CRI Taskforce: Time for “big picture” thinking in science

The CRI Taskforce, which has been looking at the effectiveness of New Zealand’s major scientific research organisations, has issued its report which recommends a major shake-up in the management, funding and governance of them with the aim of moving from “micromanagement by bodies external to the CRIs to one based on big picture thinking”.

The press releases from various scientific bodies and the CRIs themselves in response to the report have been trickling in this morning and they all express support for the CRI Taskforce’s recommendations. The Royal Society’s president Dr Garth Carnaby said they were “right on the button”.

But the massive culture change the CRIs face will no doubt be painful. The sizable science bureaucracy in this country is indeed in for a shake-up.

However the prospects are exciting. What the taskforce signaled it wants basically includes:

– More guaranteed long-term funding for CRIs so they don’t have to scramble for contestable funding all the time, wasting resources and doing anything to keep FRST happy

– More control resting with the CRI boards but also more accountability and transparency eg: independent scientific advisory boards and public annual general meetings

– Better interaction with the private sector so New Zealand businesses get the spin-off benefits of all this taxpayer funded research.

– Better collaboration across the science sector – akin to the relatively successful Centres of Research Excellence (CoRE) model.

This is a huge opportunity to invigorate the CRIs which do great work but are so bogged down in the mechanics of science funding and commercial contracts they can’t look at the big picture. Scientists in particular should be hopeful the Government looks favourably on these recommendations as collectively they suggest better opportunities for scientists who want to get on with their research.

Money is central to the proposed changes and the graphs below illustrate the funding changes the CRI Taskforce has recommended:

Source: CRI Taskforce report
Source: CRI Taskforce report

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