Academic journal article Innovation: Organization & Management

Contestability and Contested Stability: Life and Times of CSIRO's New Zealand Cousins, the Crown Research Institutes

Academic journal article Innovation: Organization & Management

Contestability and Contested Stability: Life and Times of CSIRO's New Zealand Cousins, the Crown Research Institutes

Article excerpt

For the first time in 60 years the Government is realigning its departmental science effort to focus on the greatly changed needs of New Zealand ... Establishing Crown Research Institutes around a productive sector, or oriented to people or resources, ensures that they will be focused on needs and end uses of science and technology.

While DSIR, MAF Technology, Forest Research Institute and New Zealand Meteorological Service have served New Zealand well, increasingly their ability to do so has been constrained by their departmental format. By establishing research institutes with full commercial powers, the ability to transfer technology to users will be greatly enhanced, to New Zealand's benefit.

(Ministerial Science Task Group 1991: v)

So said Simon Upton, Minister of Research, Science and Technology, in his forward to the landmark document that paved the way for the dismantling of New Zealand's public sector research, including the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR), and the formation of the ten Crown Research Institutes (CRIs) that would 'provide the building blocks for the research community well into the next century'. Formed out of the research arms of four government departments, the CRIs came into being on July 1 1992. They are now several years into the 'next century' so it is timely to reflect on their fourteen years of existence.


The science policy and structural changes that accompanied the formation of the Crown Research Institutes in 1992 were one small part of a period of major change that occurred throughout the public sector at that time, 'merely another item on a reforming agenda applied to all and sundry' (Scott 2003: 82). Commencing in 1984, following a fiscal crisis and change of Government, New Zealand progressed through a period of macro-economic stabilization and structural reform, particularly in the public sector, that has been called one of the 'most notable episodes of liberalization that history has to offer' (Evans et al. 1996: 1856). Influenced by public choice theory, 'new public management' (NPM) discourses and practices have been popular in recent decades with governments around the world (Aucoin 1990), including Australia (Keating & Holmes 1990) and New Zealand (Scott et al. 1991; Boston et al. 1996), and science was not immune to the trend (Boden et al. 2006; Cartner & Bollinger 1997; Leitch & Davenport 2005). The New Zealand version of NPM, however, is widely acknowledged for the 'coherence and rigour of its intellectual base and the rapidity with which it was given effect' (Poletti 2004: 19).

While it is not the intention here to review NPM (see Hood & Guy 2004 and Boston et al. 1996), it was essentially based upon the marriage of new institutional economic ideas, such as contestability, user choice, transparency and incentive structures, with 'managerialism', (professional management expertise, requiring high discretionary power), now viewed as central to organizational performance (Hood 1991). Of particular relevance here are the seven NPM doctrinal components and their justifications identified by Hood (1991: 4):

1. Hands-on professional management in the public sector (accountability requires a clear assignment of responsibility for action);

2. Explicit standards and measures of performance (accountability and efficiency require a clear statement of goals and objectives);

3. Greater emphasis on output controls, to stress results rather than procedures;

4. Disaggregation of public sector units, to create efficient and manageable units and separate provision interests;

5. Greater competition in the public sector as rivalry is key to lower costs and better standards;

6. Stress on private sector styles of management practice and use 'proven' private sector management tools;

7. Stress on greater discipline and parsimony in resource use, to 'do more with less'.

For science, it was the disaggregation of units coupled with a drive for more efficiency and accountability in science investment that drove the reforms, including the break up of the CSIRO equivalent, the DSIR. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.