Tag Archives: Australian innovation

Review highlights lagging performance

In early February, Innovation and Science Australia (ISA) – a statutory board tasked with providing whole-of-government advice on all innovation, science and research matters – released the Performance Review of the Australian Innovation, Science and Research System 2016 (the ISR System Review).

The review’s findings demonstrate that, while the Australian ISR system has its strong points, we are lagging well behind comparable countries and without concerted action we are bound to fall farther behind.

Our innovation performance is determined by three key activities: how well we create knowledge; how well we transfer that knowledge to different parts of the system; and how well our businesses apply knowledge in developing new goods and services and bringing them to market.

The assessment of these key activities, as compared to similar and competitor nations, is summarised in a novel “performance scorecard”. This scorecard, which includes 20 relevant metrics, will allow ISA to track the ISR system’s performance into the future.

Creating knowledge is, as expected, a point of strength. In both our number of researchers per capita and the proportion of highly cited publications produced, we sit in the top 10 internationally.

However, the scorecard also confirms our relatively poor performance in the transfer and application of our knowledge creation into new products and services. This is partially explained by our low rates of collaboration and mobility among research institutions and businesses.

In the proportion of researchers employed by businesses we came in at 28 out of 36 comparable countries. Perhaps of most concern is that out of OECD countries we came in last for collaboration between business and research institutions. Collaboration, of course, is essential for the exchange of ideas, sparking creative insight and driving innovation activity.

While the ISR System Review contains no recommendations, it is now the ISA’s task to prepare a strategic plan for the Australian innovation, science and research system to 2030.  

This plan will be delivered to government later this year following consultation with stakeholders. Throughout the plan’s development, ISA will seek to draw upon stakeholder expertise in addressing key questions, such as:

How can we bring more firms, in more sectors, closer to the innovation frontier?

How can government become more innovative?

What does an innovative Australian workforce capable of meeting future challenges look like and how can it best be built?

How can we ensure Australian innovative businesses are seamlessly connected to international value chains and flows of knowledge, capital and talent?

The 2030 strategic plan offers a chance to outline a broad vision for Australia’s medium and long term, without sacrificing the ability to make recommendations to government for adjustments to the ISR system that are needed now. This will be a challenging piece of work that promises to deliver real value for the ISR system.

The Cooperative Research Centres Association is a powerful voice for the interests of the sector and ISA look forward to drawing upon the association’s expertise.

– Tim Powell, ISA

Find out more: Innovation & Science Australia

Read about the latest CRC discovery in KnowHow 2017

graduate program

Getting into a top graduate program

An excellent graduate program helped accelerate my career progress.

I arrived in Australia at the turn of the century. The trigger for leaving South Africa to move here was a little-known industrial automation software called Citect. I was inspired by this Australian invention, that back then was simply the most advanced, most innovative software in its industry.

It had been less than 10 years since I graduated from university with an Electrical Engineering degree, but the first five years were the most formative. The company that employed me as a fresh graduate had a fantastic graduate program, and equipped me with essential skills that have served me well for the past 25 years.

Today I look back on the 16 years I have been at Cochlear – another great Australian innovation – and am proud to have been part of an organisation that excels at nurturing young talent.


An undervalued characteristic is curiosity, coupled with the eagerness to experiment without the fear of failure.”


I’ve witnessed many excellent graduate programs develop in Australia and I believe they are vital for helping young professionals to realise their full potential. We’ve been running our own graduate program at Cochlear for the last 10 years. Many of the graduates who began their careers in that program are now in leadership positions and excelling at their jobs. One of the reasons it has been so successful is because Cochlear focuses on hiring people with skills that set them up for success.

Possessing the technical fundamentals taught in STEM-based degrees is only part of what we look for in a prospective graduate. Other important attributes are intuition, creativity, critical thinking, communication skills and the ability to work collaboratively within and between multidisciplinary teams.

Collaboration in particular has become such an important attribute in a young people entering graduate programs. I cannot emphasize enough the need to develop this ability early, especially when aspiring to leadership roles. The days of the lone, genius contributor have all but gone. Today, the projects and startups that produce ground-breaking products achieve this because of the team-collaboration factor. Nothing says this more outspokenly than when Atlassian listed on The NASDAQ Stock Market and named their stock symbol “TEAM”.

