Sir Mark Walport, the new Government Chief Scientific Adviser, made his inaugural speech last week at the Centre for Science and Policy annual conference. One of the things he mentioned, subsequently [Sir Mark Walport](http://www.bis.gov.uk/go-science/chief-scientific-adviser/biography), the new Government Chief Scientific Adviser, made his inaugural speech last week at the [Centre for Science and Policy](http://www.csap.cam.ac.uk/) annual [conference](http://www.csap.cam.ac.uk/events/csap-annual-conference-2013/). One of the things he mentioned, subsequently by Times Higher Education, was a belief that rather than measuring the number of university spin-out companies, “The metric surely has to be the number of successful spin out companies”.
Superficially this seems self-evident, but in my view it is wrong. Spin out companies are all about risky ventures to exploit new knowledge. It is to be expected that many of them will fail. However, if universities are only judged on successful spin outs it is likely to make them risk averse, not pursuing the very spin outs that might make the biggest returns, to the ultimate detriment of the university and the nation.
Metrics are tricky things. It’s not just about what is measured, but also understanding the behavioural response the metric creates.