Magazine article New Zealand Management

Knowledge Wave Wash-Up. (Opinion Leaders)

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Knowledge Wave Wash-Up. (Opinion Leaders)

Article excerpt

This year's Knowledge Wave leadership forum highlighted many good ideas, and stimulated debate on the economic and social development of New Zealand.

But there has been some debate about the worth of the forum to the business of public policy making and politics in this country. So, has the Knowledge Wave really just been an exercise in which business and academic elites talk to themselves?

The answer is no.

It is the same question that was levelled at the Porter Project a decade ago--a high-profile analysis of our economic options within the competitive success framework of Harvard professor Michael Porter. Critics dismissed its significance, mainly because they failed to grasp that Porter's team could not set government policy. Rather, its work was all about publicly raising critical issues and broadening the landscape in which new policy could be developed.

Much of the thinking has long since found its way into policies that have lifted New Zealand's productive capabilities. Government support of business dusters (from wood processing in Northland to biotechnology research and development in Otago) is a good example.

Don't underestimate the importance of knowledge dissemination and discussion (or argument), and the feeding of fresh ideas into government policy and private sector decision making.

Knowledge Wave initiatives can make important contributions to New Zealand's future. As with the Porter Project of the early 1990s, the Leadership Forum and its extensive website are more than just an exercise in elites talking to themselves.

Four key points

From a policy development perspective, four key points stand out.

* The Knowledge Wave concept is a useful vehicle for bringing fresh international thinking into New Zealand. Most of the ideas highlighted recently are not new. (New ideas emerge first in specialist forums and publications and then need refining and simplifying for wider dissemination.) More importantly, they should be good ideas--and the organisers made a sterling effort to find the best available--and be amenable to local analysis and debate. This is a process of drawing on international thinking for solutions that fit the distinctive issues and aspirations of people in this country.

* One forum is never likely to be sufficient to mobilise broad political support for any set of ideas or policy prescriptions. In a diverse society there will always be a range of competing interests and aspirations. It takes time and effort for a consensus to build around ideas which are modified along the way.

* Knowledge Wave leaders and commentators tend to be persuasive advocates of the ideas they advance--and yet their advocacy can mask the complexities of the consensus building just mentioned. …

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