Although New Zealanders work harder and earn less than most other people in the developed world, the reasons for this are not well understood. Many commentators think that New Zealand’s lack lustre economic performance may be related to struggle to innovate. Indeed, on a per capita basis, the OECD produces four times as many patents as New Zealand. Why is this? What determines a country’s capacity to innovate? In this talk, I will take a quantitative and comparative look at New Zealand’s innovation ecosystem using data from international trade, patent and scientific databases. This analysis illustrates the important role that economic geography plays in the production of new knowledge. In Australasia, for instance, we find that larger cities consistently produce more patents per capita than smaller cities, and that scientists in big cities are better connected than those in smaller cities. Using patents and trade flows, we have also constructed maps that illustrate the relationships between revealed comparative advantage of countries in different sectors, both in terms of the products they export and the inventions they produce. These maps illustrate the fact that high productivity countries invent and export many highly complex products, while low productivity countries tend to export a small number of commodity products. If New Zealand is to boost its long run economic growth rate, then we argue that it must develop policies that build connected communities of knowledge workers and businesses. It must diversify its exports, while building scale in its industries. It must open up the exchange of information and ideas within its innovation sector and become an exporter of knowledge rather than nature.
Shaun Hendy is Professor of Computational Physics at MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology at Victoria University of Wellington and an Industry and Outreach Fellow at Callaghan Innovation. Shaun has a PhD in physics from the University of Alberta in Canada and a BSc(Hons) in mathematical physics from Massey University. He has a wide range of research interests, including computational physics, nanoscience, complex systems and innovation, and has authored more than 90 peer reviewed journal articles on these and other topics. In 2010, Shaun was awarded the New Zealand Association of Scientists Research Medal and a Massey University Distinguished Young Alumni Award. In 2012 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand for his research on nanotechnology, and in 2013 he was awarded ANZIAM’s E. O. Tuck medal for research in applied mathematics. Shaun writes a blog, ‘A Measure of Science’, as part of Sciblogs.co.nz and has a monthly column in Unlimited Magazine. He also has a regular slot on Radio New Zealand Nights as physics correspondent. In 2012, Shaun was awarded the Callaghan Medal by the Royal Society of New Zealand and the Prime Minister’s Science Media Communication Prize for his achievements as a science communicator. His first book, Get Off the Grass, co-authored with the late Sir Paul Callaghan, was published in August 2013.
Note: Papers, presentation slides and any other material provided by the Guest Lecturer will be made available some time after the lecture at Publications > Media & Speeches > Guest Lectures by Visiting Academics.