New Ministry of Science and Innovation for New Zealand

By Grant Jacobs 02/06/2010

Yesterday the New Zealand Government announced a new Ministry of Science and Innovation.

morst_logoThe existing Ministry of Research, Science and Technology (MoRST) and the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology will be merged to form the new Ministry of Science and Innovation. The roles of the new Ministry include:*

  • Advising the Minister of Research, Science and Technology on New Zealand’s science and innovation system
  • Managing science funding
  • Driving knowledge transfer to businesses and other research users
  • A new function advising shareholding Ministers on the performance of Crown Research Institutes


The legislation to establish this new ministry is anticipated to be passed by the end of 2010; opportunities to comment on this legislation (and presumably the criteria that they make funding decisions) will apparently be available via a Select Committee process.

Details are yet to come.

nzbio_logoNZBio, who represent bioscience-based industries in New Zealand, has released a statement in response to this initiative, which should appear on their news website soon.

Their comments include:

’When compared with a similar sized economy like the State of Victoria in Australia which has 11 Government ministries, New Zealand has 35. Consolidation of government departments is important as it demonstrates the Government’s commitment to transferring more resources to the tradable sector which ultimately means more investment to our scientists, institutions and companies who are contributing to our economy by creating highly valued and future focused employment opportunities.’

and that this may aid a shift in focus from grants to applications of the work:

’It’s another positive step as part of the Government’s reforms to the science sector,   further strengthening science funding, to ensure a more strategic and simplified funding programme is in place. This allows New Zealand’s brilliant scientists and researchers to focus on new innovative developments that will drive economic growth rather than focusing on funding applications.’

They also suggest that the merger

’… will help drive the knowledge transfer to businesses and other research users, boosting New Zealand’s productivity.’

With few details available thus far and not having experience within the funding agencies, I can’t feel I can comment (yet), but your thoughts are most welcome.

* ‘include’ is their description, not mine.

Other articles in Code for life:

Another R&D stimulation package leaves out the smaller players?

Career pathways for NZ science Ph.D. students

Your thoughts on the future of bioinformatics in New Zealand

To link or not to link: is that the question?

I remember because my DNA was methylated

0 Responses to “New Ministry of Science and Innovation for New Zealand”

  • Possum,

    Thanks for spotting that. (Buried amongst all the other changes, eh!)

    The name I used comes from the NZBio statement. My recollection is that it’s left unnamed in the recent govt. statements.

    If readers dig around in the PDFs linked in the follow-on article to possum’s reference they will probably (or, hopefully) find some details in there. Somewhere. (Meaning: I’m out of time to dig them up myself.)

  • I fear that this restructure will not provide us with a Ministry of Science and INNOVATION, but (at best) a Ministry of Science and INVENTION; further I fear that the Government won’t understand the distinction.

    While that may be marginally better, more active, than our current Ministry of Science and INTENTION, I regret that until we realise the criticality of linking seamlessly the act of creation to the process of monetisation we will remain a front-end-loaded society where we have solutions looking for problems.

    If we want a meaningful restructure, let us follow the model of the United Kingdom where their Department of Business Innovation and Skills ( ) comes at the problem from the implementation end back to creativity and not the creative end forward. The former is to pull innovation into the world on a piece of string, where the latter is to try to push innovation out at the end of that same piece of string. The physics should tell you which will be more effective!

  • It isn’t clear to me if MainlyMe understands firstly, the distinction between science policy and science structure or secondly, the value that pure research may serendipitously have.

    The Ministry is the vehicle through which government policy is translated into programmes that influence the science sector (and vice versa). The same people, as professional public servants, are entirely capable of implementing quite different policies, as we have seen in the years before, and after, the last election. The new structure is intended to be about reducing the costs of implementation and getting a wider range of skills and knowhow (i.e. MoRST and the Foundation) under one roof, to add value to each other’s work. Whether one seeks to implement policies of intention, innovation or invention through that structure is a separate issue.

    A lot of science in New Zealand is not so much about monetising opportunities to create export opportunties as it is about preventing the monetary costs of hazards, such as biosecurity, weather, earthquakes, public health etc. (see ). There is also a lot of excellent basic research carried out for its own sake (the Marsden Fund). It often happens that monetisable opportunities follow from basic research, but that is not why it is carried out. When you listen to the time pips on the radio, reflect that the atomic clock was developed following three excellent pieces of research that were carried out purely because of researcher curiosity, not because they were trying to improve on the quartz clock.

    While connections between industry and research are very important, the industry players don’t always know what they want, because they don’t know what they don’t know. For example, anyone putting research into making a better cathode ray tube for computer screens has been overtaken by those who set out to make better screens using different technology, such as liquid crystals. And while considering the implementation end back to creativity, let’s not forget VHS vs Beta technology for videotapes, where a superior technology was beaten in the marketplace by an inferior technology and better marketing. The road to profitable industries and a higher skilled nation is rather more complex than most of us imagine.

  • Hello Possum!! (Sorry Dame Edna)
    Yeah … got all of that (but thanks anyway for the primer). Thirty years at the interface of science, technology and the consuming public here and abroad have given me a reasonable perspective of science in the bigger world.

