A solution to our lack of shared purpose around a science-innovation strategy

OK, now we have Callaghan Innovation gestating its way into life – with no indication of how long the process will take, or even what it is we’re trying to bring to fruition.

At the same time we have the ‘Great New Zealand Science Project’ – a public wish list of all the wonderful things we could research – which a committee of the great and the good are now trying to make sense of.

Meanwhile MBIE is still responsible for allocating some of the research funding too.

What these three initiatives clearly indicate is we actually don’t know what we’re doing, or why, or how.

Now, it seems like long ago (but actual fact it is only 18 months) that the High Value Manufacturing Review, a.k.a ‘Powering Innovation’, came out with its recommendations.

A re-read of this document might be a useful exercise for minister-of-everything Steven Joyce.

Recommendation 1:

Develop a strategic and structured approach for connectivity between research and development providers and the high value manufacturing and services sector

Whether this is going to be fulfilled by CI, who knows? Beyond motherhood and apple pie type statements, the purpose (not a vision, not a mission both of which are meaningless) of Callaghan Innovation is still a mystery.

Rumbles from manufacturers, universities and CRIs about the lack of information, sense of shared direction, or a strategic intent (let’s call it a plan) during the whole CI creation process show a glaring omission from the ‘Powering Innovation’ document – and more than a hint that science minister Steven Joyce is playing free and loose in whatever definition of innovation he’s decided upon.

This brings me to the point – and possibly the only way for NZ Inc to strategically line up its science and innovation.

Among a number of excellent recommendations in ‘Powering Innovation’, was #13.

This also demonstrates, by inference, why our country’s currently on an unknown course to an unknown destination.

Recommendation 13:

Form a Science and Innovation Council, led from a very senior ministerial level in Government, with representatives from the university, public and private research organisations and from industry. Members should represent a wide range of science and technology themes, including the social sciences. The role of the Science and Innovation Council should be to establish a national innovation strategy and advise on science and innovation policy and priorities.

Now I realise that such an S&I Council would force us to actually have a shared plan; and that maybe that’s the last thing Minister Joyce wants.

But, until we, like Denmark, Singapore, Taiwan, Switzerland et al, have such a thing, then the person in the street, researchers or industry will have no sense of being part of a wider (game) plan.

Running around and doing science and innovation ‘stuff’ in the absence of a national plan is doomed to provide middling mediocrity. There will be plenty of peddling by all involved, but nobody will be quite sure who or what it is we’re trying to get over the finish (start) line before anyone else in the world.

What we desperately need is an integrated innovation system from the fundamental science through technology development to commercial exploitation of the results. We also need to ensure this integration includes research and commercialisation carried out by the Health Research Council.

Instead, what we have at the moment is a hodge-podge of barely connected elements, with nothing even remotely looking like a plan in place.

Until we begin to get all our R&D cum innovation cum shared strategy ducks in a row through something like a S&I Council, we have absolutely no show of emulating the exemplar countries that NZ Inc, through government officials, have visited dozens of times in the past 20 years.

Mind you, if we had a simple national science and innovation plan, then there would also be some corresponding accountability.

That’s probably the fly in the ointment!


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
This entry was posted in Development, Early stage science, Entrepreneur, high tech, Innovation, SciBlogs, Science, Science policy, start-up and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to A solution to our lack of shared purpose around a science-innovation strategy

  1. Daniel McLaughlin says:

    Hi Peter, I’ve been following stick intermittently from the UK for a while now. I too skimmed the MSI report and i think the link missing here is how we bridge technology with people. Candidly, coming up with bright ideas doesn’t seem to be a problem in NZ, but ‘packaging’ them into something marketable for business or domestic consumption seems to lack. I think Design, as a discipline, maybe missing in this science, engineering equation?

    It also seems to be overly regulated…? I don’t think you can plan the next tech or pharma, but you can create an atmosphere for such sparks to fly…

    Be intrigued to hear other readers thoughts?

    • sticknz says:


      Yes I think you’re right. Design as influenced by market validation (which is about people) is where we let ourselves down at times. Ideas are easy.

  2. Kiaora. “What we desperately need is an integrated innovation system from the fundamental science through technology development to commercial exploitation of the results.”

