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  • As New Zealanders looking to the future, we are faced with many opportunities – and challenges. These include improving the health of all our people, advancing our economic growth, protecting our unique environment and encouraging innovation and sustainability.

    Rights: Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE)

    National Science Challenges logo

    Many of the issues need new knowledge obtained through scientific research. The National Science Challenges have been set up to focus research efforts into seeking answers.

    At the heart of these challenges are:

    • ongoing engagement between scientists, stakeholders and the New Zealand public to identify relevant issues and ensure research outcomes can be effectively communicated and adopted/adapted to the real world
    • a collaborative approach across many different areas of research
    • Vision Mātauranga – unlocking the innovation potential of Māori knowledge, resources and people and increasing Māori participation in scientific research.

    The National Science Challenges are funded by the New Zealand Government through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, see here for further information.

    Nature of science

    The development of the National Science Challenges can teach us a lot about tackling big science-related issues – that science understanding continues to change and grow, that people with different backgrounds and areas of expertise are needed to investigate different aspects and then bring all the thinking together, that science can help us understand issues but it can’t provide all the answers and that, as a public, we are responsible for influencing where and how public money is spent.

    The 11 National Science Challenges

    The Government used extensive input from scientific communities and the general public to identify 11 important challenges facing New Zealanders. They cover diverse fields, focusing on people, the natural environment, the urban environment and economic development.

    Launched between 2014 and 2016, the Challenges are at different stages in their development and research.

    A Better Start: E Tipu e Rea

    A Better Start is the National Science Challenge working to reduce obesity and improve learning skills and mental health in New Zealand children. The mission of A Better Start is to find better ways to predict, prevent and treat obesity, learning and mental health problems in New Zealand children and teenagers.

    Learn more on A Better Start website.

    Ageing Well: Kia eke kairangi ki te taikaumātuatanga

    The vision of the Ageing Well National Science Challenge is to add life to years for all older New Zealanders. This will be achieved by harnessing science to sustain health and wellbeing into the later years of life.

    Rights: Cathy Yeulet, licensed through 123RF Ltd

    Grandfather and grandson

    Older New Zealanders make important contributions to our society, including sharing their knowledge and time with younger generations. The Ageing Well National Science Challenge will improve the health of New Zealanders as they age so they continue to play a vital role in society.

    The mission of Ageing Well is to push back disability thresholds to enable all New Zealanders to reach their full potential through the life course with particular reference to the latter years of life.

    Learn more about Ageing Well.

    Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities: Ko ngā wā kāinga hei whakamāhorahora

    There are significant difficulties in New Zealand’s built environment regarding housing supply, the quality of housing and the vulnerabilities and underperformance of our urban environments.

    The vision of the Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities National Science Challenge is Ka ora kāinga rua – Built environments that build communities” – homes, neighbourhoods, towns and cities throughout New Zealand that enable people to enrich their lives and reach their social, cultural and economic potential throughout their life stages.

    Learn more about Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities.

    Healthier Lives: He Oranga Hauora

    The Healthier Lives National Science Challenge aims to reduce the burden of major New Zealand health problems and will seek better prevention, diagnosis and treatment methods for cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity.

    It will also focus on translating innovations into practical solutions and research into effective health policy and practice.

    Learn more about Healthier Lives.

    High-Value Nutrition: Ko Ngā Kai Whai Painga

    New Zealand has an outstanding international reputation as a rich source of high-quality, efficiently produced, safe foods and beverages. As consumers in Asia and around the world increasingly seek foods with proven health benefits, New Zealand’s advantages and national capability make it a natural leader.

    The High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge harnesses New Zealand’s world-class scientific expertise to create knowledge that will deliver a competitive advantage to New Zealand’s food and beverage exports.

    Learn more about High Value Nutrition.

    New Zealand's Biological Heritage – Ngā Koiora Tuku Ih

    The New Zealand’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge has been created to protect and manage our native biodiversity, improve our biosecurity and enhance our resilience to harmful organisms.

    New Zealanders value highly our biological heritage – the natural, production and urban environments in which we live, work and play. These environments underpin our economy, particularly through primary industries and tourism, and our sense of national identity. They also have important cultural and recreational significance.

    Learn more about New Zealand’s Biological Heritage.

    Our Land and Water: Toitū te Whenua, Toiora te Wai

    The objective of Our Land and Water National Science Challenge is to enhance primary sector production and productivity while maintaining and improving our land and water quality for future generations.

    The way we use and manage our land and water will be transformed by innovative resilient land and water use, collaborative capacity and greater value in global markets.

    Learn more about Our Land and Water.

    Resilience to Nature's Challenges: Kia manawaroa - Ngā Ākina o Te Ao Tūroa

    The aim of Resilience to Nature’s Challenges is to enhance New Zealand’s ability to recover from natural disasters. Focus areas include geological and weather hazards, fire, coastal hazards, hazards caused by climate change and risk models. It also includes resilience in engineering and infrastructure and in society.

    Learn more about Resilience to Nature’s Challenges.

    Rights: Whanganui District Council

    Whanganui floods in 2015

    In June 2015, the Whanganui River overflowed, flooding many farms and businesses in the area. The Resilience to Nature’s Challenges National Science Challenge aims to enhance resilience to natural disasters such as this.

    Science for Technological Innovation: Kia kotahi mai – Te Ao Pūtaiao me Te Ao Hangarau

    The Science for Technological Innovation National Science Challenge has a vision of a future New Zealand with a vibrant and prosperous technology-driven economy, where new businesses offer high-value services and products that may not yet have been invented. With five portfolios and four research themes, its mission is to enhance New Zealand’s capacity to use physical sciences and engineering for economic growth.

    Learn more about Science for Technological Innovation.

    Sustainable Seas: Ko ngā moana whakauka

    The aim of the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge is to enhance the use of New Zealand’s vast marine resources while ensuring that our marine environment is understood, cared for and used wisely for the benefit of all, now and in the future. The Challenge is developing a holistic and inclusive way to manage our marine resouces with an innovative approach called ecosystem-based management (EBM).

    Learn more about Sustainable Seas.

    See the range of content that we have developed using resources from the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge in this handy collection.

    Rights: NIWA, licensed under NIWA Open Data Licence 1.0

    New Zealand’s marine estate

    New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone is also known as ‘our marine estate’. The Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge has been formed to enhance care and use of our marine estate.

    The Deep South: Te Kōmata o Te Tonga

    The mission of The Deep South National Science Challenge is to enable New Zealanders to adapt, manage risk and thrive in a changing climate.

    Working with communities and industry, The Deep South will bring together new research approaches to determine the impacts of a changing climate on our climate-sensitive economic sectors, infrastructure and natural resources to guide planning and policy.

    The objective set for The Deep South is to understand the role of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean in determining our climate and our future environment.

    Learn more about The Deep South.

    Activity idea

    Several of the National Science Challenges focus on resource management and sustainability. The activity Environmental thinking and planning with ecosystem-based management provides students with a framework to consider how they might manage a local area of significance, or plan a local environmental project.

    Useful links

    Learn more about the National Science Challenges on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website.

    An important strategy sitting alongside the National Science Challenges focuses on increasing New Zealanders’ engagement with science and technology. Read A nation of curious minds – he whenua hihiri i te mahara: A national strategic plan for science in society [PDF, 1.2 MB] to find out more.

      Published 11 October 2016, Updated 12 September 2023 Referencing Hub articles
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