06 December 2012

Innovation, Partnerships, Productivity

The ACCT Canada conference Innovation Partnerships 2012 was held this week in Ottawa, and featured  excellent discussion on fixing Canada's lagging innovation and R&D productivity record and how innovation intermediaries can do more to foster and enhance Canadian R&D competitiveness.

I convened a panel on P3RD, on which the panelists provided some excellent discussion not only on what works in linking industry and academic R&D partnerships, but how best to measure performance over time. More on this in a minute. The P3RD panel members were as follows:
  • Drew de Kergommeaux, Director, Industrial Research Assistance Program, National Research Council Canada 
  • John Fielding, Regional Director, Business Development, Ontario Centres of Excellence 
  • Marc Nantel, Associate Vice-President - Research & Innovation, Niagara College 
  • Bert van den Berg, Director, Knowledge & Technology Transfer, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
The issues the panelists discussed focused on how R&D funding programs encourage public-private partnerships, wherein academic and industry work together toward innovation outcomes. The packed audience heard about NRC IRAP's planned concierge service, OCE's funding programs, examples from Niagara College's leading work on college applied research, and some notes on how best to manage performance from Bert van den Berg. The presentation file is online here.

Measuring performance is important for the community in order to adequately and effectively assess what works and what does not. Since we are stewards of public investments in increasing industry innovation capacity, we need to make sure that these investments have a return on innovation, so to speak. As such, it is important to measure the effectiveness of the many actors in the system: the funders, the innovation intermediaries, the faculty and students  and the firms we are serving with industry academic partnership program support. Key here is a logic model approach to understanding all of these actors, the inputs and outputs, and importantly the outcomes of these investments. Bert van den Berg articulated these as impacts:
  • Ultimate: economic & social benefits for citizens 
  • Intermediate: increased sales, profit, employment at firms 
  • Immediate: increased R&D, commercialization, innovation focus by firms, training of HQSP 
These are interesting to note as they are proxies in a way for the work that academic innovation intermediaries do. Our value proposition is that we give industry access to talent, facilities, markets and funding. There are two primary benefits here: students gain crucial innovation literacy skills, and firms get assistance with innovation and market entry for new products and services. Thus a good way to measure the success of George Brown College's support of industry innovation (and by extension any intermediary providing this innovation support) is through the downstream effects we have on the companies we help. This is not to say that we do not measure our own performance, but rather to see our performance and its effect through the main proxy we are here to help: students and industry. To put another way, if we do our job well, we are in the background of greater industry innovation and productivity.

At the P3RD panel we also launched the P3RD site and the mapping innovation application we have developed to assist firms in finding an academic innovation provider. Under the tagline of Putting the S&T in Start Up, the P3RD site lets firms  indicate where they are located, what kind of innovation service they are looking for, and what industry they are from. They are then taken to a map which displays providers, partners and past projects. These past projects are an online resume of past work a provider has done, giving firms an idea of the kind of projects the college, polytechnics or university has done before. We are working with Tenet Computer Group on the technology, specifically their GreenRack cloud service, with plans to further leverage their Augmundo augmented reality technology. Read more about Tenet's leading innovative technology here.


We built this as a marketing vehicle for George Brown College, but have included the ability to add any innovation provider as a way to promote the idea of a concierge service. Think of it as LavaLife for creating public-private R&D partnerships. As I mentioned earlier this year, place matters to productivity. We need to encourage innovation in firms and enable these firms to find a provider of choice, be this down the street or across the country. The P3RD application enables this. 

At the conference we demonstrated the map, including an easy to use tablet interface for adding people. Minister of State for Science and Technology the Honourable Gary Goodyear stopped by to review the P3RD Mapping Innovation application, and to learn how this can aid industry in finding an innovation service provider.
Minister of State for Science and Technology the Honourable Gary Goodyear reviews P3RD Mapping Innovation
We will continue to work on refining the P3RD application with our partners. Check back as we continue to develop the site in partnership with others.

The P3RD panelists discussed how enabling technology innovation is relatively straight forward. What is needed most by firms is business expertise. This was reflected in an excellent panel I attended on social innovation convened by SSHRC president Chad Gaffield.  The social sciences and humanities are key to fostering what Dr Gaffield calls people centred innovation. Specialists in human thought and behaviour are key to enabling the innovation economy. The panel discussed concepts related to public-private partnerships, including not for profits, that are working together to bridge academic and industry sectors. Gaffield spoke about promoting "cultures of innovation" and panelists talked about how building partnerships involves having difficult conversations to link academics with firms when the latter needs to understand how these will help them earn money. Pam Laughland of the Network for Business Sustainability (a SSHRC funded organization that and has since raised $2M in investment) works to connect research and practice to convene and shape and transform ideas to make them usable by both audiences: businesses and academics. She spoke about the need to make partners part of the problem so that there is upstream affective investment in the issues under development, particularly regarding embedding sustainability in corporate culture. This involves converting outcomes into economic language as way to translate value so that industry sees themselves as part of the picture. This is a necessary instrumentality that translates to students, who learn about how their skills translate into innovation no matter the sector they work in (private, public or not for profit). As panelist Susanne Lajoie of McGill University put it, we need to teach the skills for 21st century education. Innovation requires ability to learn in new contexts, problem solving, communication, and ability to self regulate and be self directed. These are the skills of innovation literacy.

I attended many great sessions at the Innovation Partnerships 2012 conference, and I encourage all to check out the files online, and to attend next year's event.

03 December 2012

P3RD: New online service connects industry innovators with applied research service providers

A new web service designed to give firms an easy way to find innovation service providers in Canada launches today at the ACCT Canada conference INNOVATION 2012 – Connecting R & D and Commercialization.

Public+Private Partnerships for R&D: Putting the S&T in Start Up: p3rd.ca

On the crowded highway of research, development and innovation, Public+Private Partnerships for R&D (P3RD) gives industry a unique avenue for accessing capital, talent, facilities and markets supported through industry-academic applied research programs.

We focus on speed to market and connecting innovators to R&D resources.

P3RD is your entry into Canada's applied research ecosystem. Available at p3rd.ca, it is a free online resource for industry to find an innovation support provider in community & clinical organizations, and government & academic institutes in Canada. We encourage P3RD: Public+Private Partnerships for Research and Development. We enable industry to find an innovation support provider, learn about projects and capacity, and find out more about industry-academic partnership opportunities across Canada.

It’s easy to use: Firms can indicate where they are located (using either a postal code or city name), indicate what kind of innovation service they are looking for, and what industry they are from. They are then taken to the map which displays providers, partners and past projects.

The map shows innovation support providers who are open for business innovation.

The P3RD  application allows small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to better understand how to get involved with innovation providers: Canada’s polytechnics, colleges and universities, government research labs, and other innovation intermediaries.




26 November 2012

P3RD and Mapping Innovation in Canada

Last week I attended a couple of interesting talks that provided good inputs to our ongoing discussion about innovation in Canada. The first, by the Honourable Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance, spoke at the Toronto Board of Trade. In his address, Minister Flaherty outlined some of the government's priorities going into the next election. Budget consultations are set to start this week, and Minister Flaherty offered a reasoned approach to where the government sees potential for reducing debt and fostering growth. He also mentioned kick starting the venture capital fund, to be led by the private sector (an excellent example of public-private partnerships for R&D: P3RD), that was announced in the last budget. Key to the government is encouraging economic growth through investments in infrastructure, skills training, R&D, and innovation.

