Dodwell in 2013 SOM1 Jakarta - Post 4

January 30, 2013

If you thought the Policy Partnership on Food Security had a difficult conception, then you would be intrigued by the logistics of to nurturing to life APEC’s latest public-private experiment – the Policy Partnership on Science, Technology and Innovation. At short notice, an informal meeting of the PPSTI Informal Working Group – formed to plan the launch of the PPSTI - was convened on the margins of a large APEC science meeting – the APEC Research and Technology (ART) Programme – that was being held not cosily up alongside the SOM cluster meetings at the comfortable Ritz Carlton, but across town in the long and functional wifi-less corridors of the LIPI Building – the Indonesian Institute of Science.

I must confess at the outset that I am way out of my depth, miles out of my comfort zone, and seriously challenged to know how we, ABAC, can help these earnest scientists to develop science and technology policies that can “broaden the mandate to include issues of innovation policy development”… and “intensify cooperation among stakeholders – government, private sector and academia”.

The PPSTI’s strategic aim, they say, “is to enhance economic growth, trade and investment opportunities, as well as social progress, in harmony with sustainability, through the development of an enabling environment for market-based innovation policy in support of commercialization, the promotion of innovation capacity, and the facilitation of innovation cooperation.” Phew, this is going to take some time to get our heads around. This may be crystal clear to a Government Chief Scientist, but I sat in the Working Group puzzling what on earth is expected of the business executives who are being wooed to join this new and ambitious body. I see three distinct tasks:

  • how best to incubate science-based start ups to a point where they can stand on their own two feet – without losing our taxpayers’ shirts, but in full knowledge that statistically more than 80% of start-ups fail.

  • How to train enough people with the right skills (and with a gut appetite for entrepreneurship)

  • And work out whether or how companies and/or governments can cooperate to foster innovation

The Terms of Reference appear to believe that these objectives can be achieved by organizing “Innovation Technology Dialogues”, “Innovation Policy Dialogues”, and “APEC Research and Technology Programme workshops”. And they are seeking private sector engagement to bring some business discipline to this process.

This is likely to be extremely challenging, but let’s not be negative: we in ABAC care greatly about fostering innovation and entrepreneurship. We care greatly that taxpayer funds are not wasted in the process. We have been given a rare opportunity by APEC leaders to join policymakers in pursuit of these goals. Our immediate challenges are daunting:

  • To identify the main tasks during the formation of the PPSTI;

  • To sort out the mechanics of transition;

  • To agree the structure and roles of the new body; and

  • To set an agenda and timelines that get us past the starting line by the time APEC Senior Officials meet in Medan in July

Task one is to get the PPSTI’s Management Council up and running. This needs a chairman, two vice chairmen, and a “principle advisor” who is supposed to be from business, and the primary link to ABAC. At present we have one vice chairman – from Indonesia, because they are this year’s APEC host. We also have a “principle advisor” – Nick Brooke, head of the Hong Kong Science Park, who at this point has only a basic idea of the scale of the challenge he has been tasked to undertake. Yesterday’s Working Group arm-wrestled earnestly over how to fill the other two slots at speed, since the work of calling members together, and beginning to draft the PPSTI’s initial work plan, is not allowed to start until they are in place. A draft of the work plan is supposed to be ready for circulation in five weeks time (spanning Chinese New Year too), and needs to be ready for consideration at the first full PPSTI Plenary in Surabaya in the second week of April. In the world of government service, this means working at warp speed. I am not yet clear how these objectives are going to be achieved.


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