    I have been following a Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation Company (“CNOOC”).

    In particular their Research & Development work.

    China National Offshore Oil Corporation (“CNOOC”), is the largest offshore oil and gas producer in China, It is a mega government owned company operating directly under the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China. In 2012, the Company’s rankings in the Fortune Global 500 rose to 101st.

    Headquartered in Beijing, CNOOC employed approximately 98,750 people for all business. It has, since its incorporation in 1982, maintained strong growth momentum, evolving from a purely upstream oil and gas exploration outfit to an integrated group of energy-related companies with promising primary businesses and a complete industrial chain. The six main business segments of the Company are oil & gas exploration and development; professional technical services; refining, sales and fertilisers; natural gas and power generation; financial services and alternative energy resources.

    In 2011, all major performance indicators of CNOOC have reached record high, kicked off a great start of the 12th Five-Year Plan. Annual revenue reached 488.2 billion RMB. Annual profit reached 112.3 billion RMB, surpassing 100 billion for the first time. EVA reached 62.7 billion RMB, and total assets at the end of the year reached 718.5 billion RMB.

    Since high-tech is an important feature of the offshore oil industry, CNOOC has always insisted on the principle of technological innovation to support its future growth and has continuously improved its independent innovation capability, so as to ensure a clean, reliable and stable energy supply to the society.

    CNOOC has implemented the strategy of technological innovation as one of its core strategies. Combined with its development strategy, the Company has closely followed the development trend of petroleum technology, adhered to the development direction of energy technology, and actively explored a technology innovation mode and a research mechanism with its own characteristics. The Company focus on technology research on critical problems in production and the key fields in future development, and has made many breakthroughs in new offshore oil exploration fields and technologies. It has enhanced its recovery ratio, marginal oilfield development, deepwater oilfield development, comprehensive utilization of heavy oil, LNG and chemical industry, alternative energy development and overseas exploration and development, giving full play to the leading role of technology in the development of CNOOC.

    CNOOC has set up a technology innovation platform consisting of CNOOC Engineering Technology Centre, key laboratories of CNOOC, national technology centres and postdoctoral stations. It provides integrated services through prospective research, research and development of core technologies and products, production technology support, technology imports and assimilation, and the application of new technologies. It is an important carrier for realizing CNOOC’s mid and long term objectives of technology development and building a strong team of technology talent for offshore oil industry in China.

    CNOOC Engineering Technology Centre was set up on July 25, 2006. It comprises 8 engineering technology research institutes which are operated as entities and constitute the science and technology innovation system of CNOOC. It is an important base for conducting research for the Company’s science and technology planning as well as for the national and the Company’s important research programs.

    As a significant part of CNOOC’s science and technology innovation system, the key laboratories consist of 5 segments including recovery ratio study, geophysics, deepwater engineering, marginal oilfield development and heavy oil utilization. Their main responsibility is to solve the key technical problems hindering the long-term sustainable development of CNOOC and the major technical difficulties in production through innovative research, and to set up a core technology system with independent intellectual property rights. In 2008, sound progress had been made in the scientific research of each key laboratory.

    CNOOC also owns two national technology centres. The National Research Centre of Industrial Water Treatment Engineering and Technology was set up in 1994 and is located in CNOOC Tianjin Chemical Research & Design Institute, engaging in the research and development of industrial water saving technology and wastewater resource recovery technology, engineering integrated development, technical services, information, standards, and the production and marketing of water treatment chemicals and equipment. The National Coatings Engineering and Technology Research Centre was approved for setup by the Ministry of Science and Technology in November 2003 and was officially put into operation at the end of 2007, mainly engaging in the research and development of coatings, the synthesis of resin for coatings, and relevant technical products including paints. This also involves the quality supervision and testing of coatings and the development and revision of standards for coatings and paints.

    Since the new century, CNOOC has successively set up 3 postdoctoral stations. As an important part of CNOOC’s research and production as well as technology innovation, the postdoctoral stations provide training for high-level talent in order to meet the requirements of science and technology.

