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CSIRO: How to get ahead with innovation

05 Nov 2020

A new report from Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, has found that while Australian investment in science and technology for disease preparedness has driven a strong response to COVID-19, there are still fundamental barriers to innovation adoption.

The Value of Science and Technology report identified five key barriers to realising value from innovation as well as suggesting several solutions, based on interviews with private and public sector leaders and extensive analysis of trends in the Australian economy.

The barriers are:

  • Declining innovation investment: Business investment in innovation has declined 30% in the past decade as businesses seek long-term clarity on what to invest in and are instead investing smaller amounts on shorter-term goals.
  • Poor research commercialisation: While Australia is home to world-class researchers, we struggle to commercialise breakthroughs in the lab into innovative products in-market, exacerbated by a cultural aversion to risk and low collaboration between research and industry.
  • Skills gap: Australian education is of high quality by international standards, but we don’t have a culture of ongoing training for employees outside of formal education.
  • Resistant to overseas ideas: Businesses invest in keeping up with competitors in Australia, but rarely keep up with overseas competitors, placing us behind them on customer value and productivity gains.
  • Wariness of new technologies: Investing in innovation can be seen as the road to automating jobs, widening the gap between the most profitable and least profitable businesses, and resulting in big royalties for a few but bigger losses for others. 

CSIRO Futures lead economist Dr Katherine Wynn says while there are barriers to innovation, they can and need to be overcome if Australia is going to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Science and technology have always played a key role in supporting Australia’s growth and productivity, with examples in this report like Cochlear hearing implants, Google Maps, canola for biofuel, PERC solar cells, and x-ray crystallography. But, as investment in innovation has dropped in recent years, we’ve seen our economy start to slow and weaken, and now we’ve been hit with COVID-19, so science and technology are more critical than ever.

“If businesses act now, there are plenty of opportunities to enhance how they navigate the innovation cycle and realise greater value from their investments, including improved productivity, protection from market shocks, stronger international competitiveness, and social and environmental benefits.”

The report identifies several solutions to help businesses overcome the key barriers, drive economic recovery and build future resilience including:

  • Mission-led innovation: By forming collaborative coalitions of business, research and government partners around common challenges, investment can be shared, aligned, and for the long term. For example, CSIRO has recently launched a portfolio of proposed missions.
  • Dismantling siloes and building networks: By building stronger connections between researchers, entrepreneurs, business, investors, and education providers, ideas can be moved more easily from the lab bench to the customer, and skills can be developed in the process.
  • Collaborate to compete: Looking beyond borders, there is value to be captured by focusing on international collaboration to remain competitive, while also focusing our national resources around areas of unique value and global differentiation.

The report, which was led by the CSIRO Futures team, follows CSIRO’s recently released COVID-19: Recovery and resilience report, which outlines the medium and long-term innovation investment opportunities for Australian industries to drive economic recovery and build future resilience.

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