Innovation is all the rage, but where's the plan?

What we desperately need is an integrated innovation system, from the fundamental science through technology development to commercialisation.

We currently have Callaghan Innovation gestating its way into life – with no indication of how long the process will take, or even what it is we’re trying to bring to fruition.

At the same time we have the ‘Great New Zealand Science Project’ – a public wishlist of all the wonderful things we could research – which a committee of the great and the good are now trying to make sense of.

Meanwhile MBIE is still responsible for allocating some of the research funding too.

What these three initiatives clearly indicate is we actually don’t know what we’re doing, why, or how.

Now, it seems like a long time ago (but actual fact it is only 18 months) that the High Value Manufacturing Review, a.k.a ‘Powering Innovation’, came out with its recommendations.

A re-read of this document might be a useful exercise for minister-of-everything Steven Joyce.

Recommendation 1: Develop a strategic and structured approach for connectivity between research and development providers and the high value manufacturing and services sector.

Whether this is going to be fulfilled by CI, who knows? Beyond motherhood and apple pie type statements, the purpose (not a vision, not a mission both of which are meaningless) of Callaghan Innovation is still a mystery.

Rumbles from manufacturers, universities and CRIs about the lack of information, sense of shared direction, or a strategic intent (let’s call it a plan) during the whole CI creation process show a glaring omission from the ‘Powering Innovation’ document – and more than a hint that science minister Steven Joyce is playing free and loose in whatever definition of innovation he’s decided upon.

This brings me to the point – and possibly the only way for New Zealand Inc to strategically line up its science and innovation.

Among a number of excellent recommendations in Powering Innovation was #13. This also demonstrates, by inference, why our country’s currently on an unknown course to an unknown destination.

Recommendation 13: Form a Science and Innovation Council, led from a very senior ministerial level in Government, with representatives from the university, public and private research organisations and from industry. Members should represent a wide range of science and technology themes, including the social sciences. The role of the Science and Innovation Council should be to establish a national innovation strategy and advise on science and innovation policy and priorities.

Now I realise that such an Science & Innovation Council,would force us to actually have a shared plan, and that maybe that’s the last thing Minister Joyce wants.

But, until we, like Denmark, Singapore, Taiwan, Switzerland et al, have such a thing, then the person in the street, researchers or industry will have no sense of being part of a wider (game) plan.

Running around and doing science and innovation ‘stuff’ in the absence of a national plan is doomed to provide middling mediocrity. There will be plenty of peddling by all involved, but nobody will be quite sure who or what it is we’re trying to get over the finish (start) line before anyone else in the world.

What we desperately need is an integrated innovation system from the fundamental science through technology development to commercial exploitation of the results. We also need to ensure this integration includes research and commercialisation carried out by the Health Research Council.

Instead, what we have at the moment is a hodge-podge of barely connected elements, with nothing even remotely looking like a plan in place.

Until we begin to get all our R&D cum innovation cum shared strategy ducks in a row through something like a Science & Innovation Council, we have absolutely no show of emulating the exemplar countries that New Zealand Inc, through government officials, have visited dozens of times in the past 20 years.

Mind you, if we had a simple national science and innovation plan, then there would also be some corresponding accountability.

That’s probably the fly in the ointment!

This post originally appeared on Sciblogs and sticK