Unitec Forum for the Future 1: Unity in Diversity (or, Catching up with Aussie)

It was great to be part of Unitec’s first Forum on the Future last Thursday (October 8th). What could have been a series of speeches from the “usual suspects” (journalists, ex-politicians, commentators) became the beginning of a lively debate on the future of our country – which was exactly the aim of the event.

This was also an experiment, bringing people outside into the conversation via Twitter. More on that later.

In the room, Rod Oram chaired a panel consisting of:

Rick Boven, CEO of the New Zealand Institute
Ajay Murthy, an exchange student from Bangalore
Sven, an exchange student from Germany
Robert Davis, head of Unitec’s Department of Management and Marketing
David Caygill, who’s part of the 2025 Taskforce

The night’s topic: catching up with Australia by 2025.

Each panelist gave a brief presentation of their take on what NZ needs to do to be internationally competitive. Some key takeaways:

  • “Dairy can’t incrementally improve it’s way to where it needs to be; tourism can’t survive on cheap Australian tourists” – Rod Oram
  • “We are tremendously efficient at making low-value things” – Rod Oram
  • “Invest in our students, the entrepreneurs of the future” – Rob Davis
  • “Our innovation system is not yet world class. We create lots of research papers, but not many patents.” – Rick Boven
  • “We don’t have a shared understanding of what the issues are, just lists of factors” – Rick Boven

And then the debates and dialogue began. Some key issues and questions:

Is Australia and 2025 the right target? As an important target to reach, and as something that can inspire people.

Caygill’s answer, in a nutshell, was that perhaps both were arbitrary targets, but we need something to focus on in order to improve our standard of living.

From the tweetstream, a comment from @kiwinoel:

Catching up with OZ is a 80’s-90’s concept – staying in shape as a society in radically changing times IS a 21st century one.


Do these chaps not read what is being written about where to from here. They are still worried about deckchairs, not the ship.

Another question that arose: What role does government have in bringing this new future about?

This opened a wide area of discussion. The rough consensus seemed to be, government can’t change a nation, but at some stage this is going to involve policymaking. It’s not a simple argument of all government involvement or none at all, it has layers and shades of grey.

Another area of (approximate) consensus was around improvements coming from small, highly motivated groups and communities. This was strongly represented in the twitter comments, as well as in comments from several panelists.

As an experiment, the Forum for the Future was a success at sparking debate and discussion, from this ringside viewer’s perspective.

Here are some of the other tweets that there wasn’t time to cover on the night. Fodder for future discussion here on the blog, or in future forums.

@kiwinoel: Oz economy in trouble medium term – not sustainable. can only feed 1m of 20m long trem due to salination. why not be ourselves?

@kiwinoel: Shared understanding starts with participation of all sectors in our economy. At moment it is top down and corporate.

@Natobasso: I’m liking your analysis. Lots of data and not a lot of visualisation of same for future benefit.#UnitecFTF

@JonathanGunson: Government can help/encourage hopes and dreams by getting out of the way. We need to celebrate success. Right now we champion ‘bloke-ism legends’ (Hillary All Blacks PJackson)

@kiwinoel: Agree – that is part of it for sure – but success of neighbours etc too – not just media stars

@GeniusNet: Govt wants better “productivity” but trans-Pacific connectivity proceeding at glacial pace. How can we get this message across? …also can we pursuade govt to invest in digital innovation challenge in parallel with BB rollout. What will we use broadband for?!

@Keith_Ng (who was also in the room): Can we discuss intergenerational equity, in relation to investment in education and globally mobile workforce?

Keith_Ng: Where will leadership come from if govts fear to do what’s necessary, because they won’t be reelected?

That last tweet was probably one of the evening’s key questions. Whatever the government’s role is, it will take some courageous – and potentially unpopular – decisions. How do we enable our leaders to make the decisions they need to?

And the award for funniest tweet of the night goes to a direct message I got from @Justin Flitter:

catch up? we need another 15 million people? and a huge army to help america? 🙂 we should sell them water ?

1 Comment

  1. […] to our RSS feed. Thanks for visiting!A couple of weeks ago I was privileged to live-tweet the Unitec Forum for the Future, where a panel of guests debated and discussed New Zealand’s strategy to catch up with […]


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