Software Innovation NZ welcome the review embarked upon by the MBIE’s Te Ara Paerangi Future Pathways Green Paper. We noted that New Zealand’s approach to the research, science and innovation (RSI) system has been too hands-off at a time where we need to be proactively creating change. We also support the desire expressed in the Green Paper that our RSI system should be connected, diverse and dynamic, more so than adaptable and resilient, which are important but sound merely reactive.
We in Software Innovation NZ have already been working towards such an ambition. In the two years prior to this review being initiated a proposal for a national digital tech research and development network – the Aotearoa Digital Alliance (ADA) – has been in development. That proposal directly addresses many of the issues raised in the Future Pathways Green Paper and so we refer to sections of it in our response.
Research in digital technologies should have been a priority before now, particularly if we compare ourselves internationally. Government’s own planning has identified digital tech as key to ‘building back better’ [from the pandemic], to delivering positive economic, environmental and social impacts. While our frontier digital firms are doing well, deeper R&D investment will enable more in the sector to scale up, or to scale out through new digital ecosystems, while also enabling the digital transformation of all other sectors.
The MBIE review of RSI, sitting alongside the Digital Technologies Industry Transformation Plan, the pending establishment of a Digital Technology Strategy for Aotearoa, and the upcoming national AI Strategy, presents an opportunity to urgently address this major gap in our research and innovation system.
On the back of this timely review we outlined the following recommendations; that government:
1. urgently pursues the establishment of a base grant-supported national organisation, equivalent to a Crown Research Institute, that will leverage and grow the country’s world-class research capability, underpin the innovation needs and aspirations of the poorly understood digital technology sector, and drive the digital transformation of all other sectors.
2. sets national research and innovation priorities following the principles and processes of mission-led research as enacted by the Science for Technological Innovation National Science Challenge.
3. ensures that the teams gathered to address research and innovation priorities are formed based on capability and impact potential, with next- and end-users engaged as partners from the outset.
4. creates a single, connected and highly visible system to support researcher development from students through to early career, mid-career and leading researchers and innovators where the mechanisms are demonstrably fit for purpose at each level.
5. establishes a diverse cross-agency Funding Council for each priority area or each set of related platform technologies, comprising leading, mid- and early-career researchers, innovators, advisers and officials that understand excellence, impact and connectedness in context.
6. leverages the Digital Tech Industry Transformation Plan to co-construct and incentivise new models for sustained government-Māori-research-education-industry interaction.
7. urgently and significantly increases expenditure on research and innovation in digital technologies.
8. considers a shift to platform specialisation where specialists work collaboratively on missions and projects ‘for the nation’.
9. funds ongoing partnership-oriented engagement over and above the funding of research itself.
10. more proactively looks to support senior, active researchers and innovators to move part-time into research system leadership, advisory, policy, mentor and governance roles.
11. urgently develops stable funding mechanisms to obviate the loss of our own PhD graduates to a high-demand global employment market.
Submitted: 9 March 2022
Professor Stephen G. MacDonell, Auckland University of Technology and University of Otago; Deputy Chair, Software Innovation New Zealand; Deputy Director, Science for Technological Innovation NSC: Kia kotahi mai – Te Ao Pūtaiao me Te Ao Hangarau
Dr Kelly Blincoe, The University of Auckland
Associate Professor Tony Clear, Auckland University of Technology
Associate Professor Matthias Galster, University of Canterbury
Dr Fabian Gilson, University of Canterbury
Dr Sherlock Licorish, University of Otago
Professor Steve Reeves, University of Waikato
Associate Professor Ewan Tempero, The University of Auckland
Professor Robert Amor, The University of Auckland
The full submission is available here.