Imagine… universities as the catalysts for change

Imagine… universities as the catalysts for change

Ixchel Brennan

Imagine a world where knowledge is the prime currency for all, irrespective of education level and socio-economic background, and where adoption of knowledge across business and the community drives the economy in Australia. A world where all people are encouraged and supported to be curious and embrace diverse and critical thinking and innovate. Imagine a world where publicly-funded scientists are embedded across the innovation ecosystem and have social licence to operate because they are trusted to collaboratively deliver evidence-based solutions that have a measurable positive impact for Australians and the economy.

In this world, the next generation of scientists graduate with domain expertise as well as competency in design thinking and essential skills such as creativity, critical thinking, effective communication, collaboration and experience working in cross-cutting teams. At the same time, existing publicly-funded scientists embrace the opportunities that employers provide for them to upskill in these areas recognised as critical for success in solving complex problems to deliver impact.

Imagine that publicly funded science research organisations (including universities) are the connection points for local innovation ecosystems.

Bringing together specialist clusters of kit, technology, capability and knowledge alongside the knowledge and experience of the industries and communities seeking to co-create transformative solutions for complex problems. Imagine that this public-private partnership approach is well understood as being a ‘value chain’ where people and institutions play to their strengths to generate new ideas and take ideas and solutions from concept to reality. In this scenario the role of public investment in research infrastructure, science training and research is widely recognised as a critical de-risking component to enable further private investment in science-based innovation.

Now consider the increasingly wicked problems we face globally and imagine that we solve these by putting together the very best mix of people and facilities. Using design thinking principles to deeply and rapidly understand the problems before they try to solve them, these trans/ multidisciplinary, cross-sector teams build collaboration from shared strategic purpose and an assumption that more can be achieved together than via each on their own. Putting together these ‘dream teams’ is achieved through the integration of technology and people who are boundary spanners and connectors, to find the kit and capability needed at various points along the pathway from ideas to impact. Obstacles to effective collaboration have been removed or minimised – administrative systems and processes are more interoperable allowing people to move fluidly across organisational boundaries to work in these teams.

In this world, a triple bottom line lens is taken to achieving impact; effective cross-sector partnerships share risk and reward; planning, monitoring and evaluation of impact and partnership health is routine; and behavioural motivation is based on a ‘win: win’ approach, not a ‘zero sum’ game.

Dr Ixchel Brennan is Manager in KPMG’s Policy, Programs & Evaluation team within the Management Consulting Practice. Ixchel has managed numerous engagements across the education sector, including with state and federal governments, higher education, and the vocational education and training sector. Ixchel joined KPMG with a particular focus on delivering to the education sector, and has extensive experience in academic and professional management roles within universities over a fifteen (15) year period. Ixchel is a skilled leader, and plays a key role in project management, including the provision of high level advice and recommendations to inform decision making, stakeholder engagement, and complex program and risk management.
Prior to joining KPMG, Ixchel was Program Manager of the South Australian State Government funded Future Industries Accelerator (FIA) at the University of South Australia.
Ixchel holds a PhD in Medicine and Bachelor of Science (Honours), and is currently undertaking an MBA.

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