Perhaps another undervalued characteristic in graduates is curiosity, coupled with the eagerness to experiment without the fear of failure. A number of companies have a graduate program that formalises this process. Google and Atlassian are two companies that have successfully implemented 20% experiment time. There are countless examples of successful products that were born from these programs, such as Gmail, AdSense and Google News.

Often in an interview I will ask a candidate what they do in their spare time – the things they don’t put on their resumes, which might indicate a genuine thirst for knowledge.

Looking more closely at the foundation of Australian graduates, I’d like to add a few thoughts on STEM education in schools. In a 2014 Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute report, Kelly Roberts provides some disturbingly low participation rates of women in STEM subjects in high school. As the father of two daughters, my hope is that education systems will improve in order to draw out the innate inquisitiveness of young kids.

Let us build on that capability at an early age and nurture it. Let us teach them reasoning and critical thinking skills as young as possible. These skills are the means to building a stronger Australia.

Victor Rodrigues

Chief Software Architect, Cochlear 

Read next: Andrew Coppin, venture capital investor, on the changing demographic of founders in today’s startup scene.

People and careers: Meet graduates and postgraduates who’ve paved brilliant, cross-disciplinary careers here, find further success stories here and explore your own career options at postgradfutures.com

Spread the word: Help to grow Australia’s graduate knowhow! Share this piece using the social media buttons below.

Be part of the conversation: Share your ideas on creating and propelling top Australian graduates. We’d love to hear from you!

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Australian Innovation Thought Leadership Series here.

science in the spotlight

Science in the spotlight

There has never been a better time to work in science communication, but as the Executive Director and CEO of the Australian Museum – Australia’s first museum and second oldest science institution – I may be a little biased.

The popularity of science is growing thanks to the rise of social media. Translating this increased street credibility into tangible, sustainable benefits for both the Australian Museum and the scientists we employ is high on my agenda – because we can’t ask others to innovate if we aren’t innovating ourselves.

Most people only see the public facing side of the Australian Museum, for example the exhibitions and collections that are open for public viewing, and don’t know about the tremendous scientific research undertaken by the Australian Museum Research Institute (AMRI). The AMRI conducts research into pests and invasive species, which provides vital information and solutions to common problems that impact on our agricultural industries. It is also home to one of the most advanced wildlife genomic laboratories in Australia, and its experts work with customs and quarantine departments on cases involving illegally imported and exported species.

Despite the manifold practical applications of the research we conduct, many people still don’t realise that museums are deeply engaged in science and science education. Naturally, some scientists are reluctant to champion and promote the vital work that they do.

As the first person from a marketing and communications background to take the reins at the museum, I am firmly focused on communicating the work of the AMRI and the public programs at the Australian Museum. It’s my job to help identify the stories that put science in the spotlight, to educate the public on the value of science.

Forming strong relationships with the media and collaborating with the corporate world – to not only generate revenue but also to put STEM on the agenda beyond the usual circles – is a smart strategy.

The AMRI works with the airline industry on tackling problematic bird strikes by analysing tissue samples of bird remains to identify the species and determine whether the flock can be safely relocated. Recently, the Australian Museum Lizard Island Research Station, located 270 km north of Cairns, assisted climate scientists to identify the worst coral bleaching event ever reported on the Great Barrier Reef.

In the past, scientific institutions may have been reticent to form mutually-beneficial partnerships with industry, but I believe that sponsorship deals and philanthropy are key to the long-term relevance and viability of scientific organisations.

In many ways, the collection at the Australian Museum reflects the work and research we undertake. We have more than 18 million specimens and a cultural collection of more than one million objects from Australian Indigenous cultures, the Pacific Islands and South-East Asia. We also have the largest Egyptian collection in Australia.

But today, it isn’t enough to let your work do the talking. To ensure innovative STEM solutions spark ideas in the wider community and create a snowball effect, it takes the active communication of scientific research and the benefits it can provide – both from a sustainability and economic perspective. The STEM community must continue to share news of its work, to inspire and foster innovation in future generations.

Kim McKay AO

Executive Director & CEO, Australian Museum

Read next: Robert Hillard, Managing Partner of Deloitte Consulting, on Disruptive STEM.

Spread the word: Help to grow Australia’s innovation knowhow! Share this piece using the social media buttons below.