The second event was Rob MacIsaac, President of Mohawk College & Chair of Committee of Presidents, Colleges Ontario, who spoke at a Canadian Club luncheon on "Unleashing the Potential of Ontario’s Colleges." MacIsaac picked up themes raised by Minister Flaherty, notably the links between skills training, R&D and innovation. He rightfully admonished the Ontario educational system for not working better as a system - a point raised during the Globe and Mail`s Our Time to Lead focus on education. Ontario needs to do more to realize the value of all educational inputs, and to retool our colleges, polytechnics and universities into a true system that effectively responds to and leads the province in terms of knowledge, labour and research production.

These themes are being raised at Colleges Ontario's annual Higher Education Summit, which offers an excellent array of speakers delving into these issues. Highlights of today's schedule include the future of manufacturing (set for disruption by the emergence of low cost 3D printers, or example, and the Maker Movement), and a panel on the future of post secondary education. 

The links between skills training, innovation and R&D represent a key front in our attempts to foster greater innovation across the economy. We explore these in our recent Toronto Next: Return on Innovation study, which shows there is still a lot of work to do in ensuring firms understand how innovation inputs lead to productivity outputs. Key for polytechnics and colleges is the development of innovation literacy in our graduates, and the promotion of P3RD. Those interested in innovation literacy and skills will be interested in this article on "Must-Have Job Skills in 2013", which shows strong parallels between what we discerned in our Toronto Next study.

And on the topic of P3RD, we will be launching a new industry web service that is designed to link the private and public sectors for R&D at the ACCT Canada conference next week. INNOVATION 2012 – Connecting R & D and Commercialization, being held 2-3 December in Ottawa, promises some excellent discussion on this and many other topics. It is not to be missed. On Monday I am convening a panel to discuss how best to link our public and private sectors for improved research and development. We will feature our mapping innovation app, which enable industry to find a public innovation support provider through an easy to use web application. Stay tuned for more details.

19 November 2012

Polytechnic Applied Research: Open for Business Innovation

Research Infosource last month published their annual Top 100 R&D spenders supplement in the National Post. My editorial for this issue is below. College research was also featured in this piece.

Canada’s polytechnics and colleges offer industry-facing applied research solutions that fill gaps in the country’s R&D pipelines. Our focus on applied research, innovation and commercialization supports industry innovation needs in ways that are complementary to established, discovery-based research institutions. This is a strength, and a necessary facet of a healthy R&D continuum.

Since 2008, the institutions that comprise Polytechnics Canada (BCIT, SAIT Polytechnic, NAIT, Conestoga, Sheridan, Humber, Seneca, George Brown and Algonquin Colleges) have worked with 3,759 Canadian companies, 95% of which are small and mid-sized enterprises, conducted 2,481 applied research projects solving industry-identified problems, involved 22,515 college students and 1,978 college staff or faculty in applied research activity, and developed 948 prototypes for their industry research partners. Colleges across the country are involved in similar activity, as Canada initiates investment in college applied research as a vital lever in the R&D toolkit.

The breadth of industry partnerships that polytechnic and college applied research enables was noted in the recent Council of Canadian Academies Expert Panel Report on “The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012.” The report shows that as a country we excel in many fields of research, and punch above our weight in terms of publications and international research influence. However, we fall short of unlocking the potential commercial value of the outcomes of basic research. In addition, Canadian businesses perform much less R&D as compared with our international counterparts. Our collective historical identity as "hewers of wood and drawers of water” has meant that ideas are just another basic resource that we draw from the land and export without adding value. Our competitors are exploiting our research to their commercial advantage.

Polytechnics and colleges focus on speed to market and engaging our students in industry innovation. We offer industry and universities alike four key advantages: 
  • Access to talent – our faculty who are industry professionals, and our students. By engaging our students in applied research we train the highly qualified and skilled people needed for the innovation economy, who gain crucial innovation skills as part of their applied education. 
  • Access to state-of-the-art facilities – our industry-focused teaching facilities double as applied research labs for companies or scientists who do not have equipment or need help making a prototype or product. 
  • Access to markets and networks – we leverage our close ties to industry to help our research partners develop products and sales. 
  • Access to capital – government funding provides matching capital for companies to engage in innovation partnerships, creating economies of scale for firms with ideas but lacking in-house R&D capacity. 
The 2007 federal Science and Technology Strategy gave impetus to college applied research capacity through the creation of the College and Community Innovation Program. Yet, the CCIP is the only federal program for polytechnic and college applied research. It is underfunded as compared to demand: we currently turn companies away both for lack of funding and capacity, limiting our ability to be “open for business innovation.”

Firms in Canada are not yet making effective use of the postsecondary research facilities we have, but this is changing. Polytechnic and college applied research can play a more robust role in strengthening national and regional capacity to innovate. We work with research centres and industry partners to enhance competitiveness in the sectors we serve. Our applied research centres offer services to industry that are not currently widely available in Canada – the applied research, commercialization-focused “last mile” services that industry needs in order to test market assumptions.

Canada needs to encourage industry-academic partnerships and have each party play to their strengths, be this basic research, applied research, or industry focused innovation. We need a better balance between the input and output sides of the innovation equation. Broadening the potential outputs for R&D by supporting applied research will foster increased productivity, enable Canada to realign R&D expenditure imbalances, and correct our long-standing poor record on industrial innovation.

There is work to be done by the polytechnic and college sectors in continuing to build the applied research capacity while finding better ways to measure outcomes. This requires us to focus on outputs and on collaborative data gathering to show the return on the (modest) CCIP investment. We would do well to encourage greater linkages among university, polytechnic and college research institutions, and greater industry-academic partnerships overall, building a true innovation system that plays to the strengths of all its parts. By working together, we can increase Canada’s global competitiveness.

15 November 2012

Polytechnics Canada showcases students' work on industry applied research

The annual Polytechnics Canada Applied Research Showcase was hosted by the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and today featured excellent presentations from students who have worked with industry partners at each polytechnic The presentations are always a real treat; student demonstrate how they have applied their education and worked to help industry realize innovation goals. At the same time, they demonstrate how they have acquired innovation literacy skills. George Brown College recent grad Adam Piercey won third place for his presentation about his work on Infonaut's hand hygiene gel dispenser, as part of the Infonaut Hospital Watch Live project. Congratulations to Adam for a job well done.

The Showcase featured some great speeches from notable industry leaders such as Mike Begin, President and CEO, Spartan Controls Ltd., who spoke today about how applied research fills a necessary gap in Canada, and that the differentiation we have - colleges, universities, polytechnics - are a positive feature of our ecosystem. We must not shy away fro industry applied research, nor should we aspire to be universities. Rather, polytechnics are doing what we need them to: educate for skills, and to support industry innovation through applied research.

