Ferris roadmap to culture change

James Riley
Editorial Director

Australia will “miss the innovation opportunity” if it doesn’t address a number of key imperatives in the space, Innovation and Science Australia chairman Bill Ferris said.

Speaking at the AFR’s Innovation Summit on Tuesday, Mr Ferris outlined the body’s 2030 Strategic Report, which it will be delivering to government in three weeks.

Mr Ferris said that Australia is “falling behind” in the global innovation race.

Bill Ferris: Looking for step-change opportunities for cultural change and capability building

“The good news is we are an inventive lot. But the evidence is clear that in recent years we have fallen behind the rate of innovation elsewhere. This slippery slope has accompanied Australia’s widening competitiveness gap,” Mr Ferris said.

“Other nations are moving swiftly to take advantage of the new dynamics of the knowledge-rich and digital economy, creating the jobs and industries that will underpin their own prosperity. We are falling behind where we need to be and we have a heap to do.”

Innovation and Science Australia’s common vision for Australia in 2030 in terms of innovation is: “For Australia to be counted within the top tier of innovation nations, known and respected for its excellence in research, science and commercialisation. Innovation that can underpin a diversity of internationally competitive industries will enable current and future generations to have meaningful work and a great quality of life in a fair and inclusive society.”

Mr Ferris said the 2030 Strategic Plan – which will be unveiled later this year – would outline how Australia can reach this point within 12 years.

The plan will guide the government’s investment in the innovation, science and research system. An issues paper released for consultation in March received more than 100 submissions.

The plan will focus on five “policy imperatives”:

  • Equipping Australians with skills relevant to 2030
  • Stimulating more high-growth firms to improve productivity
  • Strengthening the government’s role as a catalyst for innovation
  • Increasing the translation and commercialisation of research
  • Fostering an innovative culture

The decline in Australia’s performance in STEM subjects is “alarming” and needs to be addressed in order to regain ground in the innovation race, Mr Ferris said.

“Unless our education and training systems do that, we will miss the innovation opportunity – we’ll miss that boat. This doesn’t mean turning out more and more kids with programming and coding skills, but it doesn’t mean more students with problem-solving, curiosity and other skills relevant to the digital economy and society,” he said.

The strategy would also outline how the government can improve procurement, service delivery and access to data in order to foster more innovation in local companies.

In terms of culture, ISA will recommend the government identify a number of “high-impaction national missions” – large scale projects that “could assist with the task of building an innovation culture by embracing and harnessing the power of our technology and entrepreneurial talent for solving big problems”.

These projects can help to demonstrate to the general public the benefits of innovation and disruption, Mr Ferris said.

“The thinking here is to coalesce a national innovation culture around projects that will provide a step change in capabilities throughout the innovation ecosystem, as well as providing significant economic and social benefits for all Australians,” he said.

“These are big projects that can inspire Australians of all ages about the possibilities of what can be achieved when we do back our scientists and researchers, and we get them together with our best entrepreneurs and businesses working in collaboration.”

The upcoming strategic plan will outline how these imperatives will help Australia to regain its footing in the global innovation race, Mr Ferris said.

“If we back these imperatives and build on the strengths we do have, the opportunities will far outweigh the threats of the fourth industrial revolution. We can and should expect Australia to become a top tier innovation nation by 2030,” he said.

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