CSIRO’s five year strategy starts to take shape

The development of senior management’s five year plan is close to completion, with the CSIRO Board due to approve the strategy by the end of June.

Describing it as an “exciting time for us to shape our CSIRO and our future,” Chief Executive Larry Marshall recently emailed staff with the draft strategy documents which aims to style the organisation as ‘Australia’s Innovation Catalyst.’

Useful resources

Pivotal moment for CSIRO 

Following a lacklustre federal budget that did nothing to repair the previous year’s savage cuts; the release of the strategy shapes as another test for Dr Marshall as he seeks to rebuild morale at CSIRO.

Last year’s Federal Government’s funding cut of $115 million combined with declining external earnings contributed to a twenty per cent cut to the workforce – or the loss of 1 in 5 CSIRO jobs in a two year period.

An internal CSIRO report produced last October revealed a dramatic loss of confidence in the senior leadership of the organisation, with only 31 per cent of respondents agreeing that senior management were capable of communicating a clear direction for CSIRO, down from 55 per cent two years earlier.

Improved consultation yields results

The same report found over 50 per cent of staff were not satisfied that management made sufficient effort to get the opinions and thinking of employees in CSIRO. Since taking the reins in January, Dr Marshall has been faced with the challenge of improving the level and quality of staff consultation across the organisation.

Dr Marshall championed a significant campaign to crowdsource the development of the strategy; targeting CSIRO staff and the NICTA workforce, key stakeholders such as commercial partners, members of the Government, corporate leaders and a survey of the general public. Senior Executives also met with Staff Association representatives on two occasions throughout the process.

The results are an improvement, with management reporting that over 2,500 staff from CSIRO and NICTA took part the in process, translating to a participation rate of over 40 per cent. The release of the draft strategy to staff – before finalisation and approval by the Executive Management Team and Board – also represents an improvement in consultation at CSIRO and follows sustained Staff Association advocacy to meaningfully engage with the workforce.

The global context

A separate research paper sets out the future global challenges facing Australia through identifying a series of megatrends; which are defined as ‘relatively stable trajectories of long term change and are relevant to contemporary decision making.’

The megatrends include More from less (escalating demand for resources amid constrained supply); Planetary pushback (environmental and health challenges including climate change); The silk highway (growth of emerging economies especially in Asia); Forever young (the ageing population); Digital immersion (computing, connectivity, the internet of things); Porous boundaries (an agile and networked economy that can operate transnationally); and Great expectations (the rise and domination of the personal or user experience).

In updating these megatrends, the paper aims to ‘present a succinct and comprehensive narrative of the coming twenty years which underpins CSIRO’s next Strategy for 2015-20.’

Australia’s Innovation Catalyst

The summary strategy document – which styles CSIRO as ‘Australia’s Innovation Catalyst’ – provides an overarching view of the challenges facing the organisation, an overview of the new CSIRO structure, broad ‘impact goals’ for flagships, business units and national facilities plus a list of strategic actions the organisation will undertake.

Big on vision containing little hard detail, the document is faithful to the direction hinted at by Dr Marshall since his appointment in the Chief Executive role; primarily an organisation that puts innovation first and collaborates better, internally and externally. The document imagines a more entrepreneurial CSIRO that is customer focussed, devoted to innovation and closely aligned with the Government’s national science and research priorities.

Importantly, the document describes diversity and inclusion as a key driver of innovation. The plan calls for increased gender and cultural diversity in leadership positions over the five year period. This may lead to an overhaul of the current aspirational targets with mandatory ones.

Once the draft strategy has been finalised and approved, the focus will switch to flagships and business units to develop their own more detailed strategies that complement the overall plan. Dr Marshall has set the bar high in terms of consultation and senior management at the flagship level will be under pressure to meaningfully engage staff throughout the process of the next level of planning.

Property plan still under wraps

One of the more immediate concerns for the Staff Association is the lack of detail regarding CSIRO properties and possible site consolidation or closures. Last year’s Commission of Audit revealed that CSIRO needs an additional $175 million over the next decade just to keep existing facilities up to scratch.

The strategy document – under the section outlining business model challenges – describes a ‘unsustainable and unfit property footprint contributing to high overhead costs.’

Elsewhere when outlining the strategic actions the CSIRO will undertake, the strategy calls for the development of a ‘more vibrant and efficient property footprint through capital city consolidation and increased co-location.’

Repeated requests from the Staff Association for more detail on CSIRO’s property plans – especially the likely impact on regional sites – have not resulted in any firm commitments. However, CSIRO management have agreed to meet with union representatives to discuss future property plans in coming weeks.

2 thoughts on “CSIRO’s five year strategy starts to take shape

  1. Where did this figure of $175 million come from? From what we have been told CSIRO is planning on spending $200 million in 2020 to refurbish the Clayton site. How many pots of money does CSIRO really have to waste? And I am sick to death having everything described as exciting in all the restructure that is going on. Obviously I am on the wrong side.

    • The Commission of Audit found that the CSIRO requires an additional $175 million in maintenance expenditure to meet external compliance and certification standards. “CSIRO’s assets include 1,000 buildings at 54 locations. A comprehensive review in 2011-12 assessed 83 per cent of CSIRO buildings as needing significant maintenance to preserve operational capability.In addition to budgeted repairs, an additional $175 million in maintenance expenditure is needed over the next ten years to maintain CSIRO properties to meet external compliance requirements and certification standards,” the report says. For more information click here and read point seven.

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