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National Enabling Technologies Strategy – Discussion Paper Introduction On 13 May 2009, as part of the “Powering Ideas” Innovation Agenda, the Government announced it would provide $38.2 million over four years for an enabling technologies strategy. The Strategy will provide a framework for the responsible development of enabling technologies such as biotechnology and nanotechnology in Australia. It is intended to help Australian industries capitalise on growth opportunities and ensure Australia can benefit from the technologies while addressing any potential risks to health, safety and the environment. This discussion paper outlines the background to the new Strategy, the key areas that it is expected the Strategy will focus on and the approach that will be taken to managing the implementation of the Strategy. It also poses some questions to generate discussion, seeking input on: what are the issues and challenges to be addressed how they should be addressed, who needs to be involved and how that involvement can best be facilitated. Consultations will be conducted during July 2009. A range of stakeholders will be invited to meetings or forums to discuss the development of the detail of a National Enabling Technologies Strategy. However, should you wish, input can be provided to firstname.lastname@example.org. Background Enabling Technologies A working definition used for enabling technologies is new technologies or new uses for technologies that enable new things to be done or things to be done better. The National Enabling Technologies Strategy will focus on nanotechnology and biotechnology, as technologies that have moved well beyond the research phase and are beginning to demonstrate, or have demonstrated, their credentials as 'enabling technologies'. The Strategy will also undertake strategic assessment of the development of new enabling technologies. The Strategy may deal with ICT to the extent that it is an enabler for and/or converges with other technologies such as biotechnology and nanotechnology. These technologies, either singly or together, have the potential to provide solutions to some of Australia's (and the world's) major problems. For example, nanotechnology has the capacity to provide new drug delivery systems, faster and cheaper manufacturing processes, cleaner and more efficient energy generation, new materials, clean water and the next generation computing devices1. Biotechnology 1 Options for a National Nanotechnology Strategy (June 2006, National Nanotechnology Strategy Taskforce), page 3. http://www.innovation.gov.au/Industry/Nanotechnology/Documents/taskforcereport20070215100254.pdf can lead to crops that make better use of water, contribute to the diagnosis and prevention of pandemics, allow fuel crops to be grown in marginal areas2 and reduce reliance on petroleum feedstock for industry and reduce and clean up industrial waste3. As the technologies converge, there is the potential for even greater benefits. For example, increasingly, biotechnology, nanotechnology and ICT are converging in sophisticated in situ monitoring and sensing devices being applied in medical and environmental settings. Newer convergent applications are also being developed for industrial processing and agriculture. However, there are some concerns about the risks that may be associated with the applications of some of these technologies. These risks need to be understood and properly managed, by governments, and by users such as researchers, manufacturers and consumers. Previous Strategies The National Biotechnology Strategy (NBS) operated from July 2000 to June 2008. It covered a broad range of activities, including public awareness, international engagement, regulation and commercialisation. An Evaluation of the NBS in 2008 found that the activities supported under the NBS were effective but identified some areas for improvement. The National Nanotechnology Strategy (NNS) operated from July 2007 to June 2009 (although was originally intended to be a four year strategy). The key priorities of the NNS were: address the health safety and environmental (HSE) impacts of nanotechnology on regulations and standards; undertake a public awareness and engagement program to provide balanced advice on nanotechnology; establish a nano particle metrology capability at the National Measurement Institute (NMI); and facilitate a whole of government approach to nanotechnology through establishing the Australian Office of Nanotechnology (AON). The Review of the National Innovation System The Review recommended that the Government Facilitate favourable conditions for the development and use of new and emerging technologies by establishing appropriately funded enabling technologies strategies that: adapt or build regulatory frameworks to support the responsible and safe use of innovative services and products; support the science and metrology required to underpin effective regulation and capitalise on opportunities; foster public awareness and community engagement; and collect data and develop metrics to support evidence based policy development, monitoring and evaluation. 2 Report on the BioFutures BioSolutions Forum, Parliament House, Canberra 14 June 2007, p46. 3 Bioeconomy 2030 : Designing a Policy Agenda, OECD 2009 Issues The National Enabling Technologies Strategy will build on the work of the NBS and NNS, learning from those experiences and recognising the developments that have occurred since those strategies were launched. It is expected that the Strategy will focus on the following key areas: Policy advice and coordination Policy advice to the Government through the Minister on the responsible development of enabling technologies by Australian business and potential risks. Coordinated policy advice across governments - Issues related to the development of enabling technologies straddle jurisdictional and portfolio boundaries, requiring national coordination. The Enabling Technologies Policy Section will work with relevant Commonwealth agencies and with State and Territory governments to ensure the development of best practice policies and regulation. Industry uptake Facilitate uptake of enabling technologies – A major challenge for the uptake of enabling technologies, especially by existing industries, is to provide information about the possible applications of those technologies and their benefits. The Enabling Technologies Policy Section will establish partnerships with a range of stakeholders both in industry and government to develop and deliver activities that will help to overcome these information gaps. International Engagement Participate in international forums addressing policy and regulatory challenges – the policy and regulatory challenges posed by enabling technologies are being faced by governments around the world and are being addressed in a number of international fora, such as the OECD and ISO. The Strategy will support participation in those fora both by the Enabling Technologies Policy and Public Awareness Sections and by