which will have what the government hopes is a “profound effect on the technological and strategic capabilities of the UK”, according to the job pack.

The CEO will also be responsible for recruiting staff to the organisation, including its first senior operational team and programme managers, as well as developing a transition strategy, “enabling research to transfer into the next stage after ARIA”, said the job pack.

“You will establish ARIA’s philosophies, working styles and cultural norms,” it added. “You will determine the specific strategic advantages that ARIA will aim to enable, define ARIA’s strategy, recruit the first cohort of programme managers, enable them to launch the first programmes, and sign the first research partnerships.

“You will position ARIA as a distinctive part of the UK’s research funding landscape that complements and expands the UK’s funding capability.”

It is seeking a CEO who is willing to commit to four to five years in the role, who is a respected leader in a “scientific or technical field with experience of the R&D process, and of starting something new”. ARIA is based on the US Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) and its successor, DARPA. 

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Commenting on the CEO search, science minister Amanda Solloway said that getting the agency up and running is one of her “main priorities” and that she is “delighted to see it take another step towards launching with the start of this recruitment round”.

She added: “We want to recruit a chief executive who will provide the creative, inspiring leadership that the organisation will need – building an exceptional team and embedding the high-risk, high-reward culture to ensure that ARIA thrives.”

ARIA will look at how to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy, and will experiment with different funding models, such as programme and seed grants, as well as prize incentives, to achieve its goals of backing pioneering research. It will also have greater tolerance to failure than is normally accepted, as well as the ability to start and stop projects according to their success.

In March 2021, a bill was introduced to Parliament to give the agency the powers and freedoms it needs to develop scientific research at pace.

The ARIA Bill, introduced on 2 March, outlines the legislative framework and governance for the new agency. According to the government, it is acknowledged that “ambitious, high-risk research requires patience”, so the agency will be provided with the long-term security needed for it to achieve its goals – the bill sets a 10-year grace period before any potential dissolution of the agency can be triggered.

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