Prioritising Critical Technologies of National Interest in Australia

Developing an Analytical Approach

by Peter Dortmans, Joanne Nicholson, Jade Yeung, James Black, Livia Dewaele, Anna Knack

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Research Questions

  1. How might Australia design an analytical approach to prioritising CTNI in a manner that balances national security, economic prosperity and social cohesion requirements?
  2. Given its capacity limitations, how can Australia develop policy that effectively balances the development of a broad range of technology capabilities over the long term while investing in more immediate programs to accelerate CTNI?

The Australian government has embarked on a plan to shape and coordinate national policy around technologies deemed critical to the national interest. Central to this plan is the ability to balance the three pillars of national interest identified by the government: national security, economic prosperity and social cohesion. Associated with these pillars is the level of sovereignty a nation like Australia requires to ensure it can benefit from those critical technologies when it needs to.

In this report, the authors develop an analytical approach for identifying and prioritising critical technologies of national interest (CTNI) to Australia in a manner that balances national security, economic prosperity and social cohesion requirements. Information from a range of sources, including Australia's domestic (federal) policy environment as well as the rich history of other national and multinational efforts, is reviewed and analysed.

The authors describe a broad, two-step analytical approach that first seeks to identify a long list of CTNI and then uses a policy lens to develop a smaller, prioritised CTNI list that cuts across all policy sectors. Although CTNI might be the policy focus, impacts of other critical functions, such as infrastructure, workforce and supply chain, also need to be considered when prioritising. The authors recommend that a monitoring and evaluation regime be established to support the continued evolution of the analytical approach and the priorities it identifies.

This report will be of interest to policymakers who are involved in technology policy, commercialisation strategic planning, and resource management.

Key Findings

  • The competing policy objectives of national security, economic prosperity and social cohesion require a technological assessment of critical technologies that is distinct from those undertaken elsewhere within the Australian government, particularly the Department of Defence, which primarily focuses on security.
  • It is important to distinguish between diffusion- and mission-based technology policy approaches. Although Australia needs some capacity to utilise a range of technologies, its limited resources dictate the need to prioritise those that meet the threshold to be competitive or for which there is an incontestable security need.
  • Strategic patience is needed to ensure that policy and investment decisions have the opportunity to succeed. Policy decisions must consider the time lag between the identification of CTNI priorities and the delivery of the anticipated benefit.
  • There must be recognition that the ability to respond rapidly is required when disruptive breakthroughs in novel science and technology emerge. This ensures that major disruptions can be identified early and policy pivoted rapidly when necessary so as to minimise strategic surprises and maintain competitiveness.
  • The development of metrics for each of security, prosperity and social cohesion requires a consistent structure to allow for compatible evaluations between them.
  • Social cohesion assessment metrics will need to be developed for this context as one of the priorities for advancing the analytical framework. It will take time to develop and mature the measures used for integrating the consideration of broader social factors into CTNI policy.


  • Use the prioritisation approach to develop a longer list of critical technologies, and then establish a smaller set that offers practical responses to current policy needs.
  • Use the own-collaborate-access model to determine where there is choice on viable policy options.
  • Consider the impacts of other critical functions, such as infrastructure, workforce and supply chain, when prioritising, even if CTNI is the policy focus.
  • Establish a monitoring and evaluation regime to support the continued evolution of this approach and the priorities it identifies.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    International Experiences for Establishing CTNI Policies

  • Chapter Three

    Critical Technology and Australia's National Interest

  • Chapter Four

    An Analytical Framework for CTNI Prioritisation

  • Chapter Five

    Employing the Analytical Framework

  • Chapter Six


  • Appendix A

    Selected Case Studies

  • Appendix B

    Different Approaches to Assessing Social Cohesion

  • Appendix C

    Developing the Agriculture Benefits Map

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the Joint and Operations Analysis Division of the Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG) and conducted by RAND Australia.

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