Case | HBS Case Collection | November 2012

CSIRO: The Light Metals Flagship Decision

by Willy Shih, Margaret P. Pierson and Dawn Lau

Abstract

This case explores the challenge of investing in basic research as a public good. CSIRO was Australia's leading science and research agency, and it was chartered to enhance national prosperity through R&D. Its Flagships program was designed to align research interests with national priorities, with a strong focus on the adoption of research outputs. The Light Metals Flagship (LMF) was one of six flagships established in 2003, and its goal was to help the nation capture more of the added value of its resources by developing and commercializing downstream technologies in the processing and fabrication of products made from aluminum, magnesium, and titanium. While the LMF met with technical successes, Australian industry was reticent to co-invest. This lack of industry enthusiasm was in many ways unsurprising, as governments often found it important to fund long-term basic research that was outside of the horizon of firms. But what kind of a signal would stopping the program send? Was CSIRO prepared to let short-term thinking in light metals firms drive its agenda? The case examines the technical decision-making process.

Keywords: R&D; basic research; government-funded research; public goods; extractive industries; metals; metals processing; Decision Choices and Conditions; Decisions; Globalized Markets and Industries; Growth and Development; Innovation Strategy; Technological Innovation; Research and Development; Science-Based Business; Technology Adoption; Technology Platform; Manufacturing Industry; Mining Industry; Oceania; Australia;

Citation:

Shih, Willy, Margaret P. Pierson, and Dawn Lau. "CSIRO: The Light Metals Flagship Decision." Harvard Business School Case 613-029, November 2012.