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Submission to Crown Research Institute Taskforce

Submission to the Crown Research Institute Taskforce
From the New Zealand Association of Scientists (Inc.)


The New Zealand Association of Scientists is pleased that a review of Crown-owned Research Institutes (CRIs) is being undertaken but has strong reservations about its scope and time frame.

The scope of the review is far too narrow. The issues that afflict CRIs cannot be addressed simply by starting with the questions posed in the letter from the Chair of the CRI Taskforce. A comprehensive review of the way the whole science system is operating and the assumptions that underpin it, is required before particular CRI issues are addressed. In particular a robust analysis is needed of what the science endeavour is, what is required of it, and hence what its institutional needs are. We recommend that such a review be carried out before any attempts are made to reform CRIs. Otherwise there is a risk of superficial patch-up solutions that do not address the underlying problems and that simply create new malaises in the science system.

Even in its current form, the time frame for the review, and for commentaries on it, is grossly inadequate. We believe that there should be proper analysis of the ways in which CRIs operate and of the constraints they are working under before any changes are made and have indicated areas for analysis in our responses to questions below. We are deeply concerned that the Taskforce appears to be poised to make recommendations without allowing any time for this analytical work.

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In the event that the Government’s timetable requires prompt action in preparation for the 2010 budget, we urge that any changes made this year do not close off possibilities for more substantive analysis and improvements to the science system in 2010.

Specific points related to the questions in the letter from the Chair of the Taskforce follow.

1. Purposes of CRIs
We recommend that the CRI Taskforce reviews ‘the CRI model’ as a whole to determine where it is working and where it is failing before it makes recommendations on the roles of individual CRIs, on the need for new directional statements or on reconfiguring CRIs.

2. Governance and accountability

We believe that perceived difficulties with the accountability of CRIs and with the effectiveness of CRI boards arise largely because of poor policies and settings for the science system as a whole. We therefore recommend that the CRI Taskforce analyses the effectiveness of governance and accountability arrangements across the whole of the system before it attempts to focus on new arrangements or new review structures for CRIs.

3. Performance measures

Financial viability is required of all types of organisations and financial performance measures (and not any single measure as suggested) and will always be required for CRIs. The critical issue is that CRIs are operating under a commercial model that does not fit with their purpose – working for the benefit of New Zealand. We think that the CRI Taskforce should focus its attention on finding a more appropriate financial model (or models) for CRIs. CRIs should then be expected to develop and maintain analyses of performance based on the sector outcomes that have been made possible through the networks of knowledge and technology they have produced over decades.

4. Funding

We recommend that the CRI Taskforce should first address a set of questions: What are ‘capabilities’ and what is ‘short-term dynamism’? What sort of capabilities are of concern in the science system and in relation to CRIs? Who is maintaining or blocking the development of these capabilities? What makes development of long-term capabilities of all types insufficiently dynamic at present? What does proper dynamism (or stability) look like? Appropriate methods for funding ‘capability’ and ‘dynamism’ cannot be determined without this analysis.

5. Alignment

We recommend that the CRI Taskforce looks at the evidence for the belief that CRIs are poor at collaboration and don’t have adequate international linkages. If any or all their interactions are sub-standard, the question then becomes – to what degree is this the natural outcome of the commercial settings under which the CRIs operate? We anticipate that the Taskforce will find that CRIs are behaving rationally under the settings they are currently given. If the Taskforce is unhappy with this, we recommend that it addresses ways to alter settings to make it easier for CRIs to work with others rather than simply loading on new expectations, constraints and directives.

Full submission (PDF): CRI_Review_release.pdf

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