This message was reinforced during the conference dinner by Member of Parliament James Rajotte. The Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology, echoed this after presenting the students with the awards. Minister Goodyear spoke about collaboration and building on our base of research excellence, referring to the recent CCA Expert Panel report on the the State of Science and Technology in Canada. Applied research with industry is complementary to our basic research excellence, and is a key component in our ability to turn around our innovation performance. Minister Rona Ambrose, Minister of Public Works and Government Services and Minister for Status of Women, spoke as well, outlining how the government's innovation procurement strategy dovetails with the Science and Technology Strategy focus on fostering innovation in Canadian firms. The Canadian Innovation Commercialization Program (CICP) is an innovative approach that enables Canadian firms to meet market needs within government procurement, giving firms important reference client sales which supports international sales. It is policies such as these, in addition to the College and Community Innovation Program, that foster greater innovation potential. Firms are accessing the talent, facilities, networks and funding while we train the future talent our economy needs. It is heartening to see our students step up onto the stage as ambassadors for industry innovation.



07 November 2012

It's time to move from diagnosis to treatment for our innovation ills

Gordon Nixon and Kevin Lynch have a good article in today's Globe that discusses what ails Canada's innovation and productivity. There are no surprises here in their treatise on What's holding Ontario back? The article is worth the read, but we really need to move past saying what is wrong - diagnosing the problem - and move on to taking action. It is nice that the writers say that "Ontario is well-positioned for success, starting with one of the best-educated, most diverse work forces in the world." It would be nice if they were to acknowledge that this includes both college and university graduates - a fact sorely lacking from the Globe's Our Time to Lead feature on education. Even better would be to outline how we can better align our world leading R&D and education capacity to the needs of the economy. I won't belabour the point I made on this earlier, except to say that we need some straight talk on the alignment of skills - STEM and nonSTEM, including and importantly the contribution social sciences and humanities make to social and economic productivity. It really is time for us to realize that we need to work together to capitalize on this potential. It is much more difficult to build than it is to tear down. So here is my prescription for better productivity health: think not of ourselves but of what we are doing for the economy, work together to realize complementarity, and focus on downstream innovation and productivity. A people-centred innovation requires a deep understanding of human potential and capacity, and the willingness to learn and work together.

05 November 2012

Skills and education instrumentality

The recent Globe and Mail Our Time to Lead series on education offered many compelling stories on the need to transform education. For my own part, I remain mystified why some in the post secondary education world tend to avoid any talk of outcomes, namely jobs. As I pointed out in the online interactive video I did for the series, why is that career centres on Canada's university campuses are an after thought? Why do we leave it to the imagination of students to think about their future careers, when we could be encouraging people to apply what they learn to important social and economic issues. I allude to this in my op-ed on what I call open source learning. Today's Globe has an article by Gwyn Morgan in which he talks about the fact that Divisions between haves and have-nots begin with having skills – or not. His point is similar - we ignore outcomes for education at our social and economic peril. Our future productivity and competitiveness depend on having a highly educated and skilled work force. Those who sit in the ivory tower and eschew the very real fact that finding one's way in the world means finding meaningful work are perpetuating our downward slide into even poorer productivity. It's time we challenged these nostrums and exposed them for what they are: dangerous assumptions that ignore present - and future - realities.

To this point, our recent study Toronto Next: Return on Innovation clearly shows that employers want people who can apply their skills to work. This is a central aspect of innovation literacy.

30 October 2012

Toronto Next: Return on Innovation

George Brown College President Anne Sado yesterday spoke at the Empire Club, detailing the results of our study of Toronto Next: Return on Innovation. The report shines a light on our well documented poor innovation record, and reinforces that we are not seeing enough private sector investment in innovation.
This is a serious and significant problem for the short and long-term competitiveness of our local economy. Based on the report, business is not seeing the value of investments in new technologies and equipment, skills training and R&D partnership in sparking their innovation: Half of GTA businesses and organizations perceive little to no return on investment in new technologies, innovative skills training, product development or fostering R&D partnerships with academic institutions.

Businesses are saying that it’s not their responsibility to innovate. Surprisingly, 50% of respondents think it is the role of government to drive innovation and productivity. While it is certainly true that government investments in polytechnic and college applied research are helping businesses to innovate, we need more firms to step up and take the lead. George Brown College is doing our part - the study itself is a key way that we understand the employment landscape our graduates are entering. 

Tellingly, over half of employers surveyed feel that a dependence on ‘old economy’ industries or a lack of private sector funding are causing Canada’s low levels of innovation. I've written before how ideas are just another raw resource Canada extracts without adding value. We need to do a better job of connecting students and graduates to the world of work, a topic raised in the Globe and Mail's recent Our Time o Lead feature on education. My contributions to this effort included encouraging a focus on outcomes based education. In particular  I don't understand why in universities career centres are an afterthought. We need to do a better job of encouraging all levels of education to focus on outcomes. Colleges celebrate their connection to employment - it is George Brown College's strategic direction to understand employment. 

To this end, our survey shows that a shortage of innovative employees to hire is the largest barrier to employers investing in innovation, along with concerns about long-term ROI. Thus our focus on applied learning and research, through which we instill innovation literacy, helps us close the gap between what we teach, what students learn, and what employers need. 

As Anne Sado said yesterday, George Brown College has a bias for action and we are open for business innovation. The results of this survey notwithstanding, the GTA does not have an innovation problem. It has an innovation opportunity.

29 October 2012

Input innovation; Output productivity

George Brown College President Anne Sado speaks today at the Empire Club to release the results of our study on GTA firms' capacity to innovate. As the Globe and Mail's James Bradshaw reports this morning, in summary "GTA firms don’t highly rate the need to innovate." The College approach to applied education and research integrated in teaching and learning outcomes equips our graduates with innovation literacy: essential skills for the innovation economy. Join us today at the Empire Club to learn more. More commentary to follow in this space over the coming days and weeks.

25 October 2012

The brain that teaches itself

It's reading week at the college this week, and yesterday the George Brown College Staff Development convened a day of professional development for our faculty and staff. It was a great day that was kicked off by an excellent keynote speech by Dr Sylvain Moreno of the Rotman Research Institute. His presentation covered some of the basics of the brain, and focused on the ways in which brain plasticity is reinforced by activity. The good news in this of course is the very idea of brain plasticity - my title is an oblique reference to Norma Doidge's book the Brain that Changes Itself, a good read.

An expert in brain plasticity, Sylvain showed us how we can use brain science as a way to reinforce learning. I was struck by the connections between the college's focus on applied learning and applied research as ways in which we exercise experiential learning as a way to reinforce skills acquisition. This is a positive link to our focus on innovation literacy.

Sylvain also leads the Brain Power Initiative. I attended their last two events, and found them highly worthwhile. It is great to see science applied to learning. It is equally great to take the time to see the science of learning and to think of ways in which we can leverage the latest in brain research in our teaching and learning.