    But sadly you didn’t “get” my point, that there is more to innovation than discovery and invention, so to use the term “innovation” for this amalgamation of arms of science governance is patently a misuse of the term. And as I previously indicated, my fear is that this abuse is because our Government does not understand that innovation is more, much more than invention (or intention for that matter).

    My issue isn’t with anything you say (well, OK I must admit that I found that your churlish assertion that science better understands business needs than do business operators reminiscent of the approach of a certain Redmond WA software vendor – and that same arrogant attitude that delivered Windows Vista to us). My issue is with the Government’s incongruous incorporation of the buzz-word “innovation” to coin a restructure that has nothing to do with innovation. The restructure is exactly as you describe; an administrative cost reduction through crashing together two parts of science governance without re-jigging their ambit. It’s about fewer offices, fewer headcount and cost-reduced governance, not about creating prosperity through investing in science and converting discoveries to an economic contribution through subsequent implementation. Were it the latter we may well have the basis of a Ministry of Science & Innovation.

    In order to structure a ministry with innovation responsibility its ambit needs must extend beyond science administration to encompass that continuous process from discovery, through invention and development, to its effective implementation in an aspect of the economy, the process that defines “innovation”. To coin the term “innovation” for the current narrow administrative restructure is to debase the word in a manner that will defile it for more appropriate application should a future ministry be appropriately charged with that broader brief as is seen in Australia and the UK.

    That is my point of frustration (though I’ll eat my words if the Government is establishing this as a stalking horse for that broader purpose and we will shortly see incorporation of other arms of government – eg IPONZ, parts of NZTE – that will enable a true innovation focus to arise). Otherwise this current merger should be provided with a name that accurately represents its purpose (Ministry of Tinkering with Science). In that situation this taxpayer, one who desperately wants to see science rescue New Zealand from our steady economic decline, fears we will see the worsening of the schism that currently rends the science community and the business community which hold station at the two extremes of the innovation chain. In that situation we will increasingly see science devolve to an isolated playpen where breathless scientists pursue their egotistic curiosity without regard for creating wealth for the nation’s populace that invested in them.

    I am in no doubt that we cannot sustain that future.

  • I suspect both of you have some seniority, but come from different perspectives. With that in mind, I hope that some civility might prevail. ‘okey dokey? 😉 (No, I’m not racist. Yes, I like (some of) the Indy movies.)

    Don’t forget that while the ideas might be crystal clear in your minds, what you’ve written may not convey them to others as well as you think them to yourself. Science communicators face that problem… 😉

  • Grant;
    I accept your (mild) rebuke, and apologise if any of my statements are interpreted as being “uncivil”; they were not intended to be so. Sometimes passion emits as unintended agression.

  • MainlyMe,

    I accept your (mild) rebuke

    It wasn’t given as a rebuke (which means sharp disapproval), as I think is pretty clear 🙂

    an isolated playpen where breathless scientists pursue their egotistic curiosity without regard for creating wealth for the nation’s populace that invested in them

    I hope you can admit this is quite a stereotype, too 😉

  • Hi Grant. Civility will prevail. One doesn’t get many opportunities these days for reasoned debate.

  • Possum,

    Nice to hear. I worry sometimes that reasoned debate goes out the window too fast on the WWW.

    I’ll leave you guys to it… 🙂

  • Hi Grant;
    I accept that the description I used is stereotypical if used to describe a current situation, but it was not. I used the phrase to describe a scenario that I fear would eventuate given an inputs-driven governance of the type that I see evolving. And to repeat the original point made, I am in no doubt that we cannot sustain that future.

    While I am on the line I might add that I broker between research-offerers and research-wanters often enough to be able to tell you that research-sector scientists do indeed carry that stereotypical image with many in business that ought to be the research scientist’s best buddies. And by looking over my shoulder I see the equally jaundiced attitude the scientist frequently harbours for business. We have to get that sorted if science is to be the engine for national (small “n”) prosperity that it should be.

  • Hello MM
    I think I got your point that there is more to innovation than discovery and invention, but my feeling is that the name of the Ministry is not necessarily connected to the policies implemented by the Ministry. A rose by any other name, and all that. I’d like to see more focus on the policies – such as those outlined in the Minister’s publication “Igniting the Future”, which is available off the MoRST website.

    If I had been suggesting that science knows better than business what business needs, that would indeed have been churlish. But to get the right answer, one needs to ask the right question. Business uninformed by the latest science may not ask the right question, and dialogue between business and researchers can help there.

    There is another aspect to the government’s involvement in supporting research – the issue of where the benefits fall. Research into a better strain of rye grass or a mauve kiwifruit tends to produce results that can be used by the whole industry. It isn’t worthwhile for any one farmer to pay for the research, but if the government funds it, the benefit from that funding is widely spread.

    The position is different if company xyz wants funding to research a better widget. Company xyz will not want a swathe of other firms getting into its market. So where is the public benefit from the government funding the research? There is some, but not a lot. Why don’t more companies pay for their own research to develop better products which will be relatively immune to the value of the NZ dollar and bring better profits?

