Tag Archives: policy

science and technology

Speak up for STEM and give facts a chance

As science and technology researchers, practitioners and enthusiasts, we feel very strongly that our community should think analytically and use scientific information to inform their decisions, as individuals and as a nation.

We hope our leaders in politics, business and in the media incorporate the lessons and findings of science and technology into their decision-making about health, energy, transport, land and marine use – and recognise the benefits of investing in great scientific breakthroughs and technological inventions.

But how do we ensure critical thinking is applied in decision-making? How do we incorporate and apply scientific findings and analysis in the formulation of policy, and encourage strong, strategic investment in research?

The only way is to become vocal and proactive advocates for STEM.

Scientists and technologists must see ourselves as not only experts in our field, but also as educators and ambassadors for our sector. Scientists are explicitly taught that our profession is based on logic; that it’s our job to present evidence and leave somebody else to apply it.

For people who’ve made a career of objectivity, stepping out of that mindset and into the murky world of politics and policy can be a challenge, but it’s a necessary one.

The planet is heading towards crises that can be solved by science – food and water security, climate change, health challenges, extreme weather events. It’s arguably never been more important for scientists and technologists to step outside our comfort zone and build relationships with the media, investors, and political leaders. We need to tell the stories of science and technology to solve the species-shaking challenges of our time.

A plethora of opportunities exist for STEM researchers and practitioners to improve and use their skills in communication, influence, marketing, business, and advocacy. As the peak body representing scientists and technologists, Science & Technology Australia hosts a variety of events to equip STEM professionals with the skills they need, while connecting them with the movers and shakers in those worlds.

Science meets Parliament is one of these valuable opportunities, and has been bringing people of STEM together with federal parliamentarians for 18 years. Others include Science meets Business and Science meets Policymakers.

We can provide the forum, but it’s up to STEM professionals to seize the opportunity by forging relationships with our nation’s leaders in politics, business and the media. We must ensure the voice of science is heard and heeded – not just on the day of an event, but every day.

Currently STEM enjoys rare bilateral political support; a National Innovation and Science Agenda; and a new Industry, Innovation and Science Minister, Senator Arthur Sinodinos, who has indicated his intention to continue to roll it out.

As we encounter our fourth science minister in three years, however, we cannot rest on our laurels and allow science and technology to slide down the list of priorities. Bigger challenges are also mounting, with the profession of science correspondent virtually dead in Australia and the international political culture favouring opinion and rhetoric over established fact and credibility.

Scientists and technologists must resist their natural tendency to humility, and proactively sort the nuggets of truth from the pan of silty half-truth. We must actively work to influence public debate by pushing evidence-based arguments into the media, and into the political discourse.

When our society starts assuming that we should make substantial and long-term investment in research; when the methods and findings of science and technology are routinely incorporated into shaping policy and making important decisions for the nation – we’ll consider our job to be well done.

Kylie Walker

CEO, Science & Technology Australia

Read next: Dr Maggie Evans-Galea, Executive Director of ATSE’s Industry Mentoring Network in STEM, paints a picture of Australia’s science and innovation future – one that requires a major cultural shift.

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Science meets parliament

Science meets Parliament

Featured image above: In his  National Press Club address this week Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, says lessons can be learned from The Swedish Vasa warship. Photo courtesy of Dennis Jarvis as per the Creative Commons License, image resized.

Finkel’s speech was the National Press Club address for Science meets Parliament 2016. This two-day event brings together scientists looking for better ways to communicate their research to policy makers.

Over a series of workshops and activities, people from the media, policy advisers and parliamentarians share their insights on developing policy and how to engage key influencers.

With a host of esteemed speakers, the Science meets Parliament program covers topics such as ‘what journalists need to turn your science into news’ and ‘science and politics, how do they mix?’. This year it also addressed what the National Innovation and Science Agenda means for scientists across Australia.

The event’s organisers, Science and Technology Australia, say that Science meets Parliament aims to “build links between scientists, politicians and policymakers that open up avenues for information and idea exchanges into the future”.

It also hopes to “stimulate and inform Parliament’s discussion of scientific issues that underpin Australia’s economic, social and environmental wellbeing”.

At last year’s event, Professor Ian Chubb AC, former Chief Scientist, spoke about the pace of progress over the past 25 years and how science will be a cornerstone for future prosperity.

This year, Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Alan Finkel AO, spoke about a nation in transition, learning from failure and encouraging intelligent innovation. Finkel believes this requires thinking and operating at scale, and collaborative research to manage the issues and interactions that surround bold, innovative technology.

Click here to read the full transcript of Finkel’s address published by The Conversation on 2 March 2016.

Click here to see some of the speeches presented at last year’s event, such as The Messy Nature of the Policymaking Process, Who is Inspiring Australia? and Getting your Science out of the Lab.

– Elise Roberts

The startup nation

Above: The Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management at Technion – the Israel Institute of Technology. David Shankbone

As the Australian Government releases its much anticipated Innovation Statement, what lessons can we draw from Israel, the startup nation, for implementation of the statement’s plans for education?

