Come on ATI, tell us what you’re thinking – please!

By Peter Kerr 15/11/2012

Those of us who care about creating more national wealth through better commercialisation, innovation and implementation by leveraging our science capability really want to see the Advanced Technology Institute succeed.

The ATI will be, after all, an important stepping stone between research and the market.

It will have to have an NZ-centricness – simply attempting to copy other exemplar countries such as Taiwan, Singapore, Denmark or Switzerland will be doomed to failure.

Equally, no one who understands the complexity and difficulty of trying to put together what is a completely new piece of the puzzle will be under any illusion of the challenge of the task the ATI establishment board and unit have on their hands.

That is, we all know this isn’t easy.

But, it is even less easy when you don’t really tell us what is going on.

Sure, there’s a newsletter dated 31 Oct which outlines a process.

There is an intent as well:

The Board looks forward to keeping you up to date with the progress of the Establishment Board and Unit. Shortly we will be regularly updating and communicating with you via our own website and will make sure you know when this is available.

If February 1, 2013 is meant to be the up and going day (which it obviously won’t be), given that a fair percentage of December, and all of January are essentially dead days, then there ain’t much time to tell us much.

However, it is the structure, and more importantly the thinking around different possible structures, that is the meat of this particular sandwich.

From a public relations point of view, there’s a heck of a risk in a grand announcement that has failed to (in PR-speak) ‘engage with stakeholders’.

These stakeholders range from individual scientists to the CRIs themselves, universities, private research entities (think HERA, Cawthron) industry, entrepreneurs (or those of that way of thinking), investors and the general public – as well as other government entities.

I’m pretty sure none would mind if you flew some kites, looked for feedback on potential options, kicked a few tires on alternative structures.

Because, as I’ve already said, everyone knows this is not easy. We (and we’re all in on it) are unlikely to get it right first time; whatever shape it takes will almost undoubtedly require some massaging and morphing into an entity that works beyond the science, before the market.

So, just tell us what you’re thinking – please.

P.S. Since penning this, it has been announced that the ATI is to be known as Callaghan Innovation. Out of respect for the late Sir Paul, who, while loving science, was just as keen as making money from the commercial use of clever brains, let’s hope the (now) C.I. concentrates on those route to market difficulties, not rearranging the deck chairs of what we already have.

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  • Good morning,

    I am pleased to formally let you know that last night the Minister announced the new name of the ATI.

    The new organisation will be known as Callaghan Innovation.

    We took four pathways to arrive at the name, and I hope you are surprised by the simplicity and obviousness of it. The Minister announced following Sir Paul’s death that the Advanced Technology Institute would be named in his honour, so this element was a given.

    The second pathway we took was to survey the names of all the New Zealand research and innovation organisations, be they government, academic, private and public companies, and media. The strongest common thread in the language that emerged from the government and academic institutions was they were extensively populated with the descriptor “centre”. We intuited that the centre was not the place to be, metaphorically speaking. We did not want the Advanced Technology Institute to be in the middle but on the fringes, in the margins, on the bleeding edges, really solving the big hard problems -the places where Sir Paul said we would find this “weird stuff.”

    The third pathway we took was to review the names of 50 or so of the most influential global names associated with the commercial implementation and value-add from science, engineering and technology. Some were historical, some contemporary: Xerox Parc, Cedars Sinai, the Salk Institute, Cavendish Laboratory, Google Labs, John Hopkins, MIT Media Lab, Rockefeller Foundation, the Manhattan Project, the MacArthur Prize; and there were the inevitable acronyms: DTI, HTF, ATP, KIST and so on.

    We had a strong sense this initiative should not be an abbreviation or a set of initials; and we observed that the strongest combinations for these influential global names had two words and they had an edgy feel. In many instances these names transcended place, they were symbolic of an approach or a set of achievements; some had become brands; others a state of mind, an attitude.

    Our thinking definitely veered towards the Advanced Technology Institute being first and foremost an attitude, an approach, a brand, a new conversation and activity, rather than a fixed position or a building. While these physical manifestations will exist; the challenge for us is to fire-up the imagination.

    And finally, we had Sir Paul’s own approach; direct, clean, simple, no flourishes or embellishment but also not lacking in style and certainly unmistakable in intent and enthusiasm.

    The name has been deliberately designed to resist abbreviation and the dreaded disease of acronym-itis. If you want a new behaviour to permeate a culture, you use the language over and over. You will hear and see the word Innovation said much more frequently than ever before, and we wish for a self-adaptive gene to come into play so that we as a nation (word missing as got cut off in fax) become instinctively innovative.

    The typography of the logo is strong, resilient, and characterful. The lime green is fresh and optimistic; which speaks to creativity and enthusiasm. To paraphrase Sir Paul, we feel it has some “magnetic resonance.”

    Callaghan Innovation is new, original, and designed to be different, designed to stop, designed to make you think – to support a step-change in our commercialisation of science, engineering and technology.

    A copy of my speech from last night will be available later this morning.

    Can I finish by thanking you for the support and effort that the members of the Callaghan Innovation Board and Establishment Unit have received from IRL. It has been much appreciated and a valuable contribution to our work in establishing this exciting new venture.


    Sue Suckling
    Chair, Callaghan Innovation