If Callaghan Innovation is the answer – remind me again what was the question?

By Peter Kerr 14/12/2012

Well, surely I’m not the only one surprised that what was to be the establishment of an Advanced Technology Institute – or a supercharged IRL – somewhat on the model of Taiwan’s ITRI, is instead going to end up as a revamped Tech NZ.

That certainly hasn’t been communicated in its four month gestation – in fact precious little has been publicly stated….apart from some imaginative words of why and how the moniker Callaghan Innovation came into being.

In fact, communication has been woeful – to say the least.

Now maybe CI is going to be more than a funding vehicle, and move beyond the current Tech NZ role.

Maybe it will address those routes to market, partnering and capital issues that bedevil the turning of an idea into a saleable reality (and success).

Maybe it is what the country needs.

But – if ‘we’ had known CI was going to be an all singing all dancing affair, shouldn’t the process have been a heck of a lot more transparent, in-depth and more question and answering?

After all, this is as equally as big a change as took place 20 years ago when the DSIR and MAFTech was morphed into the CRI model.

That process was carried out over a reasonable timeframe and out in the open.

What we’re going to end up with here is a fait accompli, a model based on a muddle. (As an aside, precisely the type of thing the late Sir Paul Callaghan would have been aghast to have his name associated with).

If the (flawed) thinking was that NZ industry and people with ideas didn’t know what door(s) to go through to get science and tech answers or help – and CI is the result – you have to suspect entirely the wrong problem has been addressed……in secret.

Again, the trouble is we’ve all been kept in the dark, when we don’t have to be – we’re all on the same ship here.

Saying things like we can’t tell you anything until the legislation is in place, is a circular non-argument. That all will be revealed on Feb. 1 is equally invalid.

The approach, the cloak-and-daggerness is totally unwarranted.

So, based on gut-feel as much as anything, I make the following observations.

How will Callaghan Innovation NOT just be another layer of innovation bureaucracy – divorced from both the science/engineering and the market – which is as much a hindrance as a help to those who need it?

Where does this place an ever-improving initiative such as KiwiNet? This is the 18 month old CRI/university commercialisation initiative that self-formed after the disastrous non-creation of the National Network of Commercialisation Centres through the then Ministry of Science & Innovation.

Why would any person with an idea still not go straight to the science or engineering establishment that actually has the capability, rather than going through what will undoubtedly be an officialdom-onerous process through the CI?

Finally, sure (without even attempting to define the hackneyed term) ‘innovation’ needs to be done better in NZ.

But the way CI’s coming into existence, the huge risk is it is change by accident rather than change by design.

And no one is allowed to argue.