The analysis of the weakness in the Australian system in converting excellent research to economic benefit has been aired repeatedly over the last months. Something has to be done about it and it is refreshing that a significant document was released by the Prime Minister on Monday addressing, in a holistic manner, various steps that can be taken, and hopefully will be taken, to pump up Australia’s performance in innovation. In a recent blog I pointed to the dangers of excess pressure on moving away from the foundations of research-driven innovation. In this piece I would like to stress the real need to get better value from the investments that are being made at the federal and state levels.
The wealth of a nation ultimately depends on 3 major components as defined by the OECD in various studies: (1) its natural wealth (e.g. resources), (2) the utilisation of the natural resources (e.g. agriculture), and (3) generation of wealth from brain power. Brain power does not mean PhD-driven research, it means all applications of intelligence by all members of society. Australia has been very lucky to have great strengths in the first 2 categories and perhaps because of that has overlooked the third. By converting the raw material that has been shown in research outputs, for example, there is a real opportunity for Australia to advance its economy even more than in its current healthy position.
The culture of innovation has to permeate right through the system, however. Innovation is not compatible with excessive demands for totally non-productive administrative actions. Government will have to accept this and in the process achieve one of its often stated goals of reducing red tape. Delays in decision-making while every detail is covered can have a dampening effect on innovation and productivity.
Indeed, productivity is at the heart of the innovation initiatives as it really means getting from the system much more than it is at present. A great opportunity to increase productivity is to increase the conversion of discovery into economic benefit. To address this gap the culture will have to be changed and a number of the measures that are outlined in the National Innovation and Science Agenda will do that and QIMR Berghofer looks forward to participating fully in this process.
However, it is not just at the federal level that innovation is receiving attention. In Queensland, the Advanced Queensland plan has been rolled out over the last number of months ahead of NISA. Perhaps not surprisingly ,the two plans align almost completely: the analysis of what needs to be done has been clear for some time and it is great that some actions are being taken to address these gaps. As a member of the Advance Queensland Expert Panel, I attended the first formal meeting of that panel this week and heard of the progress in the operation of the multi-faceted program and also was part of discussions on many related topics. It is up and running and hopefully NISA will be implemented with equal vigour.
It would appear that, subject to analysing all of the details which will emerge, the government has now put in place a pathway towards a new component of the Australian economy and we all have the responsibility to join in and do so.
This is a story about Australia but obviously it is one that is global with each country at a different stage of realising that the real riches of the future for society and the economy lies in the space above our shoulders.