If hindsight is such a wonderful thing, surely foresight would be better. What if we could see what was coming at us and could position ourselves, our organisations and society to make the most of it?
In 2009 CSIRO asked itself this question and came up with a set of global megatrends. A megatrend is a particularly important pattern of social, economic and environmental activity that will change the way people live.
That 2009 megatrends foresighting work has proven valid and this week we are releasing an updated version, Our Future World 2012, which details six megatrends. These six megatrends unveil economic, social, environmental, political and technological change over coming decades.
*Read the CSIRO’s Our Future World 2012 report here. *
The megatrends are: “More from Less” - the decline in resource availability while demand is increasing; “Going going gone” which addresses the risk of biodiversity loss due to human activity; “The silk highway” meaning the world’s economic centre is shifting to Asia; “Forever young” where the ageing population is both an asset and a challenge; “Virtually here”; the impact of increased digital connectivity; and “Great expectations”, reflecting the human desire for more intense personal experiences.
The six megatrends all have impacts on how we innovate, what we focus on and how we optimise our efforts.
The centre of gravity is shifting to our region, economically and in a research and development sense. Australia can’t meet the level of investment of our regional neighbours but we can be smarter and more focused about bringing the best we have together. We know we cannot compete on sheer volume of investment but we can bring the very best that Australia has together and we can connect with the very best in the world to ensure our innovation is visible from Shanghai, London, Frankfurt, Jakarta and New York.
Australia’s National Innovation System needs to continue to build collaboration, cooperation and trust in order to remain competitive. University colleagues of mine such as Vice Chancellor of UNSW Fred Hilmer and Vice Chancellor of University of Melbourne Glyn Davis have also called for innovation in the sector, allowing increased differentiation and increasing research focus and industry engagement.
The barbed wire approach to managing research and educational institutions is thankfully putting itself into extinction. But it’s not happening quickly enough. We still see these behaviours and they can cripple our ability to solve problems. However, when we do collaborate we know from experience wonderful things happen.
No one person has sufficient knowledge to build and fly a Boeing 747 from Singapore to London. Nor would one person have all the knowledge and skill to create a sustainable aquaculture industry. We can only achieve these outcomes by taking one person’s ideas and through collaboration, connection and trust, adding them to the ideas of many other people.
Major breakthroughs of the 21st century will come from this successful mixing of ideas and disciplines.
For example a group of CSIRO scientists in Melbourne has recently been contracted by a not-for-profit organisation called PATH to produce antibodies that could pave the way for safe, affordable and effective vaccines against rotavirus, which is a major cause of fatal diarrhoea.
Each year around 2.2 million people die from diarrhoea and most of these are children in developing countries. The story of this research effort is one of collaboration, trust and sharing of ideas.
The antibodies were originally prepared at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute. They will now be produced in at scale our recombinant protein production facility in Melbourne.
The facility is Australia’s only non-commercialised laboratory that can produce proteins on a large scale and was initially funded by the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy program and the Victorian State Government.
There is more we need to do so that success examples like this become the norm. This is not about investing more but changing the way we invest and work. We must bring together the very best that Australia has to offer in our research institutions, universities, industry players and connect them nationally and globally to the very best in the world.
One researcher can make a breakthrough but to have a profound impact on the challenges that face this nation and humanity it takes a team, or if you want to build the next Silicon Valley it takes a whole ecosystem. There is no reason why, as we head into what is undoubtedly the Asian Century, that Australia should not be a source of excellence in the region, in science, research and innovation.
CSIRO Chief Executive Megan Clark will launch the CSIRO’s megatrends update, Our Future World 2012, at the National Press Club in Canberra today.
The Conversation’s special megatrends series starts tomorrow.