What we choose to do next will determine the success of innovation in Australia

James Mabbott, Partner, Head of KPMG Innovate

The much anticipated release of Innovation and Science Australia’s (ISA) plan for Australian innovation this week comes after almost a year of consultation and engagement across the country. The plan identifies five key overlapping components critical to a thriving innovation and science system in Australia: Education; Industry; Government; Research and development; and, Culture and ambition. In a large part there is nothing surprising in this as numerous innovation studies and plans both here and globally have identified the importance of each of these elements.

The challenge is and remains how they are interconnected and how they are placed alongside other national ambitions. Because the innovation discussion, the innovation plan which is aimed squarely at driving our national prosperity is not executed in a vacuum. And this is why the focus on national missions is so important because they have the potential to engage the Australian community and provide what Bill Ferris the chair of ISA describes as “a clarion call for national action.”

By calling out a focus on genomics and precision medicine and a desire for Australia to become the healthiest country on earth the 2030 plan is setting a high bar for its national missions. The aim is to make “innovation a cultural activity so that it permeates through everything that we do and the way that we think.”

This is why, for me, the cultural component is the most interesting because our embrace or otherwise of the 2030 Plan is what will make it stick, or not.

There sits now a choice before government, industry, educators and researchers. Do we embrace the plan and drive hard for the ambitions contained therein or do we pull apart the recommendations and highlight the shortcomings, imperfections and missed opportunities?

Culture is much more than the stories we tell about ourselves. It is how we act, it is what we say and do and if we buy into the vision of a culture where “our most talented kids are inspired to be innovators and entrepreneurs and to tackle global challenges, spurred on by National Missions that entrench a strong national culture of ambition and innovation” the reality of this coming true will be shaped by our actions today.

And our actions to date have not been great.

We have struggled to articulate the importance of and make real the benefits of innovation to the general population. We have made it harder for international talent to come to our shores and created uncertainty for the talent that is here. We continue to holistically discourage industry from engaging in research and development. Our education system needs to be dragged into the 21st Century from pre-school through to tertiary education.

The 2030 Plan recognises these factors as have the plans and blueprints that have come before it. Is it perfect? No. Could it be improved? Yes. However no plan stays static or survives an encounter with the real world and what makes the difference is the degree to which it is executed. And execution in this case is down to all of us. ISA have fulfilled their role and been the agent provocateur. Now it is up to each and every one of us to act and play our part in driving our future national prosperity.

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