Be part of the conversation: Share your ideas on innovating Australia in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!

Making innovation work

The ubiquity of the term, ‘innovation’ in the Australian political, business and social lexicon risks diffusing its meaning and, worse, its broader uptake in the national interest. Identifying the true meaning and value of innovation requires we significantly rethink the way we approach the generation of ideas and their application into society.

The current transactional approach to innovation in Australia generally eschews direct supports in favour of tax incentives which, unusually in a global context, comprise roughly 90% of government expenditure on innovation. This is like a vending machine approach to innovation, one in which all attention is focused on the end product and little or no concern is directed towards understanding, or better still, enabling and improving the mechanics of its delivery.

If we are to be more expansive and impactful in our approach to innovation then we need to engage it in its fullest sense and not just concern ourselves with input and output triggers. This requires we focus on identifying the factors that both comprise and, more importantly, help create successful innovation ecosystems.

making innovation work
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visits Western Sydney University’s LaunchPad – an initiative to support startups and technology based businesses in Western Sydney. Credit: Sally Tsouta

Strengthening literacy in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines from a very early age affords us a bedrock on which to build workforce capacity and the intellectual capital necessary to generate and sustain innovation. Existing educational structures will need to adapt and change in a way that both responds to and supports the highly fluid and dynamic features of a thriving innovation ecosystem. Adjusting curriculums or modifying our expectations of graduate attributes, while important exercises, will not get us to where we need to be.


“The development of the skills-base required to drive sustainable innovation will both depend on and necessitate a very deliberate blurring of the borders between business, industry and education.”


According to last year’s ‘New Work Order‘ report by the Foundation for Young Australians, “70% of young Australians currently enter the workforce in jobs that will be radically affected by automation”. Add to this an expected average of 17 job changes for each of these new workers over the course of their working lives and it is clear that career narratives within the mooted ‘Ideas Boom‘ will be conditionally diverse and non-linear.

Disrupted, diverse and adaptive career pathways demand innovative responses from business as well as the education sector. The development of the skills-base required to drive sustainable innovation will both depend on and necessitate a very deliberate blurring of the borders between business, industry and education. The key to making this work is not so much an exercise in imposing demarcations on the role each of these groups perform collectively, rather it is centred upon letting go.

When circumstances conspire, Australia’s public research entities and business can produce remarkable innovations, as is evidenced by world leading inroads in, for example, solar technology, quantum computing and medical research; but we need to rely on more than circumstance and a dwindling linkage and research infrastructure funding pool.

While it is early days, universities and business are – in incubator, accelerator, and shared strategic (precinct) spaces – forming the beginnings of the deliberately diffused collaborative relationships needed to build sustainable innovation ecosystems. Encouragingly, the policy and funding frameworks put forward by the National Innovation and Science Agenda offer much to support this process.

The real determinant of our success in innovation will be the aspirations and behaviours of the emerging generation of workers. Diversity in career experience will be the attractor to study STEM disciplines, not curriculum reform. If we get it right, STEM skills will be seen as essential navigation tools in an as yet unknown adventure through a thriving innovation ecosystem where business, industry and universities coalesce to disrupt, diffuse and diversify in the interest of ideas.

Professor Barney Glover and Dr Andy Marks

Vice Chancellor and President of Western Sydney University Assistant Vice Chancellor (Strategy and Policy) of Western Sydney University 

Read next: Dr Cathy Foley, Deputy Director and Science Director of CSIRO’s Manufacturing Flagship on the Path to a ‘right-skilled’ workforce.

Spread the word: Help to grow Australia’s innovation knowhow! Share this piece using the social media buttons below.

Be part of the conversation: Share your ideas on innovating Australia in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!

gender equality and innovation

Gender equality and innovation

Australia needs to be more innovative in our approach to gender equity. It’s time to do things differently and be bolder in our commitment to diversity.

During my training as a medical researcher, women represented more than 50% of my undergraduate class and almost 75% of my PhD peer group. But the pipeline approach has failed; putting 50% of women into the science system at a junior level has not seen 50% of women in senior leadership pop out the other end. And it’s been this way for more than 20 years.

In 2016 men continue to hold the majority of Australia’s top leadership positions in science, research, innovation and business. The next generation will always be different, but we cannot place the burden of gender equity on those who follow us. We need to lead from the top and from the front, creating a pull-through effect that draws women through the pipeline and enables them to lead.

