Story: Research institutions

Page 4. Government research organisations

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Crown research institutes

The government set up Crown research institutes (CRIs) in 1992 as government-owned companies, to undertake research in strategic areas of science that are of long-term importance to New Zealand. Each CRI was established around a sector of the economy or a grouping of natural resources so that each had a clearly defined purpose and range of clients.

CRI revenue comes from both the public and private sectors, with about half from government funds, mainly allocated through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. This funding structure means that much of the research undertaken by CRIs is applied science aligned to national research priorities. All of the CRIs undertake consulting work in their field of expertise, ensuring that there is rapid transfer of research results to clients.

In 2014 there were seven Crown research institutes:

  • AgResearch (agricultural research)
  • ESR (environmental and forensic science)
  • GNS Science (geological resources and hazards; isotope science)
  • Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research (land-based science)
  • NIWA (ocean and atmospheric science)
  • Plant and Food Research
  • SCION (forestry research).

In addition to research, the CRIs carry out other scientific activities that are funded as essential government services. These include fish stock assessment, forensic work, seismic monitoring, climate monitoring, biosecurity services and oversight of measurement standards.

Fighting for control

Agricultural research was handicapped for many years by rivalries between the Department of Agriculture (responsible for animal science) and the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (responsible for plant science). With the formation of AgResearch in 1992, agricultural research was finally co-ordinated by a single organisation.

Natural hazards research

Research aiming to increase New Zealand’s resilience in natural hazards (including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunami, landslides and floods) is co-ordinated through the Natural Hazards Research Platform, which includes CRIs, universities and other organisations. The Joint Centre for Disaster Research (Massey University and GNS Science) undertakes research on the social impact of disasters on communities.

Callaghan Innovation

In 2013 the government set up Callaghan Innovation to accelerate commercialisation of research and technology in New Zealand. It is a stand-alone Crown entity that incorporates former CRI Industrial Research Ltd as a research company.

Other government agencies

A number of government agencies undertake research as part of their function. At an operational level, the police undertake forensic research, mainly contracted to ESR. The Department of Conservation carries out research relating to preservation of local ecosystems both in-house and on contract to universities and CRIs. Other agencies undertake work relating to research as part of their regulatory functions. For example, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment regulates the intellectual property regime, and ethical advice and approvals are carried out by the Animal Ethics Committee administered by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Social science research

Government agencies also carry out social science and humanities research. Both the Health and Social Development ministries undertake or sponsor research into a range of topics, including families, crime and employment. The Ministry of Social Development produces the annual Social report, which tests a range of social indicators to measure New Zealanders’ wellbeing. The Ministry for Culture and Heritage researches the history of state activity and how it has shaped New Zealand life.

How to cite this page:

Simon Nathan, 'Research institutions - Government research organisations', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 June 2024)

Story by Simon Nathan, published 22 Oct 2014