Global governments and scientific councils say discovery and research should be followed by innovation

By @vitthernandez on
PM Malcolm Turnbull
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull delivers a speech at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, in Tokyo, Japan, December 18, 2015. Reuters/Atsushi Tomura/Pool

The illuminating knowledge brought about by research and discovery is no longer enough — innovation should follow it. This mindset is beginning to characterise the approach of leaders, councils and other organisations in science. Aligned with this is the belief that scientific pursuits can no longer remain an ivory-tower pursuit understood only by a few. Rather, it should be able to translate into services, products and facilities that can survive the industry markets and sustain its business longevity for a considerable period of time.

Professor Andrew Kusiak, writer for science journal Nature , explains the distinctions between innovation, research and creativity. Scientific research is the process of acquiring information through a rigorous method and drawing conclusions using logical, empirical analysis. Creativity can spring from this endeavour, when the research spurs the scientists to come up with ideas that can change and improve the status quo. Innovation is an entirely different phenomenon—it is the implementation of a more effective and efficient idea or invention, which can also be accepted successfully by the market forces and repackaged as a business enterprise.

“Governments want innovation that not only transforms the industry, but also offers solutions to the ‘grand challenge’ problems that the world faces: alternative energy sources, mitigating climate change, eliminating poverty and improving health care and security,” Kusiak wrote.

Around the world, governments are working towards pushing innovation at the forefront of every sector, and consequently, becoming a driving force of their economies. For instance, Kusiak mentions India’s National Council of Science Museums’ decision to design innovation centres in their many locations. He also points out that Australia’s National Science and Innovation Agenda is laying off dozens of qualified climate scientists to streamline its programmes and funding. 

According to Christian Science Monitor , this move of the Australian government means that around 350 employees from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) would be “relocated and retrained” to its various departments.  In line with that, the new CSIRO head who has introduced the staff changes is a member of the private sector: venture capitalist Larry Marshall.

Although Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull expresses a lack of foreknowledge of the re-staffing, the reduction took place a month after he unveiled his plans of cementing stronger partnerships between government scientific research and private companies. Turnbull also expressed his concern over Australia’s lag in innovation. He pointed out that “commercializing good ideas and collaborating with industry” should occur more and faster.

Not to be left out in the innovation movement, European scientific leaders are also seeking ways to merge scientific research and commercial activity to produce long-lasting innovations. Members of Europe’s Science|Business Network suggested that the European Innovation Council (EIC) should introduce more innovations that can be scalable in and beyond the continent. Furthermore, the report says the EIC should act more of a venture capitalist than a government agency.

The role that can be played by the private sector that is willing to introduce innovations cannot be underestimated. Pharmaceuticals and research specialists alike routinely collaborate with the World Health Organisation to combat disease and discover their cures. 5BARz International’s network extender helped India speed up its connectivity issues by keeping in contact with government agencies tasked to monitor telecom technical issues and consumer dissatisfaction with their cell signals. The success of innovation also depends on its business sustainability, since it is imperative that an innovative product or idea offers enduring and lasting solutions—not easily topped or replaced—to existing problems.

To create successful innovations that can succeed in the market, the Science|Business Network says large-scale funding must see the innovation through, from “the lab to the market.” Recognised professionals should be brought in as decision-makers, and a climate must be created to support innovators and promote entrepreneurship.

This development is just beginning, but the recent actions by leading government and scientific figures in Australia and Europe can keep the momentum. Scientific discovery can no longer be regarded as a theoretical exercise with advantages that still have to be mapped out. The world needs it instead as a platform to create breakthrough innovations that can solve the world’s pressing issues, while remaining understandable to the layman population that would give its much needed support.