Kordia, Microsoft, The Collaborative Studio, Massey University, Scion and The Factory have announced an initiative to accelerate the adoption of digital technologies, and enable more collaborative innovation, across New Zealand’s regions and primary industries.
Speaking to Government and private sector leaders at the Just Transition Summit held in Taranaki in May, Russell Craig, National Technology Officer for Microsoft New Zealand, talked about how digital technologies can help New Zealand’s shift to a low carbon economy, and announced the Primary Industries and Regional Innovation Collaborative (PIRIC).
Grounded in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, PIRIC’s vision is to enable and drive digital transformation of New Zealand’s primary industries, support sustainable and inclusive social and economic growth in regional New Zealand, and improve protection of the environment.
“New Zealand, like the rest of the world, is facing an era of profoundly disruptive environmental, social and economic change. New technologies, including digital, are a big part of what is driving these changes. As well as creating new challenges they open exciting, innovative, new opportunities for New Zealand,” said Craig.
“PIRIC members are interested in how these opportunities can be realised in our regions. New Zealand depends on its primary industries not just for their contribution to the economy but also as a foundation of our regional and rural communities. In turn, the success of our primary industries depends on the wellbeing of these communities. Digital technologies are integral to creating a successful future in our regions, and PIRIC members’ simple question is how, in this context, can we use technology for good?”
“However, no one can solve the wide-ranging issues we face alone. As well as wanting to see technology harnessed better, we believe collaboration is essential if we want to innovate better and ensure our regional economies and communities thrive in the years ahead. Working alone doesn’t work. PIRIC believes we have something useful to contribute here,” he said.
Our primary industries are now entering a time of significant disruption due to factors such as emerging digital and biological technologies, changing consumer demands and tastes including a rapid increase in the consumer acceptability of plant‐based proteins, global value chain disruption and changes to the international trading environment, and rising environmental challenges and concerns.
Achieving a larger proportion of knowledge intensive and high‐value activities in our primary industries is critical to making New Zealand regions more resilient to the looming threats created by technological change, globalisation, demographic change and climate change. However, many of New Zealand’s regional economies and communities currently lack the necessary skills, resources and/or co‐ordination capabilities required to support the smart use of digital technologies in their regional primary sector ecosystems.
PIRIC’s founding members are drawn from across the technology, innovation and primary sectors. PIRIC has also recently welcomed the Aware Group as its’ first “ordinary member”. Together, their interest is in bringing their collective expertise and capabilities into play in the regions to help address these challenges in a novel way. New Zealand is already fortunate to have many organisations and national and regional initiatives focusing on these important questions.
PIRIC aims to augment, not compete, with them. “We need to take an experimental approach to find new ways of working that add to what we are already doing, rather than displacing or duplicating existing efforts,” said The Collaborative Studio’s Malcolm Fraser. “We’re focused on contributing our international development and collaborative innovation expertise, gained from working in more than 30 countries, to help strengthen the innovation ecosystem here in New Zealand. One element of PIRIC’s vision involves enabling emergence of a thriving national network of “collaborative innovation labs” - each tailored to distinctive regional characteristics and capabilities, with a common focus on enabling a more collaborative approach to innovation,” said Fraser.
“Collaboration is easy to talk about, but our experience is that it is harder to do. There are patterns and practices that are proven to successfully enable collaborative innovation, and PIRIC is an ideal vehicle for us to share these in the regions,” he said.
An early example of the collaborative labs PIRIC is interested in enabling is the Rural Innovation Lab (RIL) pilot project currently running in the Manawatu-Whanganui area. Developed by regional stakeholders – including leading local farmers and growers – with PIRIC members participation and support from the Primary Growth Fund. Launched in February 2019, it is enabling local farmers and growers to share their challenges and knowledge, and affording them better access to the latest technologies and collaborative innovation techniques.
The goal is to find new ways to improve productivity, reduce environmental impacts, and develop the new skills that the agricultural workforce will need. PIRIC expects the experience gained through the RIL pilot will help inform proliferation of a network of collaborative labs around New Zealand. Each will be locally governed, responding to distinctive local economic activity and social circumstances and needs.
PIRIC sees the potential for labs focused on such things as forestry, fisheries, horticulture, water and other environmental resources, energy, transport, workforce development and social innovation. Each should be an open, inclusive, focal point bringing people and organisations together to develop their future opportunities. Discussions about lab opportunities are underway in Taranaki and the Hawkes Bay.
“We are positioning PIRIC as a grand experiment – nothing ventured, nothing gained. Helping bring New Zealand’s primary producers, regional communities and the technology sector together to co-create smarter and more sustainable businesses and communities can help the whole country win,” said Russell Craig.
“To understand how PIRIC works it is best to think of a club. By design it is open, and not allowed to accumulate any resources of its own. Its only merit will be in what it enables. Anyone who shares in PIRIC’s vision, mission and goals is invited to consider becoming part of what we’re doing. More information can be found on PIRIC’s website at www.piric.org” he added.