Stuart Cunningham gave the keynote this morning, “Never the twain shall meet?” and while he covered quite a bit, here’s what I took from it.
“The clashing point of two subjects, two disciplines, two cultures – of two galaxies, so far as that goes – ought to produce creative chaos.”
– CP Snow, The Two Cultures, 1959
Stuart started with CP Snow’s notion of two cultures as a way of introducing the challenges and opportunities of bringing together different disciplines. He reminded us that innovation networks are relatively new policy frameworks and are still highly contestable, not least because they challenge traditional neoliberalism. Still, cultures and parallel universes are converging: we’re seeing “fifth generation” innovation (pdf), services based economies and process innovation, and the breaking of the Frascati Manual. He continued to explain that the social sciences have come into their own in this environment, but the arts and humanities have yet to develop a convincing framework for innovation. One issue is different modes of knowledge; they too often oppose scientistic knowledge as too narrow or claim that all creative work is intrinsically innovative. But they are also too often seen as hand-maidens to science, “understanding and managing the consequences” of new science. (See Stuart’s contribution to this panel conversation (pdf) on technology, creativity and policy.) He then went on to provide some evidence for how things are changing, including AHRC, NESTA, GIF, Better by Design, and NZ Humanities Council becoming a division of the Royal Society, and several examples of complex problems that are best served by cross-disciplinary research teams. (See Anne Salmond’s speech on a “new enlightenment” at the Royal Society of New Zealand Fellows dinner in May 2010.)
Of particular interest to me, and something I had really hoped would be given more time at the conference, were Stuart’s examples of hindrances to collaboration, including: cultural/epistemological/methodological differences; rank and file protect disciplinary knowledge; insufficient resourcing and expertise; structural rigidity; little encouragement; significant barriers; lack of recognition and status; lack of mutual respect; lack of patience and imagination; lack of reward structure. He said we need to: promote a new mindset; change research behaviour; educate for greater collaboration; train ‘boundary spanners’; provide leadership training/opportunities for new researchers; coordinate and advocate cross-sectoral collaboration; create more linkage schemes; and build the question of impact (PBRF, ERA & REF) in from the start.
Moving on to innovator profiles, Peter Shepherd argued that NZ has an unhealthy dependence of primary industries (agriculture & tourism) but the environmental impact is enormous. He said we need non-traditional knowledge based industries with low carbon footprints, no trade barriers, high profit margins, protectable IP, high wage job creation. Industries and companies that fit this model include biofuels (Lanzatech), medical devices (Fisher & Paykel), human therapeutics (Pathway) and nanotechologies. He also said that NZ has a lot of work to do to make it happen because the support isn’t here, but the good news is that we can do it–we need to make it happen and not wait for it to happen. Ray Avery talked about applied research as taking some knowledge that is fundamental and applying it to another discipline, and stressed observation as the precursor of innovation. He argued that innovation starts in the field, not the lab, and we need to participate, observe, learn the environment and culture. For example, imagine setting specs by what people can afford instead of what we want or what we think they need.
The rest of the morning session was spent at rapid-fire roundtable discussions. I attended Lesley Middleton‘s table on research collaboration and Tracey McIntosh‘s table on social justice research. Although I found both very interesting, I really would have liked to see more workshop-type opportunities. There was a lot of talking and sharing of experience and nodding in agreement or recognition, but little attention given to practical, actionable information–especially in terms of problem-solving or overcoming barriers.