Linking technology researchers and government

Together with her team – Cass Cleever and Dale George – Christiana Lees undertook an industry research project in the second half of 2017 for DFAT’s innovationXchange titled Strategies for effective engagement: understanding the factors influencing government-academic engagement in an Australian context.

CHRISTIANA LEES, MONASH UNIVERSITY

Technology has the power to transform society and bring about large-scale improvements in health, education, energy, and the wider economy. Academic technology research is pioneering many of these important innovations however there is a role for an intermediary to ensure that vulnerable communities receive the full benefits of these technologies. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s innovationXchange (iXc) is pursuing this role by building strong relationships between government and academic researchers for impact in the Indo-Pacific region.

Seeing the potential in this relationship, since July this year, I’ve been working with the iXc for an Honours research project to investigate how it engages with technology academics, researchers from information technology, engineering, and science backgrounds, and pitching solutions to improve this engagement.

The international community has increasingly recognised that mobilising the application of new technologies in aid programs has the potential to improve social welfare and have positive economic impacts in developing-country contexts. In a perfect world, it would be easy for policymakers and technology academics to collaborate to form evidence-based and innovative foreign aid interventions. In practice, it is more complicated, and many factors complicate effective engagement between government and academia.

Our work sought to understand how enabling factors and obstructive barriers affect government engagement with technology academics. We identified two important facilitators and two important barriers to this engagement.

Policymakers are motivated to engage with technology academics and take steps to make this happen. This suggests an openness on the part of government to explore new avenues by which engagement can occur with technology academics.

Second, government needs to be able to evaluate technology research – to decide if it has potential for effective piloting, and if it supports government priorities. This demands engagement with academics to ensure technology is relevant to policymakers and their needs.

Misalignment of timing and opportunity is also a barrier to cooperation and collaboration. Policymakers generally work on projects to shorter time frames than academics, whose projects tend to be longer-term. This can make partnerships difficult to broker. We recommend the development of a national portal that lists technology academics that are available for government collaboration to enable a greater connection with government. This would systematize the engagement process and reduce the time needed to identify potential academic partners.

The second barrier exists in the lack of centralised information; and the information about the availability of academics in partnerships. The issue is typical of large research and policymaking organisations, where it can be difficult to find available experts quickly. In addition to the portal mentioned above, we recommend a National Technology in Aid Expo. This would provide a platform for technology academics to showcase their work. This expo would aim to form a community around technology applications for aid and development, and build stronger relationships between academics and policymakers.

I speak on behalf of my team, Cass Cleever and Dale George, when I say a big thank you for allowing us to support the work of the iXc to explore the linkages between policymakers and technology academics.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christiana Lees recently completed her Honours year toward a Bachelor of Science Advanced – Global Challenges (Honours) degree at Monash University.

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