Response to the ‘Collaborating to a purpose’ O’Kane report


This document has been submitted by the CRC Association (CRCA) on behalf of all CRCs. The CRCA has 58 members, comprising all 49 current CRCs, plus the 9 “CRCs” that reached the end of their contracts with the Commonwealth on 30 June 2009 however are still operational as they conclude their wind-up phase.

The CRCA has encouraged its members and member-sectors to make separate submissions where they feel they have specific points to make beyond those of the CRCA submission. However as per the contributions to the NIS Review, many CRCs have considered this submission to be representative of their views.

The CRCA views the “O’Kane report” as a meticulous work. It is clear that great effort has been made in attempting to provide an objective and balanced discussion.

The CRCA has considered each recommendation in depth, and provides its “in principle” support to the general thrust of the recommendations. Further support however will be determined by the CRCA’s views on the recommendations in the forthcoming “Cutler Report” and that report’s views regarding the structure of Australia’s overall National Innovation System, and particularly the role that the CRC Program has to play within that overall system.

The CRCA is pleased to see that the recommendations in the O’Kane report have followed the general thrust of the 10 principles listed in the Association’s submission to the NIS Review, viz:

  1. The CRC Program should continue to be the key bridge-builder between public research organisations and research end-users, filling the innovation chasm between the research bench and application by supporting long term strategic collaborations.
  2. The CRC Program should, while continuing to exhibit high levels of governance and accountability, be designed to maximally allocate resources to research rather than red tape.
  3. The CRC Program should be squarely focused on the beneficial application of innovation for Australia, acknowledging that this will involve generation of pure public benefits, private benefits and, more often, a complex blend of both.
  4. The CRC Program should be funded so as to encourage new entrants whilst still supporting existing, successful collaborations.
  5. The CRC Program should encourage experimentation; allowing risks to be taken in the pursuit of innovation.
  6. The CRC Program should provide a rich learning environment; developing skills at all levels and across all disciplines.
  7. The CRC Program should be internationally engaged; providing a platform for connection to global knowledge networks.
  8. The CRC Program should provide for flexible entry and exit points for industry, government agencies and NGOs, and SMEs in particular.
  9. The CRC Program should be a part of a true innovation ‘system’ where other Programs are synergistic rather than competitive.
  10. The CRC Program should above all be flexible, so that it is highly responsive to emerging opportunities and community needs.

Importantly, any changes implemented following this review must take care not to dilute or remove the major attributes of the CRC Program, namely its end-user focus, its strong governance and transparency, its inherent flexibility, and its strong emphasis on facilitating the adoption of research.


  • Recc 1.1 i The CRCA is very pleased with this recommendation.
  • Recc 1.1 ii Accept the need for a future evaluation and take the view that this would be scheduled to occur around 5 years after the Innovation White Paper is released.
  • Recc 1.2 i Note the CRCA submission to the NIS Review suggested an increase of 30-50% above the current $200 million budget; enough to support and maintain at least 60 CRCs in total into the future.
  • Recc 1.2 ii Support annual rounds in principle, providing Department resources are adequate to run these rounds whilst also administering the Program.
  • Recc 1.2 iii Concur as the fundamental premise is that the Program is flexible. Assume that the $45m cap is not limited to any particular CRC length. Through human nature however it is likely that few bids will call for anything less than the maximum 10 year term.

Note : This recommendation appears to be relatively silent on the issue of the transition of “long term” CRCs. The CRCA suggests that further exploration be given to the “Tri-Five” funding model (as described on page 31 of the CRC Committee’s submission to the Review).

  • Recc 2 Agree in principle, however there is significant confusion relating to the definition of “pre-competitive” and “pre-applicative”. The context is unclear, and connotes different meanings to different sectors (both negative and positive). A clarification is sought.


The prime and secondary objectives should be combined to produce a list of overall objectives. Splitting into prime and secondary merely serves to undersell the important role that CRCs play in education (not just PhD) and addressing skills shortages. An additional objective could be added – “Addressing significant risk in areas of National importance”.

  • Recc 3.1 i As in Recc 1.2iii, CRCA strongly endorses the concept of flexibility; however care needs to be taken not to burden the Program through additional complexity. It is also critical that at the conclusion of the term the consortium have the freedom to develop a new bid to form a completely new CRC (with or without links to the research and identity of the previous CRC).
  • Recc 3.1 ii See this as requiring the Guidelines to strongly focus on ensuring the bids are clear on why the CRC Program is the optimal vehicle through which to address their particular challenge/s. Only a concern if the higher requirements lead to increased workload and consequently increased costs in establishing a bid.
  • Recc 3.2 Agree.
  • Recc 3.3 Agree.
  • Recc 4 Agree in principle. View this as filling the space between ARC Linkage and CRC, and as a “collaboration test bed” from which future CRC consortiums may be formed. Should not be viewed however as a mandatory pre-cursor to a CRC bid.
  • Recc 5 Agree, however would argue that currently there are no impediments to the development of CRC applications from the Humanities and Social Science fields. There is also no mention of the encouragement of collaborations across CRCs.
  • Recc 6 The most ambiguous and controversial recommendation!

(6 i) How will “social benefit” be defined and comparatively measured?