22 October 2012

Why we need colleges, polytechnics and universities

Charles Pascal has an excellent article in the Globe's Our Time to Lead feature on Re:Education, called Students lose in Ontario’s postsecondary patchwork, in which he aptly describes the need for a range of education options that work as a system. He refers primarily to Ontario, but it could easily apply to Canada as a whole, as I pointed out in my recent op-ed on open source learning. This is further reinforced by the weekend's article What Canada needs: A national strategy for students. The exemplary thinking here on important issues facing Canada come as we stare down the need to up our game in the innovation economy. It is time for Canada to get on par with our OECD counterparts and take seriously the connections between social and economic prosperity and instrumentality in education  It is time to rethink how teaching and research function to instill innovation skills in our graduates  And it is time to embrace what Pascal calls the "galloping elitism" that makes us eschew the necessary technical and vocational skills and undergraduate teaching as we privilege the a priori in a global race for talent and R&D impact. The  Globe series - and Pascal's read of the Ontario education system - should be required reading for all involved in education, teaching and research. 

17 October 2012

Conference on Crowdsourcing for Health Innovation

I had the benefit of attending St Elizabeth Healthcare's conference on Crowdsourcing for Health Innovation yesterday. It was an excellent event that featured some good speakers discussing how social media, for example, can disrupt the status quo for improving healthcare. These are important topics for the future of healthcare. St Elizabeth Healthcare is a real leader in this space, having been an innovator in healthcare for a long time, and continuing to do so. Their work resonates strongly with the people centred healthcare model that NexJ is working on through the Connected Wellness Project. It is innovators like these companies that make the future of healthcare brighter.

12 October 2012

Celebrating National Science and Technology Week

Today marks the start of National Science & Technology Week, which runs from 12-21 October. There is much to be proud about Canada's science and technology capacity. As detailed in the Council of Canadian Academies The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 report, Canada's S&T is healthy in outcomes and impact, and growing.

It is timely that the Federal Conservative Postsecondary Education Caucus will meet at George Brown College today to see and learn about college applied research and how it relates to education. The federal government investments in polytechnic and college applied research are enabling George Brown College to play a vital role in our region’s capacity for innovation.

The GBC Research Labs for health and health promotion, the Food Innovation Research Studio, and the Green Homes and the Green Building Center have all received funding from the College and Community Innovation Program, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and FEDDEV Ontario. This is in addition to matching funding from the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation, which supports the Colleges Ontario Network for Industry Innovation (CONII).

The CCIP suite of funding programs has, since 2007, led to a sea change in how colleges and polytechnics across Canada can contribute to innovation, productivity and prosperity. By linking applied research with our industry and community partners with our approach to applied education, we help promote business innovation while ensuring that the next generation is ready and able to play an active role in the innovation economy.

11 October 2012

Credit transfer and open source learning

The Globe and Mail published today an op-ed I wrote on what I call open source learning and its relationship to an educational passport. It is part of the Re: Education Our Time to Lead series, which is generating interesting discussion about the future of education in Canada. The website contains a good interactive section on Transforming the ivory tower: The case for a new postsecondary education system, including my own video where I make the case for more outcomes-based learning.

09 October 2012

The Globe and Mail on Education and Research: Time for Change

The Globe and Mail has launched a new series on education in their Our Time to Lead feature. I am a member of the Globe's Advisory Panel for this feature, and I have been enjoying the opportunity to be part of the conversation with colleagues from across the country. The online interactive site features videos from Advisory Panel members, as well as commentary on aspects of education and research. Also of note is the Editorial from Saturday, in which the Globe outlines the need for universities and polytechnics to play to their strengths as we encourage differentiation and partnerships. The Editorial also refers to the Council of Canadian Academies' Expert Panel on the State of Science and Technology in Canada report, which  indicates the need for more commercialization of research. It is a good time to be engaging in this discussion; my hope is that we can leverage this for a collaborative push forward as Canada realizes the advantage of working together across universities, polytechnics and colleges, and industry, for both outcomes-based education and research.

05 October 2012

Envisioning the Future for Humanities and Social Science Research


Two weeks ago I had the pleasure to attend the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Imagining Canada's Future workshop. As a member of SSHRC's Programs and Quality Committee, I joined  60 or so academic leaders from across the country and from a variety of disciplines to engage in strategic planning for SSHRC to 2030. The event was an excellent exercise in seeking understanding of the present and how SSHRC can best respond to – and shape - future challenges. Over the course of two days the group went through a variety of discussion exercises designed to identify future challenges, articulate plausible scenarios (both positive and negative) congruent with these challenges, and then posit possible responses the SSHRC community can enable.

Discussion over the course of the event was representative of the multiple disciplines present, and was a very positive articulation of future scenarios and how the SSHRC community can play an active role in helping to shape the future of Canada in a global context.

The event was as much a validation of the recent changes to the overall program architecture mix SSHRC enacted over the past year or so, showing that there is strong consonance in the streamlined program architecture with future directions and needs, and that this new approach is an effective architecture of the future. That is, the course SSHRC is on represents an enabling strategy that will let the SSHRC community provide leadership on areas of concern for all Canadians. Some of these issues will be topical - the environment, for example - in the sense that we are currently grappling with them and will continue to need to do so for some time to come. Other topics, such as the role and impact of technology, gender, race, aboriginal issues, the role of research – all resonate strongly with what is important in the world, and how Canada relates to the world. Above all, what struck me as most interesting was the balance the conversation had around what our society needs in terms of social and economic productivity and innovation, but also what we want: a well balanced approach to the integration of arts, culture, and ideas to underpin our social infrastructure.

And this is precisely what the SSHRC community offers Canada. Understanding the human condition is the hallmark of the Humanities and Social Science (HASS) disciplines. Ensuring that our understanding is strong and vibrant, and can contribute to a strong and vibrant culture, is essential to our long term social and economic well being. This ethos pervaded the discussion and conclusions, though these conclusions are a prelude to the work that lies ahead. This includes the further engagement with the SSHRC community around the implications for these scenarios, and a discussion about how the HASS disciplines can continue to enable Canada to lead and to further develop the human capital potential latent in our future. We have an excellent foundation to work on, and an even better blueprint, or compass, for building and charting the future.

This foundational discussion was rendered even more relevant with the release last week of the CCA Expert Panel Report on the State of Science and Technology in Canada. Of the six disciplines in which Canada leads the world, the majority are HASS disciplines. This is excellent news for the SSHRC community, and represents a key step forward in recognizing the excellence that SSHRC is known for. Of particular importance is the fact that the 2006 report was not able to squarely cover the HASS disciplines. Now, however, with a very rigorous and robust methodology, we can clearly see evidence for what many of us have known for some time, that SSHRC research in Canada is world leading in many fields, and represents some of the country's greatest strengths.

There is work to be done, however. The CCA report outlines some gaps in covering the HASS disciplines. While effort was made to work around these gaps, there are limitations that can be addressed by the SSHRC community. This includes harmonizing definitions and language and coming to a common understanding of how to measure excellence in HASS disciplines. SSHRC should lead this effort, working with the Federation of Social Sciences to set the standards for how we want to be measured for excellence. There is an excellent foundation for this in the report. Now is the time for us to seize the opportunity to lead the HASS community in defining our standards of excellence.

On the role of colleges and polytechnics, there is work to be done both in terms of ensuring that the applied research in this sector is quantifiable (we have a start in the report) in terms of outputs. There is also work to connect the fact that the colleges represent key HASS disciplines in their work with Canadian industry. This is a key driver of business innovation.

