Regional and rural innovation is the goal of a new group bringing together Microsoft and several New Zealand institutions and businesses.

The Primary Industries and Regional Innovation Collaborative (Piric) was announced today at the Just Transition Summit in Taranaki.

Drawn from across the technology, innovation and primary sectors, the group - Microsoft, The Collaborative Studio, Massey University, Scion, Kordia and The Factory - say the initiative aims to accelerate the adoption of digital technologies and enable more collaborative innovation across New Zealand's regions and primary industries.

Announcing the collaborative, National technology officer for Microsoft New Zealand Russell Craig talked at the summit about how digital technologies can help New Zealand's shift to a low carbon economy.

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"New Zealand, like the rest of the world, is facing an era of profoundly disruptive environmental, social and economic change. New technologies, including digital, are a big part of what is driving these changes. As well as creating new challenges they open exciting, innovative, new opportunities for New Zealand," he said

He said Piric members were interested in how these opportunities could be realised in our regions.

"New Zealand depends on its primary industries not just for their contribution to the economy but also as a foundation of our regional and rural communities. In turn, the success of our primary industries depends on the wellbeing of these communities.

"Digital technologies are integral to creating a successful future in our regions, and Piric members' simple question is how, in this context, can we use technology for good?"

New Zealand's primary industries were facing challenges related to adopting emerging digital and biological technologies, changing consumer tastes such as rapidly increasing demand for plant‐based proteins, changes to the international trading environment and rising environmental concerns.

More highly skilled, high‐value activities were critical to making our regions more resilient in the face of these changes.

However, many of New Zealand's regional economies and communities currently lacked the necessary skills, resources and/or co‐ordination capabilities required to support the smart use of digital technologies in their regional primary sector ecosystems.

"No one can successfully address the wide-ranging issues we face alone. As well as wanting to see technology harnessed better, we believe collaboration is essential if we want to innovate better and ensure our regional economies and communities thrive in the years ahead. This is where Piric can help," Craig said.

The Collaborative Studio's Malcolm Fraser said an experimental approach was needed to find new ways of working that added to what we were already doing, rather than displacing or duplicating existing efforts.

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"We're focused on contributing our international development and collaborative innovation expertise, gained from working in more than 30 countries, to help strengthen the innovation ecosystem here in New Zealand.

"One element of Piric's vision involves enabling emergence of a thriving national network of 'collaborative innovation labs' - each tailored to distinctive regional characteristics and capabilities, with a common focus on enabling a more collaborative approach to innovation," said Fraser.

"Collaboration is easy to talk about, but our experience is that it is harder to do. There are patterns and practices that are proven to successfully enable collaborative innovation, and Piric is an ideal vehicle for us to share these in the regions."

An early example is the Rural Innovation Lab pilot project, developed by Manawatū and Whanganui stakeholders, including local farmers and growers, with support from Piric members and the Primary Growth Fund.

Launched in February, it is enabling local farmers and growers to share their challenges and knowledge and affording them better access to the latest technologies and collaborative innovation techniques. The goal is to find new ways to improve productivity, reduce environmental impacts, and develop the new skills that the agricultural workforce will need.

Piric members say they expect the experience gained through the innovation lab pilot will help inform proliferation of a network of collaborative labs around New Zealand.

Each will be locally governed, responding to distinctive local economic activity and social circumstances and needs.

Piric said in a statement it sees the potential for labs focused on such things as forestry, fisheries, horticulture, water and other environmental resources, energy, transport, workforce development and social innovation. Each would be an open, inclusive, focal point bringing people and organisations together to develop their future opportunities. Discussions about lab opportunities are under way in Taranaki and Hawke's Bay.

More information on Piric can be found at www.piric.org.