scientists or regulators. Work with Australia’s enabling technology sectors to support their efforts to engage globally – to gain the best outcome from their work, those working in the enabling technology sectors need to look internationally to develop partnerships and obtain markets. The strategy will work with industry to support efforts to engage internationally. Public Awareness and Community Engagement The Public Awareness and Community Engagement Program would have a clearly defined goal of providing balanced and factual information to support evidence-based policy and regulatory practice, and to increase community awareness and understanding of nanotechnology and biotechnology issues. This will be undertaken through awareness raising, educating and engaging, which will feed back into further activities. This model is underpinned by being seen as a trusted provider of information, understanding community information needs and working effectively with a large network of partners. Activities will be driven by two-way communications and aligning information with community values rather than seeking to change them. Key principles for public awareness and community engagement would include: Explain the technologies in terms of applications. How people will 'encounter' the technologies is more relevant than how they work. Address risk-benefits from the point of view of the public, not the science, framing the technologies from their individual and social benefits, while acknowledging risks. Use deliberative methods that maximise trust and involvement. Research to support policy, regulation and other activities Health, Safety and environment: Support strategic research to inform the development of appropriate HSE policies and regulation. Because enabling technologies are often new, information about how they work and what their impacts are is still being developed, which can present challenges for the agencies charged with products regulation and for the companies developing, using and/or distributing products and seeking to have them approved. The Enabling Technologies Policy Section will be able to work with the regulatory agencies and industry to identify key research needed to support regulatory activities. Social and Economic impacts: Develop an understanding of the social and economic impacts of enabling technologies. Some enabling technologies may also be disruptive technologies, with the potential to have impacts beyond their immediate benefits or risks. The Strategy will support research and other activities to understand the possible costs and impacts of the broad impact of these technologies, which will inform other government activities. Analysis – supporting evidence based policy development through obtaining and analysing data on various aspects of enabling technologies sectors and then disseminating it through a range of mechanisms. Foresighting – while the strategy will focus on biotechnology and nanotechnology, there may be other technologies coming over the horizon that face similar issues. The Enabling Technologies Policy Section will work with a range of stakeholders, as well as think tanks and others to undertake international foresighting research and other activities to determine the development, direction and adoption of new and converging technologies that are relevant to Australian industry. The work will also assess the potential of new technologies and technology convergence to enable the transition of Australia’s manufacturing industry to a sustainable and innovative future. Measurement The National Measurement Institute (NMI) will collaborate with national and international universities, agencies and scientific centres of excellence to establish enhanced capabilities, standards and laboratory facilities for nanometrology and biometrology. NMI will be the centre of Australia’s measurement expertise in these emerging fields, and will focus on the needs of Australian regulators, researchers, and industry. NMI will develop relevant services such as reference methods to quantify genetic material such as RNA and modified DNA, and facilities such as a metrological Atomic Force Microscope as Australia's reference standard for nanoscale dimensional measurements, traceable to NMI's internationally recognised primary length standards. In addition, NMI will disseminate its standards and research through diverse channels to maximise impact and return on investment. These channels will include collaborations, training of research students, participation in workshops, international metrology fora and conferences, and publications in peer reviewed journals. Implementation mechanisms Two sections have been established in the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research to coordinate implementation of the Strategy (the Enabling Technologies Policy Section and the Enabling Technologies Public Awareness Section). These areas will work with: Other parts of the Department Other Commonwealth Departments and agencies State and Territory Governments Industry unions Civil organisations with an interest in enabling technologies Key influencers such as teachers, community leaders and the media Think tanks, academics, researchers The community. NMI will be responsible for implementing the metrology aspects of the Strategy. In implementing the Strategy, the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research will operate under the following principles: take a whole of government approach – across the Commonwealth Government and between levels of Government. seek active engagement by stakeholders in the delivery of the Strategy and seek to benefit from a range of knowledge that can promote the objectives of the Strategy. provide balanced and factual information. seek to make the most effective use of Strategy funding, including using a range of funding models to pursue initiatives. The Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research will report annually to Government on the implementation of the Strategy. While the Department will be accountable for the implementation of the Strategy through the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, the detail of arrangements for ensuring proper consultation and decision making across and between governments are still be developed. Consideration is also being given to the appropriate arrangements for providing expert advice to the Government on issues related to the development, regulation and uptake of enabling technologies. Questions for consultation 1. What are the key issues and challenges that need to be addressed by the National Enabling Technologies Strategy? 2. How should these issues and challenges be addressed? What is your organisation doing to address those issues and challenges? 3. What would you like to see as the main outcomes for the National Enabling Technologies Strategy? 4. How do you think your organisation could work with the Enabling Technologies Policy and Public Awareness Sections and others to address those issues and challenges?
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