There are many high points in the report: SSHRC is highly valued as an organization contributing to Canada’s research infrastructure according to S&T experts in the country. The single most important thing industry needs to innovate is access to innovative talent, and in this area the HASS disciplines are very strong. HASS disciplines make up a significant percentage of the country’s production of graduates – both undergraduates (as inputs to robust S&T) and graduate students (as outputs, or contributors). Digital media and ICT are fast emerging clusters of importance.

A really strong success story for us at SSHRC is the emerging disciplines area of the report. Health and personalized medicine was top of the list, which includes digital media. Digital media is an interesting discipline as it is a combination in of arts and engineering. This interdisciplinary approach is indicative of a future trend in many areas, and exemplifies the boundary crossing capacity of HASS disciplines. That is, the integration of divergent thinking is a key strength of arts based education, for example, and this emergent area in particular shows the value that HASS disciplines bring to emergent areas of science and technology. To put this another way, gaming, to use the example cited in the CCA S&T Report, requires programming, but importantly also storytelling, art direction, and design skills. It is these HASS disciplines that arguably create the greatest advantage in this mix. To that end, personalized medicine, while certainly refers to genetics, also refers to technology to enable this. This infers design skills, meaning there are interdisciplinary strengths the HASS disciplines bring to many other S&T areas.

Another world leading area of excellence is in business and management, another SSHRC area. Given the country’s focus on entrepreneurship and innovation, this is another significant good news item and opportunity for us to show the core value of HASS disciplines to the well being - social and economic - of the country. While STEM skills are certainly important, they are clearly one component of a robust S&T infrastructure. What is clear from the report is that the HASS disciplines, and SSHRC, are an essential strand in the double helix of our science and technology capacity and innovation potential.

02 October 2012

Toronto Vital Signs 2012 released

George Brown College is proud to support the Toronto Community Foundation's annual Vital Signs report, released this morning. Vital Signs provides an essential snapshot of how Toronto is doing for overall livability. Toronto: “Not Too Bad” :-) has many good news elements - Toronto is a vibrant community with booming construction, strong financials, culture industries and an educated population. There is a darker side to the story, one in which there is greater income disparity in the city, poorer health outcomes for immigrants, and a dismal rating on child health.

Download the full report here, and learn more about how we can work together to make Toronto an even better place to live.


01 October 2012

FEDDEV Ontario supports the George Brown College Green Building Centre

On Friday, the Honourable Diane Finley, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, on behalf of the Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology and Minister of the Federal Economic Development Agency of Southern Donation (FEDDEV), announced a $6.6M contribution to the George Brown College Green Building Centre. The College is matching the Federal Government contribution with $6.8M to build the Green Building Centre, which is located at the Centre for Construction and Engineering Technologies (CCET) on the Casa Loma campus. This Centre will be used to conduct applied research in partnership with local businesses while training students in advanced construction systems, green energy and computer-enabled, efficient buildings. In particular, this centre will focus on construction practices that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building's life-cycle: from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and demolition.

The Green Building Centre will offer the following services to industry partners:
  • The Advanced Prototyping Lab, which will be used to rapidly develop new products for advanced building technology and energy management; 
  • The Building Science Lab, which will provide a test site and demonstration lab for technology companies who want to refine prototypes and test innovative green building systems, materials and technologies in a realistic setting; 
  • The Business Accelerator and Entrepreneurship Centre, which will pair industry partners with applied research experts, including faculty and students from the College, to work on project in the appropriate lab environments. The Centre will help these companies perform activities ranging from information gathering and analysis, product prototype development and testing to market development and commercialization, all with a view to bring products to market efficiently; and 
  • The International Business Office, which will work to find new international markets for green technologies and to keep track of emerging trends around the world.
At the announcement on Friday, Rick Huijbregts, VP, Industry and Business Transformation for Cisco Canada and Executive-in-Residence at George Brown College for the Center for Construction and Engineering Technologies, spoke about the intersection of building an information technology as the new frontier in smart, connected buildings. Nancy Sherman, Dean of the Centre for Construction and Engineering Technologies, welcomed the news as being part of our ongoing ability to work with our industry partners in linking applied research to education in this important area of the economy.

27 September 2012

The State of Science and Technology in Canada

The Council of Canadian Academies today released the assessment of Canadian S&T. The news is quite good, with Canada performing very well in many areas, in particular Clinical Medicine, Historical Studies, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), Psychology and Cognitive Sciences, Physics and Astronomy, and Visual and Performing Arts. There are many aspects of Canada's S&T enterprise that contribute to this excellence, notably our world leading tertiary education attainment levels.

Of particular note is the appearance of colleges and Polytechnics in this assessment (see pages 114-115). There are some good metrics of applied research outcomes, tracked very effectively by Polytechnics Canada, that the college and Polytechnic community would do well to bolster over the coming years as we continue to support business innovation through applied research.

See the following link for the complete report:
http://www.scienceadvice.ca/en/assessments/completed/science-tech.aspx

24 September 2012

Anne Sado, President of George Brown College, speaks on Toronto Next: Return on Innovation, Empire Club, 29 October 2012

Anne Sado, the President of George Brown College, will speak at the Empire Club, 29 October 2012, on Toronto Next: Return on Innovation. Here is a summary of Anne's presentation:

Innovation has achieved a rare conceptual status; virtually every business and entrepreneur aspires to achieve it yet its definition is open to a range of interpretations. Governments, businesses, think tanks and academic institutions across Canada place it at the heart of their strategies, but tangible commercial returns remain elusive. Anne Sado, President of George Brown College, will be releasing results of the college's comprehensive research report, Toronto Next: Return on Innovation, to reveal what is constraining our innovation potential and more importantly, the strategies to effectively convert R&D to profit.


12 September 2012

The Honourable Gary Goodyear announces funding for Connected Health and Wellness Project

The Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) today announced funding for the Connected Health Wellness Project. George Brown College is a proud partner in this project, which is led by York University and NexJ Systems. The full list of partners is as follows: NexJ Systems Inc., York University, the UHN's Centre for Global eHealth Innovation, OSCARService Inc., McMaster University Innovation, PryLynx Corporation, Centennial College, Rogers Health Care, George Brown College, North York General, Research In Motion, Seneca College, Trivaris, Southlake Regional Health  Centre, Tyze Personal Networks, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (an affiliate of Harvard Medical School).

The Connected Health Wellness Project brings together industry and academic partners to create systems for managing personal health. The Food Innovation Research Studio will lead the work for GBC's component on developing healthy recipes and other nutritional content for delivery over mobile devices via NexJ's Health Coach application.

