Govt to enlist public on NZ Science Challenges

  • Steven Joyce
Science and Innovation

New Zealanders are being asked to assist the Government identify the key scientific questions New Zealand needs to answer as part of developing the new $60 million National Science Challenges, Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce says.

Announcing the challenges today on board NIWA’s marine research vessel the Tangaroa, Mr Joyce says the National Science Challenges will over time focus much of New Zealand’s contracted public science investment on core science questions that are important to New Zealand.

“We expect to identify 10 or so big challenges that are crucial for New Zealand’s future. The $60 million for Science Challenges from Budget 2012 will be devoted to the first projects in support of those challenges. Cabinet has agreed that increasing amounts of our contract funding will be allocated to meeting the challenges as money becomes available,” Mr Joyce says.

“The challenges may include environmental subjects like the sustainable exploration of our seas and oceans, how to intensify agriculture while improving the environment, plus perhaps our biggest public health challenge, or improving our resilience against natural hazards like earthquakes – it will be up to New Zealanders to let us know what they regard as our biggest challenges.

“As part of our engagement with the public, next month we will be launching a television and online advertising campaign inviting Kiwis to tell us what they believe New Zealand’s Science Challenges should be.

“Through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment the Government will also be engaging directly with the broader science sector, research institutions, tertiary institutions and schools to get their feedback.

“This wide public discussion will help us identify the challenges, and at the same time increase the profile of science with the public and those considering a science career.”

High level topics for the National Science Challenges will be identified in the first quarter of 2013, with the details of each challenge developed after that.

Cabinet will select the National Science Challenges in April 2013, following advice from an expert panel chaired by the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Adviser Sir Peter Gluckman.

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Questions & Answers

  • What are the National Science Challenges?

The National Science Challenges (the Challenges) are a set of over-arching projects that will focus New Zealand’s scientific effort on some of the major issues and opportunities facing the country.

  • Why are the National Science Challenges necessary?

New Zealand faces a number of large and complex issues and opportunities that if solved or addressed have the potential to make New Zealand a better place.

These issues can cut across many different areas, and research into them is sometimes funded by different parts of the Government.  Because of their varied nature it can be difficult for the Government to effectively respond to these issues.

  • How will the National Science Challenges work?

The Challenges will provide an opportunity to align and focus research on these large issues by drawing scientists together to achieve a common goal through collaboration.  Aligning and focusing research in this way is more likely to achieve the required results, and will help the Government to get better value from its annual investment of $1.2 billion in science and innovation.

  • What issues will the Challenges address?

The final Challenges will not be decided until April 2013 following input from the public, experts and science users.  The Challenges will encompass much of the research Government currently funds.  Initial Challenge topics could fall under the broad areas of food, agriculture, environment, marine, biosecurity, energy and hazards, health, society, and economic growth.

  • How is a Challenge defined?

A Challenge is an issue or opportunity:

  • that is large, complex and important to New Zealand’s future
  • that has widespread agreement as to its national importance, and
  • that can potentially be solved or addressed by a scientific approach.
  • What’s an example of a Challenge?

An example of a possible Challenge could be around how we can sustainably benefit from the wealth in our oceans.

A wide range of science would be necessary to support this challenge, and could include areas such as understanding how marine ecosystems work, monitoring long-term trends in the seas, and understanding the impacts on oceans of human activities.

  • How will the Challenges be identified?

The process will involve a number of phases:

a. Engagement with the public, experts and science users. A television campaign will raise public awareness about the Challenges and invite the public to share their views online. 

b. Officials and experts, assisted by a panel chaired by Sir Peter Gluckman, will analyse and prioritise potential Challenges to create a short-list.

c. Cabinet will make the final selection of the National Science Challenges.

The public campaign will run alongside a series of workshops with the science sector, including businesses, government (local and central) users of science, and science providers.  The workshops will also identify how the Challenges are relevant to Māori across all sectors. 

  • Why is the public being asked to contribute to the Challenges?

Science and innovation are a central part of our daily lives and our future.  By being involved in identifying potential topics for the Challenges New Zealanders can become engaged with science and understand how it can solve problems and create opportunities. 

Increased engagement with science can also encourage people to consider science and technology based careers. 

  • How do the Challenges fit within the Government’s plan for science and innovation?

The Government has recently published the Building Innovation Progress Report setting out a comprehensive range of initiatives for improving science and innovation.  Boosting public science investment is a core initiative in the plan.  The Challenges are key in making sure this investment is focused on research that is relevant to New Zealand, and achieves value for taxpayers.

  • Will the Challenges affect Government funding of science?

The Challenges have implications for how science is funded in New Zealand.  Over time significant parts of the Government’s contract funding will change to focus on achieving the Challenges.  Officials will work closely with stakeholders across the system to map existing research to the Challenges, and identify important gaps where new investments or activities could contribute to the achievement of the Challenges.  

  • Does this mean there will be less money for science?

No.  The Government is committed to continuing to increase public science and innovation funding towards 0.8% of GDP as fiscal conditions allow, as outlined in the recent Building Innovation Progress Report.

  • What will happen to the $60 million of new funding announced in Budget 2012?

The $60 million over four years will be used for the first new projects in support of the challenges, and to extend existing research if that is required.

  • Won’t the Challenges just be another addition to a crowded sea of research grants?

No. Many of the large science-based issues that are fundamental to New Zealand’s development cut across different industries, with different sources of government funding, making them harder to fully respond to.  The Challenges will simplify, coordinate and focus new and existing research to address these issues, and will also maximise the benefits of existing expenditure.

  • How will the Challenges be implemented?

Officials are currently considering the most appropriate implementation path for the Challenges and drawing on international experience, such as the Australian National Research Flagships.

This work will involve developing ‘roadmaps’ of research activities to solve Challenges, determining the appropriate governance arrangements, duration and funding mechanism for the Challenges, and how collaboration is best achieved.

  • What is the timing of the identification and implementation of the Challenges? 

The engagement with the public, research providers and research users will start in November 2012.  Cabinet will select the Challenges around March/April 2013.  Investment in the Challenges will begin thereafter.