Cath Wallace challenges us to get involved with science challenges…C Wallace

Over the past 18 months, eight of eleven National Science Challenges have been launched by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Enterprise, MBIE.  At least five of the eleven have direct relevance to the sustainable management of our natural environment. The following information is from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s (MBIE) website:


The National Science Challenges are designed to take a more strategic approach to the government’s science investment by targeting a series of goals, which, if they are achieved, would have major and enduring benefits for New Zealand. The Challenges provide an opportunity to align and focus New Zealand’s research on large and complex issues by drawing scientists together from different institutions and across disciplines to achieve a common goal through collaboration.


Many of the issues facing New Zealand require new knowledge obtained through science and research. … The Challenges provide an opportunity to identify which issues are most important to New Zealand and will allow Government to take a targeted, cross-government approach to addressing them.


Each Challenge includes both new funding and funds that will become available as current MBIE research contracts mature. Relevant [Crown Research Institute (CRI)] core funding will also be invested in Challenges, where CRIs are part of a Challenge collaboration. The new Challenge money comprises $73.5 million over four years in Budget 2013, in addition to the $60 million allocated in Budget 2012, and $30.5 million per year thereafter.


The eleven research areas identified as National Science Challenges are (in order of being launched):


  • High-Value Nutrition – Ko Nga Kai Whai Painga. Develop high-value foods with validated health benefits to drive economic growth.
  • The Deep South – Te Komata o Te Tonga. Understanding the role of the Antarctic and the Southern Ocean in determining our climate and our future environment.
  • New Zealand’s Biological Heritage – Nga Koiora Tuku Iho. Protecting and managing our biodiversity, improving our biosecurity, and enhancing our resilience to harmful organisms.
  • Sustainable Seas – Ko nga moana whakauka. Enhance utlilisation of our marine resources within environmental and biological constraints.
  • A Better Start – E Tipu e Rea. Improving the potential of young New Zealanders to have a healthy and successful life.
  • Resilience to Nature’s Challenges – Kia manawaroa – Nga Akina o Te Ao Turoa. Research into enhancing our resilience to natural disasters.
  • Science for Technological Innovation – Kia kotahi maiTe Ao Putaiao me Te Ao Hangarau. Enhancing the capacity of New Zealand to use physical and engineering sciences for economic growth.
  • Ageing Well – Kia eke kairangi ki te taikaumatuatanga. Harnessing science to sustain health and wellbeing into the later years of life.
  • Healthier Lives – He Oranga Hauora. Research to reduce the burden of major New Zealand health problems.
  • Our Land and WaterToitu Te Whenua, Toiora Te Wai. Research to enhance primary sector production and productivity while maintaining and improving our land and water quality for future generations.
  • Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities – Ko nga wa kainga hei whakamahorahora. Research to develop better housing and urban environments.


The last three Challenges are yet to be launched.


More information on each of the Challenges can be found on the MBIE website.

The estalishment process to select these Challenge topics involved several phases and steps.the establishment of a panel under the leadership of Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Governnment Science Advisor, and since then there have been three phases:

  1. Engagement with the public, science sector, and science users between September 2012 and January 2013.
  2. Analysis and prioritisation of potential Challenges by an independent panel of experts (National Science Challenges Peak Panel) chaired by the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, between February and March 2013.  A report was provided to Ministers on 27 March 2013 [PDF 484KB].
  3. Cabinet consideration and approval of the ten Challenges in April 2013, along with the decision to defer Challenge 11 for future consideration.

The origin of these challenges was the desire to establish long-term integrated research on some of New Zealand’s vital and difficult issues and to promote economic growth.


A Science Board with a mix of well-established scientists and those with close industry connections (such as Bill Rolleston of Fed Farmers) will allocate funding for this and other projects.

Applicant consortia are asked to submit a research and business plan for up to 10 years, and a detailed work programme for an initial period of up to five years. The Science Board decides the initial funding period up to five years based on the detailed work programme and may choose to stop the funding after the first 5 years.

Each Challenge has a host institution, a Challenge Director, a Manager and a Science Leadership Team who will consult with a Challenge Kahui Maori and a Stakeholder Panel.

Some of the Challenges are more developed than others – they are organized in three groups depending on their level of preparedness.

The Stakeholder panel membership varies with each Challenge.  The Sustainable Seas proposed panel includes representatives of government agencies, regional government, fishing, oil and gas, aquaculture and marine mining representatives, the tourism industry, environmental NGOs (not including ECO), and some place based community groups, an Iwi leaders Forum rep and a tourism industry representative.

There is much stress on collaborative science and on research into collaborative governance, social sciences, Matauranga Maori as well as the natural sciences.  The focus on economic growth is pervasive.  There are many environmentally important elements to the Challenges it is well worth looking at these and engaging with these processes.



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