Officiating our way to an ATI totally the wrong policy

By Peter Kerr 08/11/2012

Now everyone wants to see the Advanced Technology Institute set up and thriving.

This ranges from the ATI’s establishment board, to science minister Steven Joyce, to (about to be reformed) IRL, to the CRI and university scientists and commercialisers, to industry and the NZ public.

A question that needs to be asked is whether ‘policy advice’ and officialdom is getting in the way, hindering even, what is and will be an NZ-centric model to cranking up commercialisation of our science, engineering and entrepreneurial resources.

A couple of illustrative points.

My (process and chemical) engineering brother, recently returned from Australia, was at a function the other day, and met another policy person seconded from a government ministry to help the establishment unit.

My brother asked what it is that is that’s trying to be established? A vague non-answer.

Well, what will it help improve? Apparently, one thing is that instead of three possible doors for people/manufacturers wanting help to go through, there will be one door. Wow.

And then there’s the policy advice. The establishment unit is one source, MoBIE itself is another, MED comments on everything and NZ Trade & Enterprise also provides such advice. (On the NZTE front, whether or not it does become rolled into the ATI function looks less likely by the day seemingly).

Which brings us back to the main point that officialdom’s not doing us (NZ Inc) any favours in the way it operates…..aided and abetted by the fact that ATI’s intended role is presently a line of question marks, this ???????.

If the rumour that there are 4000 pages of cabinet papers about the ATI is true, that too is a scary thought.

What we all want out of ATI is a philosophy, a mouldable funnel and pathway of ideas and people across the science, engineering, innovation and implementation spectrum.

ATI needs to address issues such as capital, pathways to market, partnering, and bringing on and in best expertise in quickly creating scaleable businesses (especially in addition to the person with the original idea).

The danger with officialdom’s approach is it will invent answers for problems that don’t exist, and, even worse, create solutions that cannibalise existing providers – both public and private.

The other danger of officiating our way to an ATI non-answer is it talks amongst itself.

The paucity of discussions with industry and science leaders by the establishment unit is one indication of this. The ‘this is what we’re trying to achieve’ response that my brother received is another illustration.

So, for all our sakes, let some of these clever people on the ATI establishment board use their contacts, connections and links to alternative thinking to help develop unconventional models before developing answer(s).

Spread the intellectual focus away from how to adjust science capability (at this stage), and concentrate on making more money from our R&D + entrepreneurs + routes to market.

Creating any more than broad policy at this stage is a mistake.

When we don’t know what ATI is going to do, creating oodles of policy is totally cart before the horse.

It is the default course of action.

What we’d all be grateful to see is a business plan/’this is what we’re going to do’ created as a one-pager.

That way we can all clearly see and measure if we’re creating a structure that provides something of value. (And if we don’t then we can quickly tweak it!).

Policy production doesn’t produce useful answers.

All it does is shift the deckchairs.

P.S. According to the first ATI newsletter about this time next week we could see the name and head office location of the new body announced.

0 Responses to “Officiating our way to an ATI totally the wrong policy”

  • Madness can be defined as repeating the same action and expecting different outcomes. Just because a few names may change won’t alter the limited NZ industrial R&D investment of the last 30 years.

    Government supplementation of industrial research is choked because most NZ industry management doesn’t understand the requirements or role of strategic research. Many NZ companies only embark on R&D as a distress purchase, and almost always heavily constrain their investment and apply irrational deadlines for investment returns.

    Because of the timeline, it’s highly likely that IRL will be rapidly folded into the ATI, along with a few other innocent entities that didn’t run away fast enough. They have to take all their MoBIE funds, as trying to live off the crumbs from NZ manufacturers as govt funds decrease will make the ATI as viable and durable as Biafra.

    When CRIs were formed, the govt. required that one CRI had to be headquartered in Auckland, and IRL drew the short straw. After a suitable period, given that majority of funding came from Govt. and they had to interact with MoRST and FoRST, the IRL HO was moved to Wellington.

    How hard is it to decide the organisation’s name when the Govt has said it’s to be named after Sir Paul Callaghan?.

  • This just another waste of taxpayer funds by the NZ research bureaucracy on “strategic” research by the CRIs. Worldwide, the best research is done by universities and is investigator driven. Until NZ weens itself of the top-down model, R & D will flounder.