Both the level of New Zealand's investment in research and development, and the structural arrangements within which much of publicly funded R&D activity is carried out, have been controversial ever since the restructuring of New Zealand's science sector in the early 1990s with the abolition of the Department of Scientific and Industrial research, and its replacement by a series of Crown Research Institutes.
The immediate objective at the time was to achieve better use of New Zealand's investment in R&D through creating a contestable environment - instead of an annual appropriation to a single government department, a series of quasi-commercial entities facing strong financial disciplines would compete for available funding. View still differ substantially on whether this was the right change made in the right way, or whether it was an unfortunate experiment driven by New Zealand's commitment to the principles of new public management. Critics point to the requirement that the CRIs annually make a return on capital is driving them in the direction of commercial consultancy, rather than building long-term research capability. Defenders of the changes argue that with New Zealand's limited resources, it needs much greater accountability, and incentives which encourage science managers to think about the potential commercial returns.
MDL has authored a number of reports for the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology on different aspects of science policy, and the governance and funding of CRIs. Our most recent report, Devolution: A Think Piece, foreshadows the key findings in the recent report of the CRI task force on how to enhance the value of New Zealand's investment in CRIs, a report whose recommendations will address many of the concerns which have been held in the research community.
We retain an ongoing interest in research and development, especially in the governance of research organisations, which we regard as the critical element in enabling the step change which it is almost universally agreed New Zealand needs in terms of its research and development endeavours. Most recently, we authored a think piece for the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry on governance options for New Zealand Fast Forward, the former Labour Government's major initiative for primary sector research.