ISA 2030 Plan: The way ahead

Paul Cheever

There is a lot I like about Innovation and Science Australia’s 2030 Strategic Plan. But as always, it’s in the delivery that the real test begins. Now that we have all had some time to digest the ISA’s directions, I had some thoughts.

Sandy Plunkett has set the context for my comments through her column Capability must now meet ambition on this site. Her key message was:

“Time and time again in Australia, tech sector insiders and innovation conscious business leaders, economists and commentators have identified a lack of political will and cultural ambition as the main handbrakes to iterative and sustained economic and social success in the post Internet knowledge-based global village.”

By coincidence, the recent ‘Closing the Gap’ report identified three causes of mission failure: (i) poor internal processes within Government; (ii) stakeholder engagement treated as a checklist item, not a partnership; and () no specific action plan developed to translate the framework into outcomes.

Thinkpiece: Paul Cheever on delivery improvements for the ISA 2030 strategic plan

So the intention here is start a conversation about the implementation of the Plan because the more the innovation community itself can articulate specific actions to bring the Plan’s Mission and Recommendations into effect, the more likely its aims will be realised.

To kick off this process, here are some activities that are critical to the successful implementation of the 2030 Mission.

1. Negotiate upfront the introduction of methodologies and protocols to address known counter-productive risk preferences.

By way of introduction, I have found a lot to like in the report. On first impression I found myself somewhat sceptical of the content, as a quick scan of the Summary generated a response of ”hasn’t this been said before on education and skills?’

But on a considered review of the full report, I found myself rewarded with some new learning and wanting to engage with the ideas presented.

For example, drawn to investigate the topic of anticipatory regulation, it struck me that this methodology offers benefit not just for regulation activity per se, but also as a tool to support the implementation of the plan itself.

After all, we know that a significant barrier to innovation in organisations, especially in Governments, is the resistance to take ‘personal’ risk.

So one activity prerequisite to the plan’s implementation will be to agree a universal methodology for anticipating, monitoring and responding to program and project risks that serve to remove personal risk and thereby transform the environment so that risk and even experiences of failure become accepted shared values.

This upfront negotiation extends beyond project management methodology to securing agreement to the two fundamental prescriptions contained under ‘Measuring performance to inform effective investment’ (page 98) that reads: “Regular reviews based on outcomes that are identified in advance of new investments in government innovation programs will provide an opportunity to review the effectiveness of interventions, iterating them as required based on accumulated evidence.”

The two fundamentally crucial elements in this statement are (i) program measurement will be based on outcomes, being thoughtfully considered outcomes and (ii) the term ‘iterating’ implies an acceptance that projects may not always proceed along a linear path, and like any startup may need to pivot.

Outcome measurement will need to include key interim milestones of change.

This is a significant change in Government Program management because, typically, progress in government programs are measured by conformity to input measures;

2. Reset the mandate and capability of ISA, or perhaps a mission-directed agency similar to NESTA in the UK, to act as the ‘Portfolio Manager’ for the plan.

This reset from the usual ‘Program Manager’ title implies a dynamic, market-facing agency to not only bring persuasion and assistance to the implementation of the plan, but also able to act on blockages or to exploit inflection points that arise though engagement in the innovation system generally.

This activity reflects this acceptance of the iteration principle above, among other factors.

For example, opportunities might arise to identify or develop new methodologies, with the agency’s role to foster the spill-over of these ideas. The lack of such a “portfolio” management agency not only risks the plan’s success, but lets the innovation system down more broadly.

As one example, it contributes to substantial inefficiencies as various players in the system incur independent effort and expenditure for what are common activities because the individual entities do not have a portfolio level view and remit.

The obvious first key task of this agency is to extend the plan’s generalised Roadmap to Implementation to a detailed set of actions.

3. Extend measurement of both government innovation programs and innovation system activity generally, to include assessment of process.

While the focus on outcome measurement is appropriate, there is also a need to for process measurement. For example, why do some incubators succeed, and others fail? What constitutes good practice in research commercialisation?

We need more than just numbers if we are to iterate ongoing policy and programs to greater impact. It can be argued that this activity simply connects the dots with the report’s own recommendation that longitudinal observations be mandated.

4. A formal program for creating, collecting, analysing and disseminating innovation, startup and scale-up case studies should be added to the implementation of the Plan.

It is ironic that the 2030 plan uses case studies for convey examples, but doesn’t explicitly recognise the high value of case studies for knowledge and experience spill-over.

For example, if we had a broad set of case studies of government innovation projects available, we could anticipate that these would assist in mitigating the risk-adverse culture that today inhibits government. And similarly, startup and scale-up case studies support private sector innovation.

5. The report calls for monitoring of capital availability, but this needs to be extended to examine how the market mobilises itself to connect innovation with capital, mentorship, industry connections, and markets in the support of high growth enterprises.

How we mobilise our innovation system is central to the 2030 mission. The term mobilisation may well be simply a personal preference for me, a term that conveys purposeful and ambitious actions, but the implementation itself needs to convey this value.

The concept of mobilisation might be at the grand scale, as the report itself indicates that the proposed National Health Mission will be an example of how we can mobilise around such a project.

But it is also how the system mobilises itself around the innovative startup in a garage beyond the black stump, a ‘place’ that today exists even within our major cities.

Paul Cheever is a long-time observer and participant in the Australian innovation ecosystem.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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