So let's talk!

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So let's talk!

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It is now a little more than two months since I arrived here at ITER and I must confess that it's been a whirlwind of activity. I would guess that I have given more talks in these two months than during any other similar period of my career. The same week that the Management Advisory Committee (MAC) convened here in May, a delegation from the Budget Control Committee of the European Parliament moved in to put its finger on our pulse. The previous week the Science and Technology Advisory Committee (STAC) had looked over our scientific and technical progress. Ever since then, our attention has been devoted to the upcoming meeting of the ITER Council taking place in Aomori, Japan, next week.

What do we expect to happen in Aomori? The representatives from the ITER Member states will certainly take a close look at the progress made to date. This is a time of transition. Together with the Domestic Agencies we must get the Procurement Arrangements completed, the design finalized, and the work moved to industry. It is good to see the visible progress on the site with the buildings under construction and the excavation for the Tokamak Complex completed.

A major issue will of course be the impact of the Japanese earthquake on the project's construction schedule. Some of the manufacturing sites for ITER's components were damaged by the shockwave, and it will require months to recover. The importance of this issue is evident in the Director-General's personal engagement in keeping the impact on the project schedule to a minimum.
As I step back to consider my new role in charge of ITER Administration, I must say that this is a very interesting experience. I am working with many highly motivated people seeking to make a positive impact on the project. The fundamental function of the Administration Department is to support the construction and the execution of this project. The Administration Department must be viewed as an accurate and unbiased source of information—which is a potentially very powerful tool. It enables people to plan and execute their work and, more importantly, to make mid-course corrections to stay on track.

I agree with the Director-General that many processes within the ITER Organization are still too complicated. Hence we must ask ourselves two critical questions: "What are the best practices in other laboratories and industry?" and "What can we do differently to help the rest of the Organization succeed?"

We in Administration also have an important control function. The governments of the Member states have given us substantial funds and it is our job to manage them effectively, efficiently and ethically. We need to be sure that our processes can withstand external scrutiny and we must avoid situations that which tarnish the reputation of the ITER Organization. We need to demonstrate to the Member states that we will deliver on the promises we have made.

Over the last several weeks, I have had many discussions on how to improve things, and received much useful input. One recurring issue in the input I have received is the working relationship within the team. This is something I feel strongly about. People here are working very hard but sometimes work in isolation focused on their immediate activities. 

Face-to-face discussions often enable new ideas to emerge and preconceived notions to go away. I intend to encourage an environment that facilitates open, face-to-face discussion, discussion that is not stifled by the constraints of email or by organizational boundaries. The next great idea is likely to come from the cross-fertilization of several different ideas from people with different backgrounds who approach a difficult problem from alternative perspectives. So, let's talk!

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