The Maslovian saying “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” is perhaps the antithesis of David Halliwell’s approach in his role as the new Director of Deakin’s Centre for Regional and Rural Futures (CeRRF).
“We are multidisciplinary and we have the flexibility to look at problems from different angles, to achieve the desired industry solutions to research problems. These factors make CeRRF unique in the regional and rural research space,” he said.
Since joining CeRRF as Director last August, Dr Halliwell has already overseen growth in staff numbers and the establishment of several new partnerships for CeRRF.
His long experience in industry-supported research in the government and not-for-profit sectors has expanded his networks across industry, utilities, health bodies and universities.
He is former CEO and Executive Director of Water Research Australia – a not-for-profit, industry-funded company that leverages funding sources to maximise research outputs in all areas of urban water research.
Prior to this, he spent a number of years with the former Department of Primary Industries, where he became Research Director for state-wide Chemistry research.
“I have been involved in industry-funded research since I began my career in 1994,” he said.
“Like my CeRRF colleagues, who are all experts in their fields, I work on the principle that clients usually don’t want researchers to sell them a ready-made product.”
“We need to listen to our customers, understand their priorities and learn what their issues are.
“Once we have done that, our researchers can use their expertise to work with them to propose solutions.
“By understanding the desired outcomes first, including their value to the business, you significantly enhance your chances of winning industry support. You change the conversation from a discussion about money, to a question of value, and industry recognises value and is willing to pay for it.
“By doing this well, you generate the necessary financial resources to deliver the research, including writing papers, which should be considered a part of the journey, and not the end-game.”
“This approach also broadens your thinking as to possible options to deliver the desired outcomes, particularly if you engage a multidisciplinary team to solve the issue.”
Now home to over 20 researchers, CeRRF was established in 2014 to “facilitate transformational change in regional and rural communities through innovative research solutions that contribute to jobs, economic growth, capacity building and community well-being.”
To achieve this aim and drive the research agenda, CeRRF works with a wide range of external organisations, including the private and not-for-profit sectors and all levels of government.
CeRRF has staff across three sites, including Burwood, Waurn Ponds and Griffith, where the new branch has grown from three to nine researchers (including three PhD researchers) over the past 12 months – and features, as its newest recruit, the NSW “Young Farmer of the Year” Anika Molesworth, who is optimising nutrient management strategies in water constrained environments for her PhD.
The Burwood group’s focus is on climate modelling and smart agricultural products. Industry customers for these groups include organisations such as councils, catchment management authorities, Regional Development Australia and the Rural Research and Development Corporations.
At Griffith, the focus is water use efficiency in irrigated agriculture, in collaboration with organisations like the Australian Centre for Agricultural Research and the Irrigation Research Extension Committee (representing around 3000 farmers in the region).
At Waurn Ponds, the breadth of CeRRF’s chemistry, biology and engineering skills are applied to develop platform technologies and biotechnology solutions, in areas such as lab-on-a-chip technology, high-tech sensor systems and drought resistant crops.
“It is a key strength of CeRRF that we are able to draw on all research areas at Deakin,” noted Dr Halliwell.
“As we extend our networks and knowledge of the broader Deakin capabilities, we will increasingly become a ‘door’ to the University for rural and regional clients, in areas like advanced manufacturing, regional planning, and agriculture.
“Deakin’s expertise in policy, social sciences, regional planning or economics, for instance, is just as valuable as science and engineering, if we are to support the transformation of rural and regional Australia.”