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Australia has had enough reports on innovation. It’s time for NSW to “do innovation”. Lenny K Photography/, CC BY-SA

Reimagining NSW: five ways to future-proof NSW’s innovation ecosystem

This is part of our Reimagining New South Wales (NSW) series. For this series, vice-chancellors in NSW asked a select group of early and mid-career researchers to envisage new ways to tackle old problems and identify emerging opportunities across the state.

There’s been no shortage of talk about innovation recently, with the federal government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda calling for new ideas in innovation and science to:

harness new sources of growth to deliver the next age of economic prosperity in Australia.

Delivering economic prosperity for all Australians will require an inclusive and collaborative approach across all parts of society, whether near or far from its cities and research hubs. But what would that look like in practice – and how can it help bolster the future of NSW?

Here are five ways to strengthen innovation in NSW, so that all the talk of “being innovative” translates to “doing innovation” into the future.

1. We have enough reports on innovation

One thing connecting the 60 reports produced on innovation in Australia between 1999 and 2016, is the fundamental idea that innovation is generated in an ecosystem – a network of relationships across business, small to medium enterprise, governments, universities, and people in the community.

NSW needs to better align incentives to improve research productivity. That could take the form of, for example, making it easier for entrepreneurs to access university research expertise and equipment.

We also need to develop new incentives to encourage research teams to work on industry and community problems for small to medium enterprises, instead of a silo-based approach. Those incentives could include things like increasing the focus on research impact and engagement, making funds available for collaborative research teams, and industry outcomes to be reflected in university research performance frameworks.

We also need to ease the process of commercialisation of our research and research institutes into the market where all are fairly compensated. The people of NSW could derive substantial benefit from processes whereby industry partners commercialise the intellectual property of researchers under agreements that are fair, timely, and mutually beneficial.

2. We need a longer term approach to funding

A longer-term approach to funding could incentivise collaboration, reduce the risk of wasting time, money, and effort for all involved, attract investment and international talent, and bolster business confidence.

Smart specialisation generates a depth of expertise in specific areas of science and research. It can be difficult to “pick winners” in terms of areas of research for investment but the depth of specialisation needed to develop new knowledge in a competitive market requires us to focus our limited resources.

Establishing a model of longer term cooperative research between universities, public research organisations and private companies - one that is oriented towards the common state and national good - needs to be supported with a guaranteed level of funding over the longer term (as much as 10 or 20 years).

3. We need everyone

As well as thinking about the innovation “big picture”, NSW also has to think about differing levels of access and digital literacy.

Addressing inequity in access to the internet will be vital, with almost three in ten Australian households in the lowest income group not having home broadband.

Boosting digital literacy among all NSW citizens – including its most vulnerable – will put the state in a better position to take advantage of the opportunities brought by the innovation era. In a practical sense, that could include improving access to access to evolving “e-health” developments such as telehealth and the My Health Record services in Australia.

4. We need to create spaces for innovation to occur

The internet allows for collaborations and innovations to be nurtured and developed over vast distances.

However, we also need to create physical spaces where innovation can take place. As Sydney’s Fishburners (a co-working space aimed at nurturing startups) and incubators like ATP Innovations demonstrate, the physical spaces provided by proximity are important infrastructure supporting innovation.

Governments – local and state – have a role to play in attracting and inspiring such physical spaces for collaboration. Incentives could include planning for such spaces in urban design, making data available to the public, and offering supportive digital infrastructure.

These could also be provided in regional areas, where hubs could be clustered close to large agribusinesses, rural health organisations, and universities.

5. We need agility, preparation, and leadership

NSW may look to the US for inspiration on how to plan a whole-of-government approach to a digital future.

There, in 2015, US President Barack Obama established the National Strategic Computing Initiative to accelerate development of high performance computing technology.

By combining the expertise of government, industry, and academia, the aim is to plan ahead for oncoming threats and opportunities, and invest appropriate resources towards innovation in rapidly changing environments.

Similarly, NSW will need to increase the capacity of business and research teams to plan for both expected and unknown futures. That will include developing managers and management styles that can respond to and incorporate innovation as it develops.

By strengthening NSW’s innovation ecosystem, we bolster the state’s overall ability to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing world.

Further reading:

Reimagining NSW: how the care economy could help unclog our cities

Reimagining NSW: four ways to boost community well-being and why it matters

Reimagining NSW: how good governance strengthens democracy

Reimagining NSW: going beyond ‘wilderness’ and finding fresh ways to relate to our environment

Reimagining NSW: how a happy, healthy regional and rural citizenry helps us all

Reimagining NSW: tackling education inequality with early intervention and better research

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