Paul Cheever
December 4, 2015

Unlocking research led capabilities

Unlocking research led capabilities

Sydney University: it is time to initiate the research-led policy hack for universities

All Policy is developed and implemented to change outcomes with regard to a targeted impact zone. 

For this discussion, let’s accept that Innovation policy targets change in our:

  • Creation of new innovative businesses and industries that will drive economic growth and durability;
  • Integration of technology and innovation into existing enterprises to lift their growth and competitiveness; and
  • The use of technology and innovation to lift the efficacy of our health system, our social services and government services generally. 

This discussion draws on a perspective that for policy considerations there are two Innovation “Realms”: design-led innovation and research-led innovation.  

Much of the current policy attention is directed to the policy levers for the encouragement of entrepreneurship, of risk capital and of supply chain access. 

This is in response to the advocacy of the design-led sector which has been most vocal in making the case to activate these policy levers. 

And the Commonwealth and State Governments are responding with improvements to taxation policy on share options, financial regulation for crowdfunding and matching investment funding alongside new industry growth centres and other initiatives.

However, the research-led sector has been less forward in promoting the policy levers which will enable research, research commercialisation and research-industry engagement to better contribute to the targeted outcomes.  So it is time to initiate the research-led policy hack.

The Starting Point

Good policy development is predicated on a comprehensive and well-articulated description of the targeted outcomes, and the identification and analysis of the possible levers.

But equally, “best practice” policy setting requires an understanding of the starting point, and so it is worth noting that, contrary to the recent critical report from the Chief Scientist’s office, the research-led sector (Universities, Government research organisations and other publicly funded research organisations, - together the “PFROs”) have unrecognised, valuable assets that, when properly mobilised, will make important contributions to our innovation goals.

In addition to the obvious portfolio of research knowledge and skills, these ‘assets’ include:

  • Deep commercialisation knowledge and experience, including supply chain knowledge, within their Technology Transfer offices;
  • Commercialisation courses of study (noting the fine distinctions between commercialisation practice and entrepreneurship are for another discussion);
  • Relationships with industry;
  • A cadre of staff and students motivated to apply their knowledge and skills in practical and productive application;
  • Intern programs that can act as a bridge between industry and research;
  • Access to experienced Commercialisation Advisory Boards and internal kick-start funding; and
  • Connections with overseas markets through their international student population and overseas campuses.

A key barrier on our ability to power-up these resources lies in the circumstance that these ‘assets’ reside in unconnected silos.

And building links cannot be done simply through instilling entrepreneurship as the central thesis of change because in this realm each player operates with the commitment to their “day jobs”. Nonetheless, collaborations across these resources can be achieved.

The Policy Hack Proposals

Connecting our targeted outcomes in the context of our research-led resources leads to eight recommended policy initiatives.

  1. Allow and support the PFROs to do “spin-ins, to provide technical and commercialisation support for research-led inventions and discoveries made outside the PFROs.
  2. Encourage the sharing of knowledge among the technology transfer offices relevant to the allocation of their kick-start funds.
  3. (Within limits) provide matching funding against each PFRO’s own kick-starter funding allocation, provided that Point two has occurred.
  4. Establish a national program to ensure that all science and technology researchers receive recurring commercialisation training.
  5. All NHMRC and ARC applications should have a statement of potential application, and a statement of commitment to disclose all research findings to the institution’s technology transfer office.
  6. Develop the mechanisms to support a dual path for promotion for researchers and academics which recognises the value of both excellence and research and contribution to commercialisation.  This may require a “Gonski” type strategy of Government funding to facilitate researcher re-entry to their respective institutions.
  7. As an innovation workforce development strategy, for students doing formal commercialisation courses, develop a National Commercialisation Intern Program which would see these students have internships within technology transfer offices of their own or other institutions, and into research-led startups.  Further, use student interns generally as a bridge between our knowledge institutions and industry.
  8. The last CRC review recommended the concept of a mini-CRC which would have lower barriers to access support.  Take this further into the concept of ‘pop-up’ CRCs with near-automatic access for funding to support the expense of research-industry discussions around innovation opportunities where recommended by the collaborative processes achieved in Point two.

From my experience, all of the above would add real value to moving us to our target outcomes, are all feasible and can all be done with modest financial support, shared between the Commonwealth and the Sates.    

Now it’s over to the research-led community to put their voice behind these proposals, the recently released ACOAL proposals or add their own hackathon thoughts. 

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