A quick guide to how a CRC works. What it researches, what and how the research is funded, and what drives the decision-making on projects.

A CRC is a consortium whose members (industry and research) have agreed to work together to solve complex problems and develop leading edge technology in a particular area. The CRC is an incorporated entity whose members are the original “coalition of the willing” who came together to make a joint application for funding to the federal government’s CRC program.

Companies join a CRC to: get facilitated engagement with research organisations, solve complex technical problems, develop and de-risk new technologies and products, and undertake cost effective research and development.

CRCs are experts in facilitating engagement between industry and research by:

  • finding research partners for specific industry challenges
  • facilitating project formation
  • steering industry research collaborations to successful conclusions
  • building networks between organisations and industry
  • helping small and medium enterprise (SME) engage in collaborative research

A CRC participant is a company, university, government department or other organisation that signs that CRC’s Participants agreement. The Participants agreement describes how the parties will interact with each other (for example in relation to project funding and project IP) within that CRC.

The formation process for CRCs requires a consortium of organisations to submit a bid to the federal government for funding under the CRC program, and for that bid to be accepted by the government in line with their published guidelines  and in competition with other bids. To be successful a bid must offer the government a value proposition that is compelling, benefits the nation (economic and social), is cost effective and plausible.

CRC’s operate from a combination of participant cash, participant in-kind contributions and government funding. There are no strict rules about how large each component should be; it is up to each bid to develop its own proposition to the government. Historically successful bids have attracted federal funding of similar magnitude to the amount of cash the consortium is willing to commit. Once submitted in the bid process the amounts are frozen. The funding from the government cannot be increased at a later date, and the consortium is obliged to procure the contributions that were committed in the bid.

In the bid process each Participant organisation commits to contribute an amount that is proportionate to the amount of research they wish to conduct over the ten year life of the CRC. Participants usually pay their contributions to the CRC at regular intervals (eg annually or quarterly).

The CRC typically holds participant funds in trust and expends them only on projects in which the contributing participant is engaged, as described in individual project agreements. The cash funding ratio for research projects is typically industry – 50%; Commonwealth – 30%; Research Entity – 20% however the actual amounts depend heavily on the funding proposal built into the bid document.

The CRC company usually has a small administration team which is funded from the Commonwealth element of the CRC funding. This team is responsible for overall management of the research program, and for the legal, financial, communications, networking and educational aspects of the CRC. All the CRC’s research activity and most of the utilisation of its outputs is subcontracted or delegated to its participants.

The industry participants in the CRC drive the research agenda. The overall research program is described in the bid document, which become milestones in the Commonwealth funding agreement, which are then used by the CRC to demonstrate delivery of its commitment. The CRC administration team invites industry participants to propose individual projects and it prioritises those project proposals according to the contribution they will make to delivery of outstanding Commonwealth milestones and more generally to the objectives of the CRC.

While companies usually have a clear idea of projects that they want to undertake at the beginning of the CRC, it is difficult to predict the research requirements years into the future. Especially when decisions about future research depend on the results of earlier work. It is important that any proposed projects are relevant to the aims of the CRC, but there is some flexibility about the scope of each project and opportunity for large projects to be broken down into series of consecutive phases. Project agreements are developed as the CRC progresses and are created on a case-by-case basis and depending on the needs of the project parties.

The research program will comprise a set of themes each addressing a different aspect of the research effort (e.g. cyber security is a different theme from traffic modelling). Senior experts in their field oversee the activities for a particular theme in the research program. They meet regularly with the central administration team to ensure that research programs remain on track and that there is cohesion across the overall research activities of the CRC.

CRCs are industry-led and research projects address the specific needs of the participant companies in the CRC. It is expected that the industry participants will identify and articulate the challenge that they want to address. The research administration will assist to bring together the relevant parties, to negotiate a project scope and to provide a project agreement framework.

The emphasis of the CRC program is on getting project outputs to be utilised. The IP arrangements are made at the project level on a case-by-case basis to encourage this. These arrangements must be established at the time of project formation.

While the default position is for the CRC to own the IP, many other arrangements are possible by negotiation with the project parties. Any party in the project can own IP, but the overall arrangement must adhere to the principle of maximising utilisation of project outputs and fair treatment of all parties who invested in the project.