Saturday, September 18, 2010

The CRC equals The Spanish Armada?

What do you think are the potential disadvantages of collaboration for both the national innovation system and individual organizations?

The CRC equals The Spanish Armada?

First of all, as the range and scope of collaboration in Australia's National Innovation System (NIS) has only increased over the last twenty years the stakes have only grown larger in terms of opportunities, risks and gains. When researchers were isolated in their small enclaves and monastic-like laboratories or cells dabbling away in pure research and/or silos, writing crabbed, indecipherable notes in lab books and otherwise taking few phone calls or conference presentations while publishing into their obscure and dusty journals their rambling over their musings and mumblings were without "visions of sugar plums."

Fewer IP derived riches were in their heads illustrating poor choices for research vision and hence perhaps impacted upon fewer individuals frittering away the public weal and perhaps resulted in lower or insignificant absolute economic losses.

Now as a result of improvements in depth and breadth of the national research sector through integration any grand but poor policy decisions will affect and cost more researchers on the innovation vision and mission front than ever before.

While collectively an Australian research armada may forward the interests of innovation and global competitiveness as well as increasing commercial returns there remains as example in hubris the most famous armada in history namely The Spanish Armada which failed miserably in its mission due to poor strategic leadership decisions on the part of its Commander Alonso Pérez de Guzmán y de Zúñiga-Sotomayor, the 7th Duke of Medina Sidonia who lost most of his fleet by foolishly sailing into the voracious belly of a great storm.

Australia' s NIS is one that seems fraught with similar needs for improvement and thus attracts the attention of policy reports which seem to make endless, repetitive overlapping recommendations for change management including those we have reviewed so far. In our bible of sorts Powering Ideas may simply be establishing the legacy of Senator Kim Carr in line with that of Felipe II otherwise known as the King of Spain who bankrupted his nation in efforts to reign over colonial and continental competitors. As well as having far too many choicesPowering Ideas may be just as bad as having too few of them resulting in complacent inaction and ineptitude at the Admiralty Office in terms of collaboration efforts thus far. So goes the worst cases of ineffective collaboration. Its real costs may grow greater than its future worth.

O' Kane in Collaborating to a Purpose: Review of the Cooperative Research Centres Program (2008) highlights the issues and problems present in the current management of collaborative research in Australia to suggest it is barely a functioning prospect. Chiefly one weakness is that even with a twenty year record of collaboration programs on the books report only minute percentages of universities or businesses and firms in Australia having actually participated in CRC programs to date. 570 business collaborations represent roughly 3% of Australia's total eligible pool while 2% of Australia's universities represent about one of Australia's 47 institutions at any given time. Any real business plan would need to show increases in at least 10-15% of net profits or in the case of CRC perhaps business, university or commercial enterprise participation rates of growth as return for seed funding or incubator approval.

Next evidence of a shift from broad goals early in the program's inception to end-user or customer driven research at present appears to have resulted in a pull versus push scenario reminiscent in the current revolution in global industrial production. This whereby retail product and service organizations are becoming better skilled at determining market driven innovation than designers and researchers may be.

The push-pull shift may also represent itself as an intergenerational difference in research priorities whereby the current originators of knowledge and information soundly reject future commercial, customer or societal needs due to: stricter focus on commercialisation itself, tighter data management requirements, more elaborate milestone constraints, and inflexible IP and profit sharing needs. Collaborating to a Purpose reports that even while good corporate governance is now standard in the management of CRC projects where in the past it was not there remains evidence of lack of general knowledge in university or institutional and even commercial enterprise research as to how to actually develop and profit through the commercial research projects so far conducted.

This conclusion comes after seeing twenty years of program (mis?)-management and nearly a total of 9 billion AUD in tax payer funded CRC projects as perhaps an abominable disadvantage to collaboration efforts. If no one knows how to do it then why have they spent 9 billion dollars trying?

O' Kane reports that the CRC has become progressively less attractive to many key participants such as CISRO and the almost oneuniversity institution that comes and goes perhaps changing its name as many times as a Greek freighter in the process. Collaborating to a Purpose details the disadvantages of collaboration itself more concretely than idle conjecture or pure fiction ever could. Frequent disagreement and renegotiation of IP rights and profits sharing among "so-called" collaborators delay contractual agreements and is described as a key factor impeding the process of innovation and transfer of ideas itself which is one of the defined goals of the CRC.

Furthermore while evidence of benefit to the taxpayer is noted to be a net financial return it seems while ponderous at the same time utterly preposterous that no precise calculation of that figure is easily or currently available. Where then is the good corporate governance so described? Due to the current disadvantages and apparent lack of competent or transparent financial management present at CRC, O'Kane makes eight remedial recommendations to that body where effectiveness and efficiency of meeting innovation goals are questioned and at the same time exclaiming that new funding to keep this armada afloat is needed as Mother Hubbard's Cupboard is now thread bare and the dogs of the CRC are now without future bones. So far it appears the CRC embodies the disadvantages of collaboration at the same time trumpeting this to be its purpose?

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