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


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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About sticknz

sticK is by Peter Kerr, a writer for hire. I have a broad science and technology background and interest, with an original degree in agricultural science. My writing speciality is making the complex understandable. I am available for outside consultancy work, and for general discussions of converting a good idea into something positive
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2 Responses to Come on ATI, tell us what you’re thinking – please!

  1. Mike says:

    Newsletter #2 is out now, and it’s not good news for anyone with high hopes for the ATI. The closer we get to 1 February, the more nebulous the functions of the agency appear to be. Top of the list of services is “Leadership and scene-setting in New Zealand in the innovation space” – What exactly does this mean? Shifting around make believe painted cardboard cut-outs? Nothing in the list is concrete or believable apart from handing out grants and funding. I suspect that business will laugh out loud for example at the thought that the ATI could help them out with project management.

  2. My greatest fear is much worse than Mike’s. From what I can make out the funding agencies (e.g. TechNZ) are to be brought into this institute as well. What I fear is that by such amalgamation, and a bit of smoke and mirrors, the overall budget will be reduced. For example, getting such government assistance, which requires dollar for dollar, might have to be spent in ATI, which would merely be a way of getting more private money running through government accounts. I really hope I am wrong here, and I have always thought an Advanced Technology Institute would be a good thing for New Zealand, but I cannot help but note that the present government has an unhealthy obsession about “getting back to surplus without raising income tax”. An example would include the latest ACC fees. There will be a 5.5 billion surplus, which is not required by ACC and will sit in a bank account but shows up as plus 5.5 billion in the government accounts, and this hardly helps the general economy. I have spoken to some scientists at what was IRL, and they have no clear idea what will change, which to me says either this has been very poorly thought out and it is more a bureaucratic “got to be seen to be doing something”, or, as I fear, there is a deeper agenda that nobody wants to own up about. I sincerely hope my fears are wrong, but if they are, ATI is still off to a bad start if the people who have to make it work have no input into how they will do it.

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