Posted tagged ‘Chris Horn’

Pinning down innovation

January 7, 2009

One of the people in Irish public life I really admire is Chris Horn. As it happens, he and I go back quite a way: we both started as lecturers in Trinity College Dublin on the same day. Later, of course, he became a celebrated businessman and entrepreneur, but beyond that he has from time to time contributed to public debate on a range of issues, and when he does so his contributions are always thoughtful and worth listening to.

One of the topics he has been taking up of late is the role of innovation is bringing Ireland out of the economic downturn. Most recently he addressed this in the Innovation supplement of the Irish Times. He has also covered related issues on his blog. In broad terms, what he is raising is the question of whether the particular inputs Ireland has put in place to produce innovation – for example, the funding of research under Science Foundation Ireland – is properly geared to generating the outputs we need – such as business innovation, product development, entrepreneurship.

These are important questions, and whatever we feel needs to be done in Ireland at this critical point needs to be done strategically: in other words, the funding and the organisational structures need to be focused on what we want to achieve, rather than just being there in the hope that something useful may emerge. We need to be an obvious location for industry research and development, and we need to have focused research programmes that can act as magnets for this.

Set against that is the need of the research community to have some freedom to search and experiment outside of a closely targeted programme – we know that such activities produce both the generic skillsets we need as a country and, often, important discoveries and improvements that we had not anticipated but that change lives. But because we have, as a country, not been sufficiently explicit about what impact we want our intellectual work to have, and by what methods it should proceed, and how it should be funded, we may find that we cannot move forward with the kind of determination and sense of purpose that is now needed.

Chris has started a debate that we need to have. We now need to find the appropriate forum for it, so that we can conduct the debate and draw conclusions from it. Time is not on our side.