Tag Archives: science and innovation

collaborate

Collaborate to learn, learn to collaborate

One of the most marked changes in science and innovation in Australia in recent years is the attitude to collaboration. As we hold Collaborate | Innovate | 2017, there doesn’t seem to be any argument or concern over the importance of collaboration. It’s one of those things that is so well accepted that it seems strange to even remember when the value of collaboration was questioned and even argued against.

A decade ago, it was not uncommon to be virtually shunned in the scientific community for advocating a multidisciplinary approach to a problem or seeing industry as a partner to work with. The image of the lone scientist plugging away at a problem was often raised as the ideal way of doing science – if he or she was just left alone, well-funded, great things would happen.

The turnaround in attitude has been marked. I’ve seen a presentation from a demographer claiming that the fastest growing job in Australia is baristas. But I reckon Pro Vice-Chancellor Engagement, or some variation of that title, couldn’t be far behind. Universities and other research organisations have scrambled hard over the past few years to improve their level of interaction with industry. There doesn’t seem to be any resistance to the argument that Australia must improve its level of collaboration between the academic and industry sectors.


“It is in all our interests to learn more about the process of collaboration itself, so that we can continually improve.”


Winning the argument for more collaboration is only the first step. It doesn’t automatically follow that the resulting collaborations will be optimal, or even productive. Successful collaboration consists of getting a series of things right. Done right, collaboration means the whole adds up to more than the sum of the parts. Done poorly, it can be a mess.

That’s why Collaborate | Innovate | 2017 doesn’t just hammer away on the need for collaboration. It concentrates on the skills needed for good, productive collaboration. Collaborators need to be trusted partners and that can take more time and more effort than people anticipate. Collaborators may not be ready at the same time, or there may be a big differential in power or culture. These are speed bumps, not barriers.

The collaboration potential of an individual or organisation is not set in stone. It can, and does, change over time. It can be enhanced with experience, education and culture. Similarly, a dud policy can kill it off. It is in all our interests to learn more about the process of collaboration itself, so that we can continually improve.

The Cooperative Research Centres Programme has more than a quarter of a century of experience in relatively large-scale, complex collaborations. The money is of course vital to enabling great collaborations to deliver brilliant results. But collaboration is much more than an ingredient in seeking funding – it is a key to unlocking great innovation, which will result in much greater rewards than any government funding program. Deciding to collaborate is important; learning to collaborate well is vital.

Find out more at crca.asn.au

– Tony Peacock is CEO of the Cooperative Research Centres Association and founder of KnowHow.

You might also enjoy Tony Peacock’s commentary, Firing up our startups.

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.

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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