11 September 2012

Canada leads world in tertiary, college education

The OECD released its annual Education at a Glance report today, and once again, Canada is at the top of the OECD in terms of tertiary education attainment. As in past years, this is only when you combine college and university education.  Significantly, Canada leads the OECD for college (Tertiary Type b - vocational) education as well, and moves up to 8th place for university (Tertiary Type A) education.  It is worth quoting in full the following:
The international tertiary-type 5A classification refers to largely theory-based programmes lasting at least three years, and typically covers university undergraduate and master’s degrees as well as high-skills professions (e.g. medicine, dentistry, law). Tertiary-type 5B programmes are shorter in duration and focus on practical, technical or occupational skills for direct entry into the labour force. In Canada, community colleges and polytechnics are included in this category. For the purposes of this note, the term “college” refers to both community colleges and polytechnics. It is also important to note that many community colleges and polytechnics in Canada offer both tertiary-type 5B and non-tertiary post-secondary type 4 programmes, including occupational preparation and adult education programmes. Statistics Canada data on tertiary education do not allow for distinguishing between some adult education and occupational preparation programmes, so international comparisons of tertiary education systems should be considered with some caution.
This is very good news for Canada. A strong education system ensures a productive and innovative society - at least in theory. While Canada still lags in innovation and productivity, we can take heart in these latest results as they point to the potential our population has for increasing both of these key socio-economic indicators.

But the news is not all good: "many countries surpass Canada in the rate at which their tertiary education attainment levels have grown in recent years." And, "During the global economic crisis, the number of young Canadians who were neither employed nor in education and training increased." This last factor is somewhat worrying.

As I noted earlier, it is time for Canada to align the "two solitudes of education", and to link our world leading R&D and training capacity to explicit outcomes. This will help students understand the relationship of education to employment outcomes, while also help to orient our R&D to industrial outcomes. I see these as very important and intertwined necessities.

07 September 2012

Literacy, Science: cornerstones of the innovation economy

Craig Alexander, senior vice-president and chief economist at TD Bank Group, reminds us that tomorrow is UNESCO's  International Literacy Day in a Globe op-ed Don’t take literacy for granted. This is important; as Alexander points out, literacy and numeracy are fundamental to productivity and prosperity. On a related note, the Globe Editorial says that we must step up our efforts in Selling science to students, in relating how Canadian students are behind our peer countries in pursuing - and even understanding - science. Science and literacy are fundamental to ensuring that we have a well educated and high functioning work force. I've noted in the past how we need a combination of STEM/nonSTEM skills, and that these form the basis for innovation literacy. It is worthwhile to pause on International Literacy Day and reflect on our need to ensure the education systems we have can truly meet the needs of the economy now and in the future. As the Globe points out, because education is a provincial issue, we don`t have a national focus that would enable us to be on par with our international peers. These topics are of relevance on any day, and not just  International Literacy Day. They are important context for the release on 27 September of the Council of Canadian Academies' report on The State of Science and Technology in Canada.

06 September 2012

The two solitudes of Canada's competitiveness

A report out today showing that Canada has slipped again in international competitiveness ratings offers (again) sobering statistics on our need to get our innovation and prosperity house in order. A couple of things stand out for me in this report - the focus on education and the point made that "Switzerland’s scientific research institutions 'are among the world’s best, and the strong collaboration between its academic and business sectors, combined with high company spending on R&D, ensures that much of this research is translated into marketable products and processes.'”

As noted, Canada does not take advantage of our "well-educated workforce," primarily because we do not see education as a single entity. The bifurcation between college and university - as evidenced by recent press reports on the difference between college and university graduate salaries, for example - prevents us from realizing the true potential of an articulated education system. (Today's Letters to the Editor has an excellent rejoinder to this discussion from Colleges Ontario president Linda Franklin.) I've written about this before, and also about the fact that Canada is #1 in the OECD for post-secondary education attainment only when you include both college and university together (OECD Type A and Type B education).

On the issue of "strong collaboration between its academic and business sectors," this is a topic of great importance for Canada. We need to realize that industry-academic partnerships are a positive path toward greater innovation capacity. Other countries understand this better than we do; Canada would be wise to embrace what I have elsewhere called P3RD: Public+Private Partnerships for Research and Development. We eschew strong connections in education and research with industry at our innovation peril.

And so there are two two solitudes: the two solitudes of education (college and university) that are treated as a parallelism in Canada; and the two solitudes of industry and academic R&D and production.

On  the former, let's invest the debate with what might be possible with a nationally articulated education system (timely given that Ontario is in the midst of a large scale educational transformation consultation). On the latter, let's take seriously the outputs of the Jenkins panel report and the upcoming release of the Council of Canadian Academies' report on The State of Science and Technology in Canada. And on this note, you can hear a podcast with Expert Panel Chair Dr. Eliot Phillipson discussing this important work on the CCA site.

05 September 2012

Council of Canadian Academies to release report on The State of Science and Technology in Canada 27 September

I have had the privilege of serving over the past year or so on the Council of Canadian Academies Expert Panel on the State of Science and Technology in Canada. The findings from this work will be released on 27 September at the Economic Club of Canada in Ottawa. Eliot Phillipson, chair of the Expert Panel, will launch the report with a talk titled Science And Technology In Canada: Where Do We Stand?:
The Council of Canadian Academies is releasing an evidence-based assessment on the State of Science and Technology in Canada. This assessment was conducted by an 18-member expert panel of distinguished and multi-disciplinary experts from Canada and abroad. The Panel has developed a comprehensive assessment of the state of S&T in Canada, with a focus on research performed in the higher education sector, as well as in the not-for-profit and government sectors. The Panel’s report provides an authoritative assessment of Canada’s overall S&T strengths, as compared with international peers. It also addresses improvements and/or declines in research fields, highlights emerging areas of S&T, and provides insights on provincial areas of strength and specialization. The collective findings are comprehensive and represent one of the most in-depth examinations of Canadian S&T ever undertaken.

30 August 2012

On education

Today's Globe and Mail has an interesting article on graduate employment that links well to relevant discussions on education. Why are we training our arts grads to be baristas? asks why arts and humanities students are struggling to find meaningful places in the economy. This represents a key failure of the imagination, but also points to a systemic failure of the post secondary education (PSE) system to function as a system. Regrettably, this is par for the course in a country that does not view PSE as a system but rather as two solitudes. Where we lead the OECD in tertiary attainment when we take a combinant approach (college+university combined), we do not acknowledge key variables here:

  • people go to both college and university for a variety of designations (apprenticeship, diplomas, degrees, graduate certificates, graduate degrees);
  • all of these are useful and usable for the economy;
  • there are compounding variables of credential laddering and pathways across all kinds of PSE institutions;
  • university education is not focused on outcomes, which disadvantages learners.
The lack of  articulated outcomes means it is left to the imagination of students to figure out the utility of their education. Regarding the Globe article, it is somewhat ironic that we leave outcomes (and so potential employment areas) to the imagination of arts graduates, who then in turn do not have the imagination to figure this out. This compounds our collective failure to view education as a system, which in turn puts us at a disadvantage internationally. It also relates strongly to our performance in research, and reminds me anew of  the very excellent overview in the HESA blog on the false dichotomy of the bifurcation of basic and applied  research. Our general allergy to thinking about utility (in education and research) is a key reason why our innovation and productivity continue to be below par.

And speaking of below par, I read recently the AUCC Pre-Budget 2013 submission. Regrettably, the AUCC have chosen a rather retrograde path to advocating for greater research funding and more focus on graduate education. While these are certainly worthy goals in and of themselves, the AUCC's refusal to see education as a system is not in keeping with the need to work together across the variety of PSE available. It is sad that they have chosen this tack.

