Encouragingly, in recent days, the Turnbull Government (and ALP opposition) has put innovation at the forefront of policy thinking, after a period of hibernation.
Collaboration has become a buzzword again, following a plethora of reports from the Chief Scientist, Universities Australia, and the Business Council of Australia among others, which highlight fundamental weaknesses in innovation systems linkages in Australia and beyond. Being at the bottom end of the OECD on collaboration seems to be par for the course.
As is well known, collaboration joins up disparate and specialised capabilities to address specific societal objectives and commercial opportunity, diffuses risks and shares costs. While the debate about start-ups, commercialisation of research, and better links between industry and research is happening and certainly worth having, there is still a gap in the innovation/collaboration space when it comes to key institutions and the “architecture” of innovation and collaboration.
One option to give real effect, focus and scale towards collaboration is to establish a National Collaboration Authority (NCA), on a par in status and imprimatur to the Australian Competition Commission. Collaboration and Competition can comfortably sit side by side. The NCA would be an autonomous body, attached to the Department of prime Minister and Cabinet, and overseen by an independent Board comprising industry, academic, research and Government representatives along with expatriate Australians to provide that crucial knowledge and easeas linkages to global innovation systems.
The NCA would have a broad range of functions. Firstly, it would identify, leverage and support large scale collaborative projects, between industry, academic institutions and Government, including from overseas, and maximise knowledge diffusion and impact. While funding support would be significant, its main role would be as a facilitator, broker and catalyser – making and retaining critical connections. The NCA could also play a major part in aggregating individual projects to build scale and critical mass.
Beyond this NCA would have a number of critical roles:
- Developing and overseeing the policy architecture (funding support, regulatory instruments) and ensuring that Government itself is “joined up”.
- Providing a repository and matching service to link potential collaborators together.
- Promote awareness about the benefits of collaboration through demonstration and diffusion of best practice.
- Develop evaluation frameworks for collaborative projects with an emphasis on impact measures.
Clearly not all good ideas and problem solving efforts are drawn from a “tops down” perspective. Local communities and citizens groups are obvious generators of many innovative ideas addressing local issues, in areas such as recycling and social disadvantage, just to name two. To provide support to “unlock” and leverage these capabilities collectively at the grass roots level, regional chapters of the NCA be established. These RCAs, not necessarily organised along State boundaries, would serve similar functions to the national body. Sharing ideas, information and expertise between the central organisation and its regional counterparts would be a hallmark of a new spirit of co-operation among public policy authorities, transcending geographical boundaries.
Ideas and knowledge originate anywhere, anytime by anybody. Harnessing this knowledge and linking it together to realise tangible outcomes is a major challenge. Breaking through silos and old ways of doing things will need a new approach, a new architecture for the future.
Dr Anand Kulkarni is a CPD fellow and Senior Mananger of Planning and Research at RMIT University.
Image from the Department of Innovation, Industry and Science’s research paper “Australian geography of innovative entrepreneurship“.