I recently travelled to Israel as part of an Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce trade delegation which aimed to explore business and investment opportunities and to better understand Israel’s unique entrepreneurial culture and innovation ecosystem. The delegation was headed by Wyatt Roy, MP, Assistant Minister for Innovation and a key player in the development of the Innovation Statement.

The trip was a revelation, as I witnessed in a very real and tangible way that a national groundswell towards a knowledge-based economy is possible.

As Avi Hasson, Chief Scientist at the Ministry of Economy explained, Israel has accelerated from “oranges, as the largest export 20 years ago, to technology now being a $US50 billion GDP contributor”.

After an inspiring eight days studying the mechanisms of one of the world’s great start-up communities – and particularly the key role that universities play in technology transfer – I believe it is vital that Australian universities capitalise on the new focus on innovation and collaboration if we are to create our own startup nation.

‘Collaboration [is] a breath of fresh air between industry and Israel’s universities’

I saw in Israel that a culture formed from 2000 years of overcoming adversity underpins innovation and entrepreneurship there. The startup community’s innovative spirit is also formed in the crucible of military conscription, where lives are at risk and everyone is personally involved and affected.

It is something of the national character that Israelis are alert to possibilities that can make a difference, and willing to take action, quickly!

This culture is not a template Australia can replicate. However, the delegation’s visit to a number of different educational institutions allows an Australian take on the Israeli strategy.

As delegation member Jonathan Marshall, founder of Bondi Labs, put it, we were witness to “mutual collaboration – a breath of fresh air between industry and Israel’s universities”.

In Israel, everyone knows everyone, and this promotes positive channels between governments, academia and industry. For universities, the key is to find researchers who are early adopters of industry collaboration, and to experiment with small initiatives.

Demonstrating small wins in a risk-averse environment like Australia will assist in propagating advocates, and will generate incentives to commercialise technology developed by our institutions.

Israel has led the world in technology transfer from universities – spinning out new enterprises. Two in particular, Technion – the Israel Institute of Technology, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, have interesting models.

Technion, a science and technology research university based in Haifa, north of Tel Aviv, has a strong mechanism to engage entrepreneurs: every student enrolled has to take a mandatory Minor in Entrepreneurship.

This particularly resonated with Adrian Turner, CEO of Data61, CSIRO’s commercialisation vehicle. He says it reminded him of the 18 years he spent in the US’s startup nation Silicon Valley. “The system seems to be very focused on encouraging students to pursue the entrepreneurial path,” he says. The result? Technion transfers into the economy 100 student-led businesses a year, with revenues that exceed $US32 million.

‘The system seems to be very focused on encouraging students to pursue the entrepreneurial path’

Building a startup nation

At the other tech transfer leader,  Hebrew University, researchers are strongly encouraged to engage with industry.

Liaising with professionals with real-life challenges and opportunities influences academic research outcomes, in turn solving unmet market needs. Products based on the university’s tech transfer developments generate more than $US2 billion in annual sales.

Both business models are successful. As Sarah Pearson, CEO and Founder of Canberra-based CBR Innovation Network explains, “Science and innovation education permeate the culture of Israel, beginning by engaging three-year-olds in science. Parents value entrepreneurship as a career, universities foster a culture of impact and commercial outcomes, and the government supports this in a strategic and holistic way.”

A lot has been said about the need for Australian schools to provide more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education. In Israel, Jon Medved, CEO ofOurCrowd, the world’s biggest equity crowd funding platform, told us Israel is “running out of geeks”.

So, visiting the science and technology education centre Technoda was humbling. Technoda attracts more than 30,000 children a year to science enrichment classes, from every ethnic group, religion and lifestyle.

With the recent opening of a second campus, just 10 kilometres north of Gaza, it is clear STEM education can and must be accessible to everyone.

From a university perspective, Australia needs to worry about the brain drain as well. Some 8000 IT students graduate from Australian universities and return to homes overseas each year.

Until the throughput of social ventures such as Code Club Australia start to drive new, local STEM talent into the Australian workforce, we must do much more to encourage this demographic of international graduates to stay and help build our tech startup community.

Universities have a major part to play in guiding future talent into an innovative environment where government, industry and academia collaborate.

We can promote this now with students playing a central role. Students must be able to access entrepreneurial education programs and easier ways to commercialise university technologies.

Israel is leading the way. It’s time for Australia to take the next step. – Stephen Rutter

Rutter_Stephen_Fill_650Stephen Rutter is Manager of UTS Business School’s Business Practice Unit. Among other things the unit facilitates engagement between faculty, industry and the entrepreneurial community. He was previously an Executive in Residence at Flinders University, where he was involved in starting up its New Venture Institute. 

See the federal government’s Innovation Statement here, and the Innovation Inquiry Report here, including the Expert Report by the Dean of UTS Business School, Professor Roy Green.

UTS Vice-Chancellor Attila Brungs talks about university and industry working together here.