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There’s a certain amount of stalking horse-ishness to Sir Peter Gluckman’s recent ‘Auckland conversation’ (formerly known as Mayoral Conversations; speakers of repute).

As the chief science advisor, Gluckman’s past kite-flying thoughts on research and other matters have generally preceded government action.

This speech (see here) will be no different, and as has been much of his direction lately, Gluckman’s concentrating on making money from our brains in ‘Innovation through science: the pathway to economic prosperity’.

He’s pushing Auckland, as the country’s only centre with the scope and aspiration to be a truly international city, as doing more, much more, to lead the development of a true innovation ecosystem.

Briefly doing justice to his talk, Gluckman’s strong on the notion that while we have the capability, we’ve got to massively increase our combined effort to make more money in the high-tech areas that have protected and allowed countries such as Denmark and Switzerland to flourish. (He includes advanced foods for health in this category too).

It won’t be easy — again he gives the examples of Israel where the evaluation of at least 100 ideas thought to be of value only sees one that justifies investment.

‘Yet, the Israelis have no more researchers than we do, just a better linked up system,’ Gluckman says.

Unlike Israel or Singapore or some of the Nordic countries with which New Zealand compares its itself, we’ve never had a sense of crisis and urgency, and together with our inbred egalitarianism have undervalued the role of intellectual activity and science he reckons.

Our country also has the habit of believing in single interventions rather than integrated system wide approaches, when the ‘key to all of what I’ve been saying is the need to have a multi-layered innovation ecosystem,’ he says.

This has many components, with local government promoting, encouraging and if necessary part-financing an ‘innovation city’. It needs the development of technology parks (he gives the Wynyard quarter project a big boost later in his talk), clustering academia and entrepreneurs along with support services.

It also needs the institutions — hospitals, universities, technical institutes — to cooperate rather than compete. (He makes another aside point on whether universities are producing what a high technology economy needs. ‘Unfortunately a number of incentives in play in the tertiary sector can be counter-productive and drive an over-emphasis on individualistic institutional behaviour.”)

Gluckman’s better than many people at not just stating the problems, and fires up a few ideas that would drive more innovation — again, drawing heavily on Israel’s example.

Many Israeli innovation incubators are owned jointly between investors and the local authority, or between the local authority and the university, and work with large sums of both government and private money.

‘The Israeli model is based on a high ideas flow, an aggressive culling, high levels of investment and international management and technology input from the start,’ Gluckman says.

Importantly (in sticK’s opinion) ‘new ventures are supported with loans, not grants, to encourage entrepreneurial activity — written off if the product does not make it.”

Auckland, he argues, is uniquely placed to create an environment for this type of innovation (again mentioning the Wynyard quarter).

Gluckman gives other examples of what success could look like (another post).

As he says though, ‘at the end of the day this is about environmental and cultural change — it starts at the bottom and it starts at the top.’

And while Auckland has been giving a lot of its infrastructural attention to transport, ‘to make this truly a global city we also need to think about the knowledge infrastructure in the sciences and technologies.

The investment needed is partly fiscal, but so much more of it is psychological and motivational. Let us do the things that enable Auckland to brand itself as a city of innovation, a smart city in a smart nation.’