Callaghan Innovation – wishing it all the best…..but


I hope I’m wrong about Callaghan Innovation, and for our country’s and industry’s sake that it is a roaring success when it stumbles into life on Feb 1.

But, the portents aren’t good – and as a solution in search of a need, instead of the other way round – we’ll end up with a couple of years of bureaucratic confusion before eventually going for a form of the Advanced Technology Institute as originally proposed by IRL.

In the meantime we’ll have a Callaghan Innovation Agency (CIA), and all the bumbling that’s implied in that.

Why the glass half empty viewpoint?

Among the things that have happened, the common knowledge at IRL and further afield, have been the following happenings.

  • An ATI Establishment Board (before it morphed into CI), whose chair, Sue Suckling, reported only and directly to Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment super minister, Steven Joyce. Not through MBIE (who weren’t involved), only to Joyce
  • A chief science adviser (Sir Peter Gluckman) who hasn’t been able to talk to Joyce
  • An October command that no member of the ATI establishment team or board was to have anything to with the senior management of IRL. (Odd, presumably you’d expect such people to have the best knowledge/overview of requirements to promote high value manufacturing)
  • An as yet non-public business plan; and no idea how any sort of transition/transformation takes place between IRL to Callaghan Innovation
  • A management and governance structure that merely transfers the original ATI establishment team to new positions – let’s call it jobs for the girls and boys…..never, ever a good look
  • Total and utter disregard for transparency, democracy, clarity of (desired) outcome – and the trust that goes with those processes

In short, what we have with Callaghan Innovation is a secret, ill-conceived creation of a model that’s been disproven overseas.

We don’t have anything like Taiwain’s ITRI – which has an extremely strong industry/research group hug and development of science/engineering platforms that will strategically support a future.

Nor Switzerland’s, nor Singapore’s, nor especially Denmark – who’s research institute’s must be wondering how we got so far away from their own model.

Now, Joyce is well-known for forming a point of view and pulling all the levers to achieve an outcome – it’s something you can do in business (more or less).

How much has his notion that ‘innovation’ (and let’s not even begin to try and define it) is a command and control activity intersected with the law of unintended consequences?

Wow, we’ve ended up with ‘tell me exactly what it’s meant to do’ Callaghan Innovation?

CI will be much more hands-on from Joyce’s point of view, but I’m afraid Steven, that’s not how innovation works.

CI as a model is much more sand in the gearbox.

Whether it is because her background’s as an economist, but Sue Suckling’s viewpoint seems to be that inventors/innovators/ideas people have had trouble accessing the IRL (and other university/CRI) brains who could help with their industry challenge. We’ll call it a supply problem.

That’s not the case – anyone with even half and idea can relatively easily, today, get the help and R&D expertise they need.

Providing a 0800 ‘Callaghan Innovation’ number addresses a problem that doesn’t exist. It will simply be another bureaucratic layer of frustration for science and industry.

But, prove me wrong CI – I’ll be happy to admit my error.

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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 Callaghan Innovation – wishing it all the best…..but

  1. gjmilneordon says:

    CIA – really?

    I do not hold out much hope for massive success. It seems to me that the lack of collaboration and lack of cross-fertilisation of ideas was the sort of thing Paul Callaghan was always speaking out against. If you told Paul that a silo was the best approach he would probably have laughed at you.

    Steve Joyce is very good at getting things done. I just don’t think he is the bets individual to trust as to what should be done. No individual should be.

    If you want innovation to have a return for NZ then you need wide open communication between everyone so that ideas can land on fertile ground and not be lost because the one person allowed to pay attention didn’t see how it could be used elsewhere.

    Command & control won’t work. For innovation to thrive, people need to be able to play!

  2. cliffy says:

    Given that the focus of the CI is Agriculture, Horticulture, Neutraceuticals and Food it is hard to see how IRL which is focused on the manufacturing and industry is going to morph into the CI. What is going to happen to what is the bulk of IRL? In the future when someone from industry turns up at CI looking for assistance, are they going to be told to go to Australia?

    Also, given undertakings that all IRL staff would be transferred (at least initially) into CI on 1 Feb, it would be interesting to know exactly how many IRL staff have been made redundant or encouraged into early or medically-related retirement over the last 3 months.

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