Innovation at scale in a post truth world – planning and measuring impact from a systems perspective

Margie Atkinson

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Anne-Maree Dowd

Tom Keenan

Australia’s National Science Agency – the CSIRO – was established more than 100 years ago and the legislation governing its operations requires the delivery of benefit for the nation through innovative science and technology. We define ‘benefit’ or ‘impact’ through a triple-bottom line lens – ‘an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society and/or the environment, beyond those contributions to academic knowledge’. By this definition, impactful innovation can be seen as a ‘team sport’ – it requires deep collaboration with others to really understand what is the ‘problem’ and who has it, and to manage the solution process to translate ideas from concept to reality to produce a measurable benefit for end users and other key stakeholders.
For many years CSIRO has used a consistent Program Logic-based impact framework to plan, monitor and evaluate the impact of our research. We do this to ensure that our research is relevant, realistic and that risks are identified and mitigated. By using a consistent methodology at an organisational level our evidence base on impact is comparable regardless of the field of science or the area of impact. This is a core aspect of our annual performance reporting to demonstrate to the Australian public the value of our research, how it translates to benefits in the real world, and to show a return on their investment.
As part of a much larger Australian innovation ecosystem, CSIRO is the only publicly funded research organisation to have a national footprint and has been tasked with being Australia’s ‘innovation catalyst’. We provide stewardship of much of the national science research infrastructure and leverage our ~5000 people, across 55 sites, and the public trust in our work to help the nation move faster towards a knowledge economy.
The world and its problems are becoming more complex and the pace of technology change more rapid, and no single organisation can possibly maintain all the diverse capability and infrastructure needed to solve the increasingly wicked problems. Now, more than ever, to deliver impactful innovation in the face of such complexity, we need to work together in trans/multidisciplinary, multi-stakeholder teams of people, regardless of institutional boundaries. At the same time we live in a post truth world where many people fear the impact of automation and technology on their jobs and livelihoods; there is declining scientific literacy; and public trust in science is low. Against this context it is increasingly important to take a systems perspective when planning, measuring and evaluating how innovation delivers transformational impact. We need to have established clear collective purpose and ask the following core questions: are we working with the right people? Is our work still trusted, supported and likely to be adopted? And, not least of all, from an ethics perspective – should we be doing this kind of research at all?
Over the last 18 months our methodology has evolved to address these issues and we are working on a change process to build capacity across our staff and partners to embed this thinking in all that we do. We have found it is particularly important to explicitly incorporate partnerships in the impact framework. People are more than just a number in the input list for determining impact – their relationships and how they work across boundaries is a critical success factor in delivering impactful innovation. This presentation outlines how we now incorporate Collaboration, Social Licence to Operate and Responsible Research and Innovation principles into our impact framework.