The Pre-Budget 2013 submissions from Polytechnics Canada and the ACCC focus on the entire system. There is certainly commonality among the Polytechnics Canada, the ACCC, the AUCC, and CAGS submissions - notably in supporting immigrant integration and education and research. Polytechnics are advocating for more focus on apprenticeships, and the ACC and AUCC on Aboriginal education. But the latter two stick out for maintaining a siloed view of the world on both of these last two points. Perhaps this is inevitable, but the real value in any national attempts to promote greater innovation and productivity, as related to the key inputs and outputs of education and research, is found in the networked coopetition model. Call me naive, but with this thing called the Internet making in-roads in all aspects of life, things are changing. For the better. And with greater international mobility of people, and this in turn linked to the international struggles for greater economic and social productivity and outcomes, it strikes me that we would be far better off working together.

Which brings me back to education. I certainly support the need to adequately fund graduate education, and arts and humanities and social sciences included as these are complementary to STEM skills. And while CAGS focuses on graduate education (it is their mandate, after all), I am left wondering why we do not recognize the kinds of graduate certificate credentials offered by colleges and polytechnics as part of the continuum of education available to our population. The latest issue of the Queen's University Alumni newsletter has a very good piece on college post-graduate credentials being excellent pathways for university graduates who seek employment credentials. This is a viable option for many people across the country. The market has clearly decided that these kinds of pathways are relevant and valued. Perhaps it is time our education system listens.


21 August 2012

Congratulations and a celebration of Canadian research

Two Canadian researchers - from Ryerson University and the University of Toronto - have been honoured by MIT for their contributions to innovation. The Globe and Mail reports MIT to honour two professors transforming the world from Toronto, showcasing Hossein Rahnama of Ryerson University's Digital Media Zone and Joyce Poon of the University of Toronto's Electrical and Computer Engineering.

I saw Rahnama present at a past OCE Discovery conference, where he won an award for his start up as a graduate student. It's impressive technology, and his comments on the challenges of conducting research in Canada bear repeating:

“Curiosity-driven research has to be there, but as a country we are doing terrible at translating that into jobs and commercial successes,” Prof. Rahnama says.
He has found it hard to find early adopters for his technology in Canada, and earlier this year set up a London office to focus on European users.
“In Canada, we have to commit to a lot of prove points and pilots,” he says. “In Europe, especially Nordic countries, it’s much easier to get companies to try technologies.”
This is a good lesson for all involved in research in Canada - basic and applied - as we work collectively to foster more home grown innovation. And speaking of basic and applied research, here is a good piece on the history of this distinction: Basic research turns 67. It also contains a link to Vannever Bush's 1945 article Science, The Endless Frontier. Both are interesting in light of Canada`s recent efforts to revitalize our moribund record on turning research into innovations. Uncovering the ideological roots of the bifurcation of research is interesting and necessary context for our discussion on innovation.

16 August 2012

Canadian Construction Innovations established to support industry R&D

The Canadian Construction Association (CCA) has established Canadian Construction Innovations, a new research institute to promote innovation in the construction industry. The CCA's priorities include Labour supply and training; Infrastructure investment; Awareness of environmental issues; Public-private partnerships (P3s); Increased competition from global/foreign firms; and New technology. Earlier this year George Brown College hosted Minister of State for Science and Technology the Honourable Gary Goodyear for the announcement of our Green Homes initiative, as recently funded by NSERC and the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation. As outlined in our proposal and subsequent press release, the Green Homes initiative provides an industry-focused applied research and innovation program tightly integrated with the training of highly qualified and skilled personnel in areas such as advanced construction systems, green energy integration and computer-enabled, efficient residential buildings. The project will provide private sector partners and George Brown College students enrolled in the Centre for Construction and Engineering Technologies (CCET) programs increased opportunities to pursue applied research projects, resulting in regional economic development and workplace-readiness for students. 

The Green Homes applied research initiative is highly aligned with the CCA's Canadian Construction Innovations, and we applaud and welcome the establishment of this organization. George Brown College look forward to learning more as it develops, and in working with the CCA to support innovation in the construction industries. 

15 August 2012

Polytechnics Canada Pre-Budget 2013 Recommendations

Polytechnics Canada has put forward their Pre-Budget 2013 Recommendations, available on their website. Notable is the continued support of college applied research and the further development of apprenticeship. As I've noted before, the skilled trades are the knowledge workers of the innovation economy, providing a much needed link between our capacity to think up new ideas and to put them into practice - the connection between thinking, making and innovation is a cornerstone of a healthy economy.

The Polytechnics Canada submission has three key recommendations for improving the public-private partnership model of R&D (what we call P3RD):

Through re-allocating funds to industrial applied research, the federal government can help more companies overcome the “death valley” of commercialization and become competitive. Three specific actions are to:
  • Implement a national commercialization voucher program that allows Canadian firms to choose the late-stage commercialization support they need, as recommended by the OECD study;
  • Increase funds for the College Community Innovation Program to $50 million per year to address unmet demand from firms for innovation solutions;
  • Expand the eligibility of NSERC’s Industrial Undergraduate Student Research Awards program to include college undergraduate students.
Fostering improved industry-academic collaborations through a P3RD model is an essential component of helping Canada improve its innovation and productivity. Reforming our approach to education along the way by providing a more modern approach to credential laddering and articulation will in turn foster greater education and training capacity throughout the economy. This can be understood as a productivity issue on the education system, and while Canada regulates education provincially, we have a unique opportunity to leverage federalism to enable greater mobility of highly qualified and skilled personnel across the life span. Life-long and life-wide learning will thus enable greater diffusion of innovation.

10 August 2012

Re$earch Money conference proceedings now online

Back in May I attended the annual Re$earch Money conference, which as I said at the time was one of the best discussions I've seen on innovation in Canada. The proceedings from the conference have now been released on the Re$earch Money website. They are well worth a look as they offer key insights into the business of innovation in Canada.

07 August 2012

Doing science differently

Donald Stuss, President and scientific director of the Ontario Brain Institute, has an excellent article in today's Globe: "For better cures, let’s do science differently." Stuss advocates for a focus on doing science differently that involves understanding the complementary links between basic and applied research as a continuum, and embracing academic cooperation and industry involvement. This is essential for Canada to make the most of its public sector R&D investments. An interdisciplinary and collaborative focus will let Canada orient our world-leading research capabilities to solving today's and tomorrow's pressing problems. Stuss acknowledges that science is driven in some part by instrumentality, and in celebrating this as an eventuality, affords a view of the future that rises above zero-sum thinking in the research funding space.

30 July 2012

Innovation, clusters

Here is some good news from Canada's manufacturing companies. The story has some good examples of innovation in practice, and bodes well for those companies that put innovation as a business strategy front and centre. The story is a bit of a contrast from one I read earlier in the summer that paints a gloomy picture of the Canadian technology market. While some say RIM should not be counted out, I did note that there is no Blackberry app for the Canadian Olympic app, an unfortunate coincidence.

And while we are on the topic of summer reading, here is a good report from the Toronto Board of Trade:
Business Takes the Lead: Collaborate to Compete is a report from the Toronto Region Economic
Summit, held on 29 March 2012. My report on this is here, and this call to action is a good reminder why the Toronto area is one of the world's leading economic regions, and has the capacity for more. I look forward to supporting the further development of the innovation clusters as outlined in this report.