Insist on inclusiveness

Equity is everyone’s issue, and we need to insist on inclusiveness. Speak up about all male conference panels, research grant teams, boards and committees – especially if you’re involved in them. Call it when you see it, and provide a pathway to change; reach out with the names of women who could participate and promote conscious consideration of diversity.


“Innovation is a people-driven process that thrives on diverse thinking and views. To build a strong, resilient and successful innovation ecosystem, Australia needs to harness the talents of both men and women.”


If it matters, measure it

Everyone is accountable for equity. Scientists and managers alike know you need to measure what matters in order to understand it. Organisations should collect data and report on all aspects of gender equity in the workplace, and be open and transparent in sharing that information.

Look out as well as in

A lack of women in leadership is not unique to the science and research sector. We need to investigate and consider programs and policies that have had impact in other industries. There is no silver bullet solution or single way to address all of the challenges around diversity. We need to do all that we can to support women at all career stages, and at all places along the pipeline.

Innovation is a people-driven process that thrives on diverse thinking and views. To build a strong, resilient and successful innovation ecosystem, Australia needs to harness the talents of both men and women. Diverse teams make better decisions, and to innovate during times of transformation, Australia will need all hands on deck – an inclusive ecosystem that values and promotes women.

Dr Krystal Evans

Chief Executive Officer of the BioMelbourne Network

Learn more: Click here to see a timeline of gender equality in Australian education and the workplace put together by Open Colleges

Read next: Professor Peter Klinken, Chief Scientist of Western Australia on innovation in Western Australia.

Spread the word: Help to grow Australia’s innovation knowhow! Share this piece using the social media buttons below.

Be part of the conversation: Share your ideas on innovating Australia in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!

Kickstart innovation culture

Kickstarting the innovation culture

On Monday 7 December, in his first major policy announcement since becoming Prime Minister in September 2015, Malcolm Turnbull unveiled an innovation package to drive an “ideas boom” in Australia.

Speaking at CSIRO in Canberra, Turnbull and Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Christopher Pyne announced $1 billion in government spending over four years. The funds, says Turnbull, will kickstart an innovation culture in Australia.

“This statement is an absolutely critical part of securing our prosperity. The big shift is cultural – if we can inspire people to be innovative, the opportunities are boundless,” says Turnbull.

The plan outlines 25 measures across four key areas: culture and capital; embracing risk; incentivising early-stage investment in startups; and addressing governance issues through the establishment of two new bodies to oversee the plan: the Innovation and Science Sub-Committee of Cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister, and newly established independent advisory board, Innovation and Science Australia.

These, according to Pyne, will “put science and innovation at the heart of government policy”.

“I wrote a list of expectations before I went in and got to tick everyone of them,” says Dr Tony Peacock, Chief Executive of the Corporate Research Centres Association (CRCA). “Now startups will be much better placed to raise their own funds,” he says.

According to Peacock, by changing the insolvency laws, such as reducing the default bankruptcy period from three years to one, and making it easier for startups to gain access to capital, “the government has put the ball back in the innovator’s court”.

The biomedical and biotechnology industries have also welcomed the announcement.

“We are keen to see this positive policy transformed into action that makes a difference to Australia’s ability to commercialise and benefit from our world-class research and development,” says Dr Anna Lavelle, CEO of biotechnology organisation AusBiotech.

The plan represents a major step forward for science innovation in Australia, according to Dr Peter French, CEO and managing director of biopharmaceuticals company Benitec Biopharma, and “is the most exciting and refreshing statement of vision for Australia that I have seen from our politicians”.

French, named this month one of Australia’s “Innovators of Influence” by the Australian Science Innovation Forum, says that ”rewarding academics for working with industry is well intentioned, but without safeguards, could end up being counter productive to Australian innovation”.

The package includes a $100 million boost to the CSIRO budget, reversing the $110 million cut under the Abbot Government last year. The Government will also co-invest with the private sector in the $200 million CSIRO Innovation Fund for new spin-out and startup companies and services created by research institutions. Biomedical research will also benefit from a $250 million Biomedical Translation Fund.

These funds will support investment in spin-off and startups, to develop and commercialise promising products and services from Australia’s research community.

