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Idealog—in the ideas business

Callaghan Innovation - a skeptic’s view

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 February 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, are the following:

  • 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's – whose research institutes 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.

This post originally appeared on Sciblogs and sticK

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I hope you are wrong also, but hope is never an effective strategy.

On a somewhat related note - has anyone actually got _data_ on the dollars going into CRI projects, and the commercial products and services coming out? I'd have thought that this would be public information somewhere?

Great read, Peter. Definitely agree with everything you've said, particularly your healthy yet hopeful scepticism.

What I find most troubling is how many organisations seem to be doing the same thing in New Zealand. While merging several organisations to form CI is a good step, why can't we just use a single Ministry (like the Japanese used to with MITI during their glory years) to co-ordinate between Government, business and the education sector across not only science and innovation but also exports and national champion subsidies?

Grant, Sir Callaghan's book 'From Wool To Weta' had some excellent analysis on the dollars and ROI of state-funded innovation of the Labour Government's approach. I haven't got a copy of the book, but I'm sure that data is publicly accessible online. Incidentally, he had a lot of criticisms

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