25 June 2012

From research, through development, to innovation

McGill University's Heather Munroe-Blum offers an op-ed in today's Globe and Mail to fix Canada's ailing R&D system. While making some good points, including the need for people-centred innovation, she neglects to mention the role that Canada's colleges and polytechnics play in the applied research capacity in the country as they do in other countries. Comments left on the Globe site decry the need for more money when what is needed is the ability to focus this world-leading R&D system into industry innovation. This point is made quite well in an interview with Electrovaya's Sankar Das Gupta, which I will quote here in full:
Is there a problem with the culture of innovation in Canada?
There is a huge problem. In Canada we are No. 1 in [financing research] input. But on the output side of innovation, we are last in class. Most of the money for innovation and research goes to universities. Some policy planner figured out that universities should do the research, then companies should that take that research and commercialize it. But in reality that never works.
Universities are terrible at innovation. Ninety per cent of the research [PhD students do] is basically data collection. Innovation comes from a totally different source – people who understand the problem, and who have to solve the problem. The university guys aren’t stupid, they just don’t know what the actual problems are and how to solve them.
While overly simplistic, the point is relevant: Canada needs to enable industry/academic partnerships to flourish and have each party play to their strengths, be this basic research, applied research, or industry focused innovation. We need a better balance between the input and output sides of the innovation equation, and a focus on Public+Private Partnerships for R&D. The issue here is not to redirect focus from R&D to innovation, but rather to recognize that these are different, are complementary, and equally necessary.

21 June 2012

P3RD - Public+Private Partnerships for Research and Development

video

On the crowded highway of research, development and innovation, Public+Private Partnerships for R&D (P3RD) gives industry a unique avenue for accessing capital, talent, facilities and markets through the college/polytechnic applied research programs. Our focus is on speed to market and engaging our students in industry innovation. 

15 June 2012

Education, Polytechnics, Economics

This morning I came across an article with more detail on the OECD's Economic Survey of Canada that offers some keen insight into the relationship between education and economic performance, and the role of polytechnics in enhancing productivity and innovation in Canada. Dan Ovsey's Financial Post article In depth: How the OECD says Canada can fix its ‘key long-term challenge’ goes into some good detail from the report. As I noted yesterday there is good reference to education as a driver of productivity, but Ovset provides more detail from the OECD report of relevance to Canada's number 1 ranking in tertiary education with a specific focus on college and polytechnic education which I will quote here in full:

Immigration, of course, is one, but more importantly, a new emphasis needs to be placed on “tertiary education” and primarily that found in community-colleges that can offer a streamlined path to certification in skills that will be in increasingly desperate need throughout the country.

“Colleges differ from universities in that their programmes tend to be shorter in length and emphasise practical, technical and occupational training for the labour market. While colleges typically grant diplomas and certificates rather than degrees, a small but growing subset of “polytechnic” institutes has emerged that grants baccalaureate degrees and differentiates itself by its focus on applied research for industry.”

Ovsey goes on to decry the lack of credential transfers we are plagued with, though I remain optimistic that we will  address this (it is, after all, a primarily economic argument: why should a student spend money on a particular piece of a credential and not have this transferable? This is a waste of system resources.).

Key here is the credential ladders offered by polytechnics in Canada, as well as by some colleges, and the relationship to applied research with industry. On this topic, Ovsey further quotes the OECD:

“Academics should be provided with stronger incentives to produce research relevant to business needs, starting with the peer-review granting process, then sharing their IP with business through collaborative efforts and finally having some form of ownership rights over their patented inventions.”

This P3RD - the public+private partnership model for R&D - is a key area to develop in Canada. In this sense, polytechnics as innovation intermediaries are also intermediaries between education and economics, offering a bridge that celebrates instrumentality and lifelong learning.

14 June 2012

Drawers of ideas and the privilege of the a priori

The Public Policy Forum today hosted a Leadership Roundtable on Canada's Global Science, Technology and Innovation Priorities, sponsored by DFAIT, which I was fortunate to attend. The discussion was excellent and focused on how Canada can better position itself internationally to enable soft landings - both outbound and in coming - for Canadian business to realize international markets as well as to link international businesses to Canadian contexts, linking to our world-leading S&T capacity. This capacity is reflected in our leading university research facilities, our college and  polytechnic applied research capacity, and the conjoint post-secondary training ground that makes us the world leader in producing highly qualified and skilled personnel (i.e. graduates) for the innovation economy.

Greater integration of our capabilities as a country will enable us to better sell Canada as an investment destination. This is the notion of complementarity and the need to better connect the academic enterprise with industry. We can call this P3RD - the public+private partnership model for R&D. In my last post on this, P3RD: Public Private Partnerships in Research and Development, I outlined the notion of what in my title today I refer to as the privilege of the a priori:
the privileging of basic research over applied research in Canada - of the theoretical over the practical or commercialization aspects of R&D - can be read as a symptom of our collective historical identity as "hewers of wood and drawers of water". Basic research sans commercialization is just one more example of how Canada exports raw commodities (ideas) without adding value (commercialization of these ideas). To move past raw commodity exports and adding value through product design is key to Canada's future productivity, and P3RD - which the recent budget explicitly promotes - is a positive path to follow in this regard.
In this sense Canada is also a drawer of ideas - we come up with good ideas but leave it to others to commercialize. Ideas are just another basic resource that we draw from the land and export without adding value.

[Aside]I am reminded of the Roman poet Horace who, among other  things, said that the poet should put a poem away in a drawer for nine years before bringing it back to see if it is still good. Perhaps we have been too focused on the idea of putting things away (in publications) - drawing ideas, putting them away in drawers.You get the idea. Another thing Horace said is instructive to our discussion about instrumentality: "Mix pleasure and profit, and you are safe." This relates well to the need to mix the academic and industry communities - where applicable - for Canadian productivity and innovation capacity. [/Aside]

The timing of this roundtable was excellent, particularly given the OECD's release yesterday of Canada's country report. The report says that "Canada needs to boost innovation and human capital to sustain living standards," and offers more fodder to the need for Canada to increase our innovation quotient. The Economic Survey of Canada 2012 makes many good points relating to Canada's innovation capacity and economic growth, including the advice that "Greater integration of technical, business, communications and industry training within tertiary programmes could contribute to innovation and improving graduate skills." This integration exemplifies the notion of people centred innovation, and is what George Brown College and other colleges and polytechnics are doing with regards to the integration of applied research in course curricula. This leads to students acquiring innovation literacy skills that are our hedge against future innovation capacity and potential for the economy. The OECD's Canada report and the idea of better integration of these components coincides with the recent launch of the OECD Skills Strategy. This is a good resource for anyone with an interest in innovation.

All told, the roundtable ended on a very optimistic note. Canada is in a much better place now than it was five years ago with respect to the capacity we have to leverage our basic and applied R&D capacity. We are much better now at linking with industry for common goals. And we have a much more refined sense of the innovation ecosystem and the complementary roles universities, colleges and industry play in improving Canada's innovation and productivity.