Te Ara Paerangi – Future Pathways is an opportunity to build a new future for New Zealand.
Even as the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic abates, New Zealand and the world face a barrage of wicked problems: climate change, environmental degradation, low productivity and a slew of complex social issues that erode our health and wellbeing. An impactful research, science and innovation system is critical to surviving these challenges and realising the opportunities for improved lives and livelihoods that lie beyond them.
Meeting these complex challenges will require researchers to work across disciplines and be supported to translate their ideas into the real world where they can have impact. While I have met many research groups and organisations taking steps down this path, our system is not set up for them to succeed. Designed in the 1990s, it is characterised by siloed institutions and unproductive competition. Now is time to consider how to best position the research science and innovation system for the future.
The Government has a goal to grow overall investment in RSI to harness the collective capabilities of New Zealand’s talented researchers and innovators. We want to see a future-focused system that advances the wellbeing of New Zealanders by addressing complex challenges. Key among them is the need to transition to a high-wage, low-emissions economy.
Last year, the Government released a Green Paper to guide consultation on the future RSI system. During that process, the sector provided feedback on the changes needed to realise a better future for New Zealand. They expressed a strong desire for transformative change, to better enable researchers to collaborate instead of competing, and to honour Te Tiriti and its obligations. Submitters said they want a research system that enables New Zealand to address the pressing challenges facing this nation, and that building such a system will help ensure future generations thrive in industries that generate improved incomes and sustainable careers.
Another clear message from the Green Paper submissions was that current RSI policies fail to give sufficient expression to Te Tiriti, and struggle to attract and retain Māori and Pacific Peoples who face structural barriers in the workforce. Many submissions also highlighted the constrained opportunities for early to mid-career researchers and the challenging and precarious work environment in which they operate.
We must address these barriers if New Zealand is to activate the full potential of this country’s distinctive talents.
The Te Ara Paerangi – Future Pathways White Paper sets out the Government’s direction for reforming New Zealand’s RSI system.
It is increasingly important that New Zealand is able to not only produce excellent research but also translate that into impact – into real improvements to the lives of New Zealanders. To create meaningful impact, we will need to focus on nationally significant priorities. The Government’s investment needs to move from areas of traditional strength to the things that will really matter to New Zealand’s future wellbeing and prosperity.
Setting National Research Priorities will provide the strategic direction needed to focus on New Zealand’s most important economic, environmental, and social challenges and opportunities. In addition to National Research Priorities, we need to design all aspects of the RSI system to better enable connections between research organisations, end-users, health agencies, social enterprise and government to deliver impact.
The RSI system requires a clearer focus to accelerate the excellent work being carried out by researchers and innovators. This will help create better jobs and lead to improvements in ways of working.
The RSI system needs to embed Te Tiriti and be more responsive to Māori and Pacific Peoples to improve the wealth and resilience of those communities. This means appropriate representation at all levels, and creating opportunities for Māori to pursue their own priorities and aspirations.
People are the most important asset of the RSI system. The White Paper outlines the Government’s plan to address poor diversity, equity and inclusion in the RSI workforce and to ensure the system works for its people. We need to address unproductive competition for grants and give people time to develop the skills and relationships that convert great ideas into impact. Building a system that truly supports an excellent and diverse workforce will require greater emphasis on fellowships as well as changing the incentives in the funding system to reduce contract ‘churn’ and promote capability development.
Finally, we must work to create a research system that is more sustainable and resilient. The Government will ensure our public research organisations have the scope and scale to adapt to emerging priorities. We will also establish long-term funding for public good science services that are required for government regulatory and monitoring functions.
The White Paper articulates the direction for the Te Ara Paerangi – Future Pathways programme. It sets out a high-level implementation plan and demonstrates how the Government will continue to work with the sector, stakeholders and partners along the way.
We have an opportunity to create an RSI system that will advance the economic, social, cultural and environmental wellbeing of New Zealanders, now and into the future. I look forward to working together throughout this journey.