(6 ii) Requiring end-users to contribute half the cash might be an aspirational objective, but will be very difficult in reality and will undoubtedly drive some potential partners away from CRC bids. The CRC Program should be encouraging collaboration rather than implementing deterrents and it would be preferable for this recommendation to contain some flexibility around funding targets.

(6 iii) The measurement of in-kind contributions needs to be addressed; however the importance of in-kind support (which in many cases is the foundation stone of collaboration and is crucial for the cost-effectiveness of CRC research programs) cannot be disregarded. Many partners (SMEs in particular) are not in the position to provide cash and the loan of equipment or a facility may be far more valuable to the research.

(6 v) Core partners must make real, solid contributions to their CRC. Very careful consideration needs to given to the funding and in-kind guidelines for Universities. Feedback from non-university partners is strongly of the view that universities still need to contribute more than on a fee-for-service basis or else they will jeopardise their partnership status and weaken the fundamentals of the CRC Program.

(6 vi) Public benefit CRCs in particular often do not directly align with any Government Department, while those that do often find that the Department is averse to providing funding for fear that the CRC might at some point in the future make comment on Government policy.

CRC Association – Response to the “Collaborating to a purpose” O’Kane report Page 3 of 3
  • Recc 7.1 i Agree, on the assumption that this is suggesting that the staff composition within the CRC Branch of DIISR should include a number of people with hands-on past experience as an end-user of research and/or research provider. Would not agree if this was suggesting the dismantling of the current staff resource within the CRC Branch.
  • Recc 7.1 ii Agree.
  • Recc 7.2 The key words are “layered peer review”. Important that the peers be not purely researchers or academics. These peers must comprise end-users if the CRC Program is to maintain its unique position and role (while recognising the difficulty in finding end-user peers who are not involved in the CRC.)
  • Recc 7.3 Agree with Recommendation 7.3i as it echoes the CRCA’s long-standing position that bids shortlisted at Stage 1 should immediately be granted interview. With regard to 7.3ii – v, the CRCA feels that comment is best left to the CRC Committee.
  • Recc 7.4 Agree, however the phrase “..a common core of evaluation metrics be developed..” would appear to ignore the significant work undertaken by the CRCA to provide exactly this. The June 2007 report titled “Impact monitoring and evaluation framework: background and assessment approaches” was developed by Delloites for the CRCA specifically to provide the needs detailed in this recommendation.
  • Recc 7.5 Agree, and would assume this is occurring already at DIISR.
  • Recc 7.6 Agree in principle, though question if 3 years is an appropriate time in the life of a CRC to allow a comparative judgement to be made. The suggestion that “there should be an expectation….that at least one-quarter would lose funding” (Page 71) is very concerning. This would only make collaboration even more difficult as few end-users would be prepared to invest in a scheme that has a 25% chance of forced closure at less than its half-way point. There is a risk that it will promote a “guilty until proven innocent” approach. This uncertain future will also make it more difficult to attract and keep staff and students. Further, it would promote “truth hiding” due to the real fear of losing funding, and the insightful and very valuable feedback currently received via honest presentations will be lost.
  • Recc 7.7 Agree in principle, yet again feel that comment is best left to the CRC Committee.
  • Recc 8.1 Agree. In a true “National Innovation System” the inputs of all Programs should be the outputs from others and there should be strong synergies across those Programs. Perhaps there is an opportunity here for the CRCA to have an increased role in the National Innovation System whereby it might act as a conduit for linking all Commonwealth funding collaborative research programs and fostering the development of close policy and operative links?
  • Recc 8.2 Agree.
  • Recc 8.3 Agree, particularly if this is seen as a possible, though not mandatory, route for a CRC to take at the conclusion of its funding period. There would need to be some very significant changes to the ARC Centres of Excellence however to ensure that collaborative ventures within this Program are still end-user focused rather than researcher-centric.


  • A major issue is the apparent preference for Universities to encourage their researchers to pursue ARC grants rather than working with CRCs. This behavior is driven by the fact that CRCs are not counted in the National Competitive Grants. As a consequence some of Australia’s best researchers are drawn away from the CRC Program. The report acknowledges this issue (page 37) but does not offer any solution or way forward. The overall efficiency and effectiveness of Australia’s NIS would be enhanced if there was more cooperation and less competition between ARC and CRC programs. Again, the CRCA assumes and strongly desires that this issue is being seriously addressed elsewhere in the NIS Review.
  • The report is silent on issues concerning CRCs and taxation and tax concessions. The CRCA presumes that these issues are being covered elsewhere in the NIS Review.
  • Page 34, 8.2.1 : dot point 3 states that “participation in new CRCs is becoming increasingly unattractive because of issues of complexity … fragmentation of effort in multiple CRCs competing in the same domain (e.g. biosecurity).” This statement fails to recognise the strong complementarity’s (rather than fragmentation) that exists across CRCs, both within and across sector (particularly in the biosecurity area but also with the meat industry, aboriginal populations etc.) A true National Innovation System should encourage collaborations across CRCs, particularly those working in discreet areas of similar fields.


The CRC Association is pleased to offer its services to assist the Government in its deliberations as the recommendations of this Review are progressed toward implementation.

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