Some worrying disquiet around Callaghan Innovation

By Peter Kerr 06/12/2012 2

From what I gather, it is not only me who has a degree of disquiet about the lengthy and somewhat secretive gestation taking place around Callaghan Innovation (the new moniker for the Advanced Technology Institute).

Because part of the unease is it appears responsibility for establishing C.I. has been abrogated to its Establishment Board, and especially its chair Sue Suckling. Allowing it to run fast and loose with a relatively undefined mandate is not in our best interests.

Therefore, when we have no idea what or how the C.I. is going to look, advertisements for its new CEO have only just been placed and the word is that the outgoing chief executive of Industrial Research (Shaun Coffey) offered to act in a ‘caretaker cum help the new person in’ role – but was turned down – is it any wonder I’m nervous for our science and innovation system.

Some captains of industry, academia and research have expressed opinions around “I hope the minister [Joyce] understands what he’s doing here.”

Now, maybe the Minister’s hands-off approach to C.I’s establishment is legitimate, maybe he is retaining the ability to cut its Feb. 1 recommendations loose if there’s too much political, science and industry grief over its proposals, maybe it is a sign of his fatigue around science and innovation and more closely aligned to thoughts of “what do we do now.” (In that regard too the utter revamping of what was FoRST and MoRST, into the Ministry of Science & Innovation, and now into MBIE, and the subsequent loss of some really capable brains hasn’t helped).

Perhaps too it is the government retaining the ability to appoint an advisory board over and above whatever the C.I. establishment board comes up with.

But as industry opinion increases that they’ll simply be carrying out business as usual (with whoever is their current science and R&D provider), and that C.I. doesn’t appear to be solving the main challenge for NZ Inc – which is that really messy, ugly, difficult part between the idea and the market – such disquiet is better addressed now than later.

Or perhaps I’m just being pessimistic.

Perhaps the Sue Suckling-led C.I. establishment board is going to deliver a proposal that gets all the R&D ducks and drakes, the capital, routes to market, partnership and ‘innovation’ pieces of the puzzle aligned, and cranking.

Because, as the numerous statements and documents around C.I. say, NZ Inc’s science is relatively OK.

It is that iterative, two-way conversation between the market and science that we need to improve.

As already stated in a previous blog, something concrete for us to consider on that front would be really appreciated.

P.S. Riffing on a theme ……one of the deep ironies of the C.I. development (in the loosest sense of the word), is that the A.T.I was originally I.R.L’s brainchild. Its mutation into heaven knows what has all the potential to be a kiwi tragicomedy.

I hope I’m wrong.

2 Responses to “Some worrying disquiet around Callaghan Innovation”

  • I’m not an expert on the detail but I have heard enough to suggest to me that CI and the philosophy behind it has the capacity to be too business friendly and encourage an introspective sterile approach to innovation. I suspect though this has been a NZ characteristic for some time. Our predilection for monopolies of one kind or another, our patronising attitude to older, possibly wiser cultures and a pathetic naïveté toward the latest corporate sales pitch from people with super yachts and private jets.

  • Note that the issues arising from the deterioration of corporate science and need for govt-funded science that initiated the ATI are not unique to NZ.

    The US govt. has just issued a report that resonates with those familiar with the problems that the ATI/CI is intended to address in NZ. Their “solutions” are somewhat similar. More money into applied govt science, more tax credits, more partnerships etc. etc.

    They struggle for solutions to the general unwillingness of industry to invest in long term research or even to partner with their world-leading govt. laboratories.

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