The headline-grabbing, composite metric known as the Global Innovation Index (GII) is a simplified international ranking that controversially casts Australia in a poor light, while largely failing to assist policy development or decision-making.
The frustration of Australian innovators, tech transfer professionals and policy-makers with the limitations of present innovation metrics has been mounting for years, but some potential relief is in sight and KCA is striving to attain it for our members.
One limitation of existing innovation metrics and composite indices is that they tend to focus on innovation activity rather than impact. Another is that they do not comprehensively explore relative performance in all sectors of the Australian economy. Many data sources simply reflect what has been easy to collect, or meet historical requirements, rather than current needs. Some data conflict. For example, recent Higher Education Research Data Collection (HERDC) data suggests that the level of Australian industry investment in Australian universities continues to rise, despite our poor result in the GII’s university-industry collaborations metric.
This year, in response to recommendations made by Innovation and Science Australia in Australia 2030: Prosperity through Innovation, the Federal Government is reviewing domestic and international measures of innovation, and exploring the development of new metrics. Ultimately, the Government seeks long-term, solid data on which to found cost-effective, robust policies to build our nation’s innovation capacity. The new metrics will also be promoted to the international community.
The Innovation Metrics Review Taskforce has been drawn from the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE). ATSE is leading this project and is in the midst of its initial consultation round.
As the peak body representing organisations and individuals participating in commercialisation of Australian publicly funded research, KCA has been asked to assist. Therefore, following consultation with our members, KCA met with the Taskforce and made a formal submission to highlight what we see as the current challenges and opportunities in innovation measurement:
- Our members believe it is important to better understand what is being measured by global innovation surveys like the GII, who is being surveyed, how to influence these metrics, and whether Australia’s innovation performance is decreasing, or our international counterparts are improving.
- Australia’s lower investment in business R&D, higher ration of SMEs to larger corporations, and lack of multinational research headquarters, must be factored in when comparing our performance with other developed countries.
- Our members look to the taskforce to identify how current research and innovation policies are driving economic development and how policy changes could encourage research-industry-end user collaborations. We would strongly support innovation policy that aligns and drives research activity with existing economic development metrics.
- We advocate for better targeting and clarity of questions in the National Survey of Research Commercialisation, to improve data quality and consistency.
- Our members utilise licensing survey data, such as the AUTM Licensing Activity Survey, for benchmarking and to guide licensing negotiations, particularly with international partners.
- Other data collected by our members include: investment into startups based on university IP, as well as their sales; and the impact of student-led enterprises derived from accelerator programs.
Part of KCA’s submission was devoted to Third Stream funding for capability and capacity building. To realise the full benefits of Australian Government funding for research, skills gaps across the innovation ecosystem must be addressed with training, which requires dedicated funding. In addition, many Australian commercialisation teams are significantly under-sized and under-resourced. Unless these issues are resolved, we will continue to see the same outputs. High quality metrics around these factors will drive policy to achieve the step-change in success from our technology transfer and commercialisation offices that we all desire.
So KCA has delivered our members’ wish-list for better innovation metrics, but we have to wait until next Christmas to learn whether the taskforce elves will deliver the report we’re hoping for.