Science research will receive an injection of funding, with $520 million for the Australian Synchrotron facility and $294 million for the Square Kilometre Array over the next decade. The National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) will also receive $1.5 billion to deliver world-class research facilities to Australian researchers in Australia and abroad.

The package also includes a $36 million Global Innovation Strategy to support collaboration between Australian researchers and businesses with their international counterparts. Landing pads for Australian startups and entrepreneurs will be established in Tel Aviv, Silicon Valley and three other key locations around the globe.

There will also be a $99 million investment in programs to improve digital literacy and skills in STEM amongst young Australians. And $13 million will be made available to increase opportunities for women working in research and STEM industries and start-ups.

“Innovation and Science are two sides of the same coin, and this plan will bring them both together: driving jobs, growth and investment and igniting a national ‘can-do’ attitude,” says Pyne.

– Carl Williams

A hand with a cartoon overlay describing the process from idea to product to innovation

Brace yourselves

Innovation works something like this. A research scientist has a brilliant idea. It’s developed into a product and commercialised. The general public love it and buy lots. The developers become wealthy. Many lives are greatly improved.

Sorry, let’s try again.

A research scientist has a brilliant idea. An arduous process follows to develop a product. Once it’s finally on the market, the public are afraid/suspicious of the underlying technology. Commercialisation fails. Few lives are improved.

Reality lies somewhere in between. Why? Let’s begin with a simple definition: innovation is doing clever stuff in a smarter way for a good outcome. It can be about a product, process or service. The impact can be grand or incremental.

To some, innovation means certain economic growth and social betterment. Examples of brilliant science leading to great products with huge consumer demand are smartphones, WiFi, organic light emitting diode televisions, robotics.

Planet-wide changes, such as population and climate, create unique challenges needing new solutions. Science, coupled with innovation, has the potential to create such solutions… if we get the innovation side right.

Unfortunately for Australia, 21st century innovation isn’t based on the good fortunes of geography, geology and climate. We’ve long relied on digging up resources and selling them overseas, or on fattening sheep and exporting them.

Now as Professor Ian Chubb, Australia’s Chief Scientist, articulates: “There’s no question that at some point our economy is going to have to shift and become substantially different from what it is now and be based on innovation.”

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There is a clear and growing chasm between where we are and need to be. Australia’s challenge is to bridge that gap and move towards a sustainable economy less vulnerable than the one to which we are sentimentally attached that’s previously yielded the nation’s prosperity.

Australia does good science and is, sometimes, creative. But we have a poor record of commercialising good science and understanding innovation. The 2012 Innovation System Report points to a shortage of management education and innovative culture and highlights an imbalance between government versus private R&D spending. There’s a lack of: R&D growth in key areas; business access to publicly funded research expertise; mobility of researchers between academia and business; and a concerted national science, technology and innovation strategy.

Increasingly, research highlights the importance of incorporating consumer needs into successful innovation strategies to ensure acceptance of new products or services. There are examples – such as genetically modified (GM) crops as an agricultural productivity solution – in which developers provide answers where few people saw a problem. Alternatively, members of the public may believe research wrongly crosses an ethical divide – embryonic stem cell research is an example. Public rejection also occurs with solutions such as nanotechnologies, where misinformation about risks dominates information flow about the science.

It’s not just about selling products harder or better explaining the science. I’ve spent years in discussions with people opposed to GM, nanotechnology and vaccinations and their issues are rarely with the science. It’s more about personal values: from concerns about messing with nature and ethical fears over genetic information misuse; to opposition against monopolising agri-conglomerates. Align a product with public values and it has a better chance of a dream run. Clash with those values and there could be trouble.

It makes sense to ask end-users what they want. If the public had been consulted about GM science back in the mid-1990s, for example, we may not have seen agricultural firms using the technology to develop herbicide- or pesticide-resistant broadacre crops, but perhaps non-food crops that produce pharmaceuticals or healthier foods, with more public support.

More contentious and innovative research is currently underway in Australia. The potential benefits are enormous. But their applications will need strong institutional support and community endorsement, skilled developers and sufficient funds for commercialisation. A lot of very clever people will need to cooperate in new ways to share old wisdom and new ways of thinking.

Craig square
Craig Cormick is Manager of National Operations, CSIRO Education

This is an edited version of an article from The Curious Country, ANU Press, 2013