20 May 2016

Innovation in the Humanities and Social Sciences

On the day that the Governor General issued the first Innovation Awards, I had the great fortune to attend a workshop yesterday put on by the Social Sciences And Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) as part of the Imagining Canada’s Future focus. The symposium was specifically about "Leveraging Emerging Technologies For The Benefit Of Canadians" and featured the grant winners of the Knowledge Synthesis Grants. As an aside it was held at the very excellent Canada Aviation And Space Museum - everyone should visit this place.

The stated Workshop Objectives were as follows:
  • Convene academic, government, industry, and not-for-profit organization leaders to share insights on the critical societal impacts and opportunities related to emerging and game-changing technologies in Canada. 
  • Discuss emerging trends and knowledge gaps as well as practical and policy alignment and implications of knowledge synthesis projects. 
  • Lay groundwork for knowledge mobilization activities. 
Led by Ursual Gobel, AVP of Future Challenges at SSHRC, the workshop was an excellent discussion of the essential contributions that Humanities and Social Sciences (HaSS) disciplines make to innovation and emerging technologies. The morning got off to a great start with an introduction by Alex Benay, President and CEO, Canadian Science and Technology Museum Corporation, who talked about cultural sustainability and museums as content and knowledge organizations. It was great context setting for the keynote from IBM's Pat Horgan, who provided an overview of IBM's Data, Cloud and Engagement strategy and business led innovation model. Pat showed how IBM is helping Canadian businesses outthink our innovation problems. 

A highlight was a presentation by Cisco Canada's Willa Black, who talked about Cisco's Connected North program, which uses HiDef video to bring shared education experiences to Canada's remote and northern communities. This is really engaging work that is showing excellent returns on investment and interest in terms of educational outcomes. Another highlight was an overview of innovation as a team sport by the NRC's Duncan Stewart. He talked about the need to adopt an ARPA model - something I've written about some time ago - in addressing Canada's grand challenges. It was one of the better talks I’ve heard in quite some time regarding innovation. Stand out quote: The government shouldn’t pick winners, but we should pick the races. 

I gave a short presentation on partnerships as enablers of the innovation economy, using Technology Readiness Levels as a way to show how technology is fundamentally a human activity that requires input from across the disciplinary and credential spectrum. More on this to come in the days ahead.

Throughout the day the audience heard from the many award holders of the Knowledge Synthesis program who are engaged in studying technology's impact of society. 

The day ended with SSHRC president Ted Hewitt telling the audience of the experience at the GG Innovation Award, and how human activity underwrites technology. 

All in all an excellent event and discussion. 

16 May 2016

Polytechnics Canada and Conspicuous Contribution to Public Policy

The Annual Polytechnics Canada conference convened at Humber College last week, once again offering excellent discussion and contributions to Canadian public policy. "Learning that works" was the theme that saw very good keynote presentations ranging from insight from the Swiss education model to the changes being undertaken in Ontario. On the latter, MTCU Deputy Minister Sheldon Levy provided insights on innovating education, drawing on his work leading the Digital Media Zone Ryerson University.

Michael Horn, Co-Founder and Distinguished Fellow from Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation provided excellent insights into the disruption of education, showing how personalization of education and micro-credentials are setting up a sea change in the way education is proffered and taken. The rise of micro-credentials is something I've been interested in for some time, something I've outlined in a Globe and Mail op-ed in 2012 called Education should take a lesson from the open-source movement.

Another keynote by Jeff Selingo, Columnist for the Washington Post gave the crowd some additional insights into the employer context, specifically around the skills needed to thrive in the innovation economy. Career navigation is important to the current and ensuing generations, and providing skills such as curiosity, grit, creativity and contextual thinking are hallmarks of innovation literacy. GBC Research supports skills development with validation in micro-credentials via our innovation skills badges.

Navigation requires skills, which become the sextant for the innovation economy, enabling students to measure the angles between where they are and where they wish to go. Once again, Polytechnics Canada convenes a conference that demonstrates thought leadership through conspicuous contribution to public policy. 

04 May 2016

GBC Applied Research Day a Success

The annual George Brown College Applied Research Day was held this past Monday and was a great success, convening 200 faculty, students and research partners for an afternoon of dialogue, discussion and a tour through the Galaxy of Research. A highlight this year was the student start-up pitch competition that saw five student entrepreneurs vie for a spot at the GBC Research OCE Discovery booth and $500 in applied research services to support their venture. Congratulations to mywinecanada.com - I encourage everyone to check out this exciting business that enables wineries in Canad to sell wines direct to consumers.

The annual Applied Research Day demonstrates the strength of applied research at the College. Our faculty, industry and community partners spoke about curricular innovation, social innovation and industrial innovation – three facets of innovation that give our students key innovation skills while creating social and economic value in our community.

One of the things that struck me was how applied research offers an "unstructured structure" to curricula at the College. That is, we have the structure of engaging with partners on applied research and giving these experiences to our students as part of the educational environment. But we do not know how these projects will turn out, Some will success, others will fail, some will get taken in new and unplanned directions. This is the beauty of why applied research works so well to instill innovation skills in our students. It requires extemporaneous thinking and perseverance. It promotes outside the box thinking and the acquisition of innovation literacy, skills that foster resilience, problem solving and entrepreneurial thinking. 

A highlight for me was speaking to the many students who attended, and who attested to how working with our partners on the many projects helped them gain innovation literacy. These students have the skills needed for the economy of today and tomorrow, proving our strategic imperative of Enabling the Innovation Economy.

GBC Applied Research Day 2016 Logo

02 May 2016

Innovation, consultation

The Conference Board's Daniel Munro has a good editorial in today's Globe and Mail pertaining to the consultations the federal government is engaging in as it crafts a new innovation agenda.
Four things for Ottawa to keep in mind as consultation on innovation unfolds offers solid advice on the need to think of this from a business perspective, and not from a basic science perspective. Both are necessary - Canada has an excellent basic and applied research capacity. We lack on industrial receptivity to public sector R&D. Our private sector firms also fare poorly on what I call the three legged stool of productivity: business expenditures on R&D (BERD), investment in new technology, and investment in further education and training. Munro rightfully pulls in Alex Usher to the discussion, who has offered some excellent insights on this conundrum.