Differing views on innovation

Otago Polytechnic chief executive Phil Ker spoke along with fellow panelists (from left)  Julie...
Otago Polytechnic chief executive Phil Ker spoke along with fellow panelists (from left) Julie Curphey, Jacinta Ruru and Pete Hodgson at the opening of Dunedin Techweek on Friday evening. Photo: Gregor Richardson
The four panelists who opened Dunedin Techweek ’18 last night  had wildly different takes on  innovation — and the discussion ranged from education to medicine and the legal system.

Callaghan Innovation and Southern Partnership Group chairman and Otago Innovation chief executive Pete Hodgson spoke, along with Blis Technologies chief marketing officer Julie Curphey, law lecturer and co-director of New Zealand’s Maori Centre of Research Excellence Professor Jacinta Ruru, and Otago Polytechnic chief executive Phil Ker. The speakers responded to the question "Is innovation good for the world?" and then took questions from a crowd of more than 80 people at the event, which was held at Dunedin Public Art Gallery.

The talk is the first in a week of more than 40 events across the city highlighting the pros and cons of innovation, and the use of emerging technologies. Mr Ker focused on innovation at Otago Polytechnic, such as its focus on micro-credentials, where people could receive a qualification for a particular skill.

"We hold our own on the world stage when it comes to doing new things that people value," he said.

Staff were urged to go ahead with their own ideas, and he urged organisations not to get caught up in their own bureaucracy, and to learn from failure.  It was not enough just to come up with an idea — it had to create value, and innovation could be about "getting the good idea to market ahead of others", he said. However Mr Hodgson took a broad view and said it was rarely the "aha" moment in the lab which could instantly be commercialised.

"It is better thought about as being a mess rather than being a nice linear story.

"It must always be regulated," he said.

He agreed with Mr Ker about the importance of being able to learn from failure, and also cautioned that innovation was harder in an environment where intolerance — for instance sexual discrimination or religious intolerance —  flourished. Ms Curphey said when it came to medical treatment, for example, it was not only about having the product but finding the right way to deliver it to the right people, at the right time. Sometimes the threat of death or permanent disability was  not enough to persuade people to change their behaviour.

"It’s about trying to understand why they just wouldn’t take the course of drugs prescribed," she said.

Prof Ruru focused on innovation in New Zealand’s law, and how it had been used to deprive Maori of their property and rights in the past but was now changing to redress that. New Zealand was the first country in the world to grant landmarks legal personality, she said.

Te Urewera in the North Island was a legal person, with rights, responsibilities and liabilities.

elena.mcphee@odt.co.nz 

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