    With continuous increase in its independent innovation capability and the improvement of its science and technology innovation system, CNOOC has made fruitful achievements in science and technology. In 2011, CNOOC upgraded policies for technological innovation and financing. The year also saw start-up of a new three-levelled-technology investment mechanism “the State guiding, the Group subsidizing and the benefitted units financing”, which would effectively contributed to the implementation of the Company’s 12th Five-Year Plan of R&D. In total, 5.40 billion RMB was allocated to R&D-related activities for the year, of which 1.74billion RMB was directly targeted in R&D programmes.

    The Company undertook a total of 379 research programmes in 2011, including 155 at national and provincial/ministerial level. It drafted the science and technology section of the 12th Five-Year Plan and 26 key projects (8 national and 18 provincial/ministerial technology projects). It issued 142 standards and saw publication of 941 papers in trade journals at home and abroad. The Company also held or joined 31 national or international technology exchange activities and exhibitions.

    In 2011, all 8 National Key Scientific and Technological Projects of the 11th Five-Year Plan, totalling 38 research subjects, were signed off, including 3 projects of National High-Tech R&D Programme of China (863 Programme). Major advances also came online in complex oil and gas exploration of China coastal waters, deep-water oil and gas exploration, offshore heavy oil development and deep-water equipment. Achievements included 4 strategies and methods to enhance offshore oil and gas exploration, 7 add-on technologies for hidden oil and gas reserves in coastal waters and other applications, 28 proprietary technologies and methods for evaluating hydrocarbon content in depressions in coastal waters and other applications, 9 software packages for numerical modelling of the special distribution of continuous oil/gas reservoirs and other applications, and 5 major project equipment units including the semi-submersible deep-water drilling rig “Hai Yang Shi You 981”.

    CNOOC has received numerous awards for Science and Technology Progress, one that was awarded was back in 2011, for the achievement of CNOOC’s, “Technology Innovation System of China Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration and Development”, they were awarded the first prize of the National Award for Science and Technology Progress.

    It is the offshoring of research and development—of innovation and the future—that arouses
    the keenest anxiety. The economist Richard Freeman spoke for many Americans when
    he warned that the United States could become significantly less competitive “as large
    developing countries like China and India harness their growing scientific and engineering
    expertise to their enormous, low-wage labour forces.”

    Many would call for protectionism, I would seek a collaborative partnership or a more progressive, approach would be to spend more money to promote cutting-edge science and technology, which we know that Joyce and co do alot of espousing, but offering only piece-meal dollars – and its our jolly money!

    • Daniel McLaughlin says:

      Great info Siena – it’s mesmerising/frightening how swiftly the Chinese government can move.
      But you know we cant compare ourselves pound for pound with China – the shear volume of yearly Chinese uni graduates exceeds our population! I don’t think we have a body of professionals large enough to compete in traditional areas like oil & gas, let alone the public capital.

      Perhaps its a more multi-pronged approach where you balance a long term investment in Science & Research programmes with short term commercial exploitation. IE Take the low hanging fruit from research to start spin-off companies? Perhaps the government could look at high growth areas like the Chinese GVNT did with oil, say our leading research like Agscience and quite pragmatically say ‘Lets start 50 companies in 2 years’. I agree with you, it is about being more progressive.

      I think this initiative at TUDelft http://www.yesdelft.nl is a great example of the latter.. The thing i like about this as a vehicle for innovation, is the active inclusion of the surrounding business community, with the academic community to get that innovative spark! The other quite simple interventions i would push for, is a space where Kiwis can experiment and a direct channel where potential funding can be easily obtained, so inventors & researchers can get on with what they do best, rather than worry about the rent or play beauracratic hopscotch!


  3. aimee w says:

    Huzzah! Great article, Peter, cheers 🙂

    I think you’re absolutely correct – we need a plan before we all rush off in various directions using on the power of buzzwords to encourage us. Sadly, however, I don’t get the impression that a lot of the higher-ups out there actually _realise_ they’re trapped in a buzzword echo chambers…

  4. Simon G says:

    There was an interview with Sue Suckling, chair of Callaghan Innovation, as well as Prof. Mike Kelly from Cambridge, about the new organisation and concerns that it might no longer do research, this morning on Radio NZ National (Wed 13th March). The podcast of the whole 25 mins is here http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon at 09:25am

    I’d be interested to see what reaction people have to this.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s