    Maybe if we can bridge the schism you refer to we will be on track to make a difference. And there are social attitudes that need changing, to better celebrate hard work and enterprise, and look for ways to do things ourselves instead of wanting aunty Helen to do it for us (or uncle John for that matter).

  • Hello once again Possum;
    My apologies for my slowness in responding; you might say “business called”. Please do not regard a quiet spell as being uninterested; a man has to earn to eat!

    I confess to being bemused by your thesis that the naming of a ministry need not reflect its policy brief. By that approach a ministry name is simply a leading gambit of political spin, and a rose might very well be presented as a dandelion (or more likely the other way round!) if it suits the purpose of the government of the day. I infer that your intent is to direct us to “judge a ministry by its action rather than its name; if it waddles like a duck, quacks like a duck it’s unlikely to be a B52bomber!” Frankly, I think we ought to be able to reliably infer the ministry brief from the brand it publicly wears rather than having to second-guess their intent by their behaviour. But then I have never been particularly interested in politics of the seven veils variety.

    Leaving that aside, I too would like to see more focus on the policies; indeed I would like to see the policies (and the strategies, and ultimately the tactics)!

    I am already familiar, and underwhelmed, with the “Igniting Potential” brochure (which I assume is what you meant by “Igniting the Future”). Taking my turn to be churlish, I was distressed to sense that more creative logic was applied to designing the cover graphic (see “The Cover Story” on inside cover of report) than to the strategic principles and tactical detail of delivering empowering science. If motherhood-and-apple-pie is strategy then we have it in this document; but there is nothing that provides confidence that we have identified anything stronger than restructuring providers to accomplish the necessarily grand goal of creating the science that enables transformation of our economy. If this document is intended to be a pathway for innovation (and given that both these terms appear in the document’s subtitle it is reasonable to infer that) then it is innovation of the style that I described in my earlier post as “pushing things out on the end of a piece of string”.

    I do note though that one of the Minister’s identified problems is to “better connect science with business” (Minister’s Foreword, P2). Later the document expresses that “Future economic growth will depend heavily on increasing the role business plays in the science and innovation system, through R&D” (“The Importance of R&D”, p26). Excellent stuff!! (Though rather ironic coming hard on the heels of the rescinding of the taxation support for business R&D.) Reading on to learn how that is to be achieved, all policies appear to me to revolve around force-feeding business rather than ensuring that science providers are serving the right food at the banquet!

    See, what troubles me most about the philosophy that drives “Igniting Potential”, and presumably also Government’s thinking, is that it subscribes absolutely to a linear progression model that STARTS with the scientist. The scientist generates “investigator-led” “fundamental research” which is then turned over to business for “applied research and development that translates knowledge directly to commercial opportunities” (all quoted sections are extracted from P12 of the document). That approach cannot provide a sufficiently high strike rate to make investing in science a good business investment, as the taxpayer has a right to expect.

    To further gauge the balance of scientist vs business strategic leadership visualised by government in this document I searched for the word “led” and totted up uses with business-led connotations and those with a science-led context. Regrettably, I found no surprises here: one use relates to business-led, while five relate to science-led. So here again the government’s philosophy of science-shall-lead-then-business-will-follow is evident (though one might infer from the paucity of references to leadership tha none is believed ncessary). Problem is, it’s a broken model. It assumes institutional and academic scientists have intimate knowledge of what are the technological barriers to business achieving commercial success; they do not, cannot. It assumes that most of everything that the scientist releases outside the ivory tower will be welcomed by the business community as the Holy Grail; it will not, is not. What this approach will generate, and what we see today, is frustration in all parties, and mutual suspicion and distrust between scientists and commercial people. That is a poisonous environment, and will never enable science to rescue our economy from its parlous state.

    How to rectify the system for dramatically greater economic impact? Design high-information-flow systemic approaches that focus scientific effort to solve problems that are commercially meaningful to the business community. The credible goal for effective innovation with economic impact is science-enabled innovation from business-informed research. Note that this does not demand leadership from one end of the chain, but joint action to inform leadership. That necessitates an integrated business/science mechanism to frame strategy AND to manage research performance.
    That accomplished, just watch the transformational change in science impact on our economy.

    PS: I have been admonished in these columns for painting a particular stereotype of NZ Scientists. At the time I feverishly looked for a Paul Callaghan quote that said it far more eloquently than I, but was unable to locate it at the time. Well now I have. Here is what Prof Callaghan, a scientist I greatly admire, had to say in Idealog #25, P 94 in an article titled “Saving Science”:
    “It’s too easy to say, ‘Keep the funds coming so I can churn out more papers, have more students, and go to more conferences.’ You get to my age and think, ‘What the hell have I been doing all these years? I have published 250 papers and written a bunch of books, but what value have I added to this country?’”.
    The last two sentences featured as the cover-quote for that issue of Idealog, and so were broadcast from every news-stand in every supermarket in the country.

  • A propos of the earlier discussion in this thread around whether the government mis-uses the term innovation in the current context, I have just today come across a nice concise discussion of what distinguishes those oft-confused aspects of the innovation chain, “creativity”, “innovation” and “invention”. Those who wish to compare their own impressions with a guru in the field may like to go to .