The first round of workshops, which were primarily aimed at ensuring alignment across government agencies, have been completed and generally were high constructive. Next week a second round of preliminary workshops commence. Universities and CRIs have been asked to nominate people to attend these workshops. Their primary purpose is to help MBIE and the NSC panel identify the major scientific thrusts: the funds (which are all new money) allocated the NSCs are aimed at creating additionality and promoting a science led and collaborative approach to address some major issues and opportunities. They do not represent the whole science system or a statement of science priorities.
The next round of workshops are not intended to relitigate the agreed themes but to help identify the big scientific opportunities that the NSCs create. From these this and the past round of workshops the Panel and MBIE will identify groups of key scientists who will them be asked to lead future workshops to development of the science plan for each challenge in consultation with the appropriate scientific communities.
Thus engagement in these preliminary workshops has no implications for how the challenge funds will ultimately be allocated. They are simply a further step in ensuring that a coherent and targeted plan emerges for each challenge. But the desire is that after this coming round of workshops, the key leaders for each of the challenges can be identified and start taking responsibility for developing a research plan.
I cannot reiterate often enough that these challenges are not just another funding stream but are designed to induce significantly greater science-led collaboration for common goals. Thus mindsets have to move from the traditional highly contestable and institutionally focused approaches that have dominated our system in recent years. The process of developing a challenge will be an iterative process and once the key components have been identified, MBIE and the key science leaders will have to engage institutionally to develop a governance and management plan appropriate to the challenge.