ScienceNZ releases two discussion documents on the future of research

14 Sep 2021 11:37 | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Science New Zealand, the consortium of Crown Research Institutes (CRIs), has released two major discussion documents. 

They're slightly messy to download from, here they are (as PDF):

The Value of CRIs in the New Zealand Science System

Pathways to the Future

What do you think of their recommendations for the future? Do they make sense? Can you see the science? Does CRI leadership provide a clear and compelling view?

Recommendations from Pathways to the Future:

  1. An RD&I Council establishes a small number of high-level priorities (or Missions) for Aotearoa New Zealand that science can contribute to
  2. MBIE increases the level of institutional funding to the PRIs to empower them and enable them to deliver on the commitments they make as part of the Mission Strategy Teams
  3. Each Mission has a clearly identified impact target and a defined timeframe for its achievement, e.g., reduce methane emissions by X% within X years
  4. For each Mission a National Science Strategy is developed by a four-way coalition of Industry, Government, Māori and Research.
  5. Government engage with Māori to understand the changes they require the Crown to make so that Māori are empowered to take a full partnership role in both the establishment of priorities and the development of Mission strategies
  6. Missions replace existing mechanisms to drive vertical as well as horizontal alignment of effort to achieve national priorities
  7. The RD&I Council review the alignment of PRIs with end users to ensure that major end user groups have a simple and clear alignment to a single PRI – this may involve the creation of a new PRI if there is a significant gap
  8. Existing collaboration mechanisms are reviewed and where possible removed in order to both save cost and increase the focus on the new Mission approach
  9.  Domain leaders who are able to represent the key stakeholders in their domain are appointed to the Strategy Teams
  10.  Each of the key organisations needed to support Mission strategies is empowered and enabled to act rather than contracted into acting via funding mechanisms
  11. Discussion on co-location of research organisations be broadened to include all 4 strands of the quadruple helix and all 3 layers of the RD&I system
  12. Repayable grant mechanisms are expanded to support emerging sectors and companies in priority areas

NZAS has no overall comment on these documents, but our Council has identified that:

  • The CRIs and their SSIF funding do have value, but there's not a coherent compelling path presented for change of $190m of ongoing support.
  • The value of the current and future science workforce seems obvious, but is not clear in Future Pathways. It is not clear the current dependence on overseas recruitment of science leaders can continue sustainably or is in the national interest.
  • At first glance, the success of NZ's COVID response is used as a case for mission-led research, but the proposal points to prioritisation of mission-led silos that would eliminate the collaborative mechanisms underpinning the COVID response.
  • Removing overcomplicated or unworkable governance remains a laudable goal, but not when the future might be valued and decided by varnishing hard-to-define concepts like 'the quadruple helix'. There is no indication of what future science should be prioritised.
  • There remains a need for implementation of more uniform approaches to help the growing diversity of Aotearoa New Zealand navigate and get successes from the current science system. Such success would should make the whole nation value research, science and technology more, aiding the case for future investment. Implementing the existing diversity policy would be a better start.
  • The role of Callaghan Innovation and the diaspora of applied chemistry and physics researchers from the former CRI Industrial Research needs further consideration.
  • Improving the system requires better understanding of barriers and gaps, including the unnecessary gap between fundamental and applied research, and the gap between our government-funded research sector and the applications and development in private sector. Better flow of research across these gaps is highly desirable, and deserves further exploration.

As a reminder: NZAS has a recent discussion document, developed over the past year, out on the future of the research system. It considers many of these issues.

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