Defining problems to find solutions through R&D

Defining problems to find solutions through R&D

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Sam Brown, CEO, LiveCorp.

Sam Brown, CEO, LiveCorp.

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COMMENT: The overarching objective of traditional research and development is to better understand key facets of an issue.

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Australia's rural research and development corporations (RDCs) are set up to be beacons for their industries - tackling issues where the solutions need to be shared for the greater good rather than owned by individuals.

LiveCorp's philosophy is to work in the areas of greatest risk.

It's not the most agreeable place to be, as investments may result in confronting findings or outcomes that don't have immediate, tangible benefits.

But it's vital in the long term for our levy payers and industry.

The overarching objective of traditional research and development (R&D) is to better understand key facets of an issue.

This is often achieved through multiple projects that address small parts of the overall problem.

Outsiders (and levy payers) can be critical of the traditional research pathway.

Wider involvement often tells you more about the problems - and at times this is essential to arrive at the right and most effective solution!

It's also why it may take several steps once R&D is completed before adoption drives the required change in management practices for sustainable improvement.

This is the approach we've taken many times.

For instance, our project to identify animal welfare indicators to monitor the livestock and the conditions and management practices on ships.

This involved working through a long list of possibilities to ensure the result was a concise set of practical measures which could be adopted immediately.

The challenge has always been the time it takes to see results when replicating trials and analysing masses of data points.

In recent years, there's been increasing use of newer and faster pathways, where we skip many traditional steps and jump straight to competing solutions - the approach of Open Innovation.

We often ask "would you rather know your problem and not have a solution, or have a solution and look for the best problems that it can solve?"

We've realised that, after many years at it, we've developed unique skills in listening to stakeholder problems and then describing and defining them.

These skills have allowed us to partner with Open Innovation agencies to undertake global technology scouts.

In many ways, it's adoption happening before your eyes, as existing technologies used in other applications are adapted and put to the test within our environment.

We've been able to fast-track the discovery process in key areas with this approach, using a global search to identify technology able to help address the risk of heat stress on ships.

One of the potential solutions was installing dehumidification units, which we trialed on a ship in the Middle East in the heat of summer.

While it proved the tech doesn't yet have the capacity the industry is looking for, it succeeded in providing enormous amounts of data to inform further work.

We now know what success looks like here - and where the technology needs to improve to be a solution.

Another technology from that search was trialed successfully last month.

Connectivity on ships has been one of the industry's big challenges, and for a very low cost, we've been able to adapt and prove technology that was developed to monitor personal safety devices for people working in the off-shore oil and gas industry.

Every industry is looking for ways to do things better, and finding them fast is attractive, however, R&D is always going to need a mix of pathways.

We have to challenge ourselves - and be open to challenge from others - to clearly define the problems we're trying to solve, our options for addressing them, and why we're choosing particular methods for each one.

Looking for analogous problems and their solutions in other industries is one way that we support traditional R&D and fast-track industry towards effective solutions.

Having the resources and capacity to extend our reach to evaluate technology from other fields is something we have focused on alongside managing a traditional R&D program.

By doing that, we can modernise our systems and continue to provide benefits to our industry as well as the wider community, in the most efficient and effective way possible.

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