21 December 2007

Innovation around the world

I was reading a recent issue of Seed magazine and came across some really good stories on innovation in various parts of the world. The two articles I was interested in led me to find a couple others when I went searching for the electronic versions to post here. The first one is not apparently available electronically, but was a story on Chinese efforts at fostering an innovation culture. The point of the story is that China, with 2000 years of Confucian history, has lauded a kind of mimicry over innovation. (I'm reminded of the Japanese proverb: "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.") The article goes on to say that the Chinese government is engaged in a wholesale project to foster a new culture of inquiry. If I can source an electronic version of this article I will post it (here is a related article, and another). If you can find a paper version, I highly recommend it (October 2007).

Another article in this same issue illustrates the Arab world's attempt to gain ground in the science and innovation arena. "Science is Golden" details some of the efforts currently under way to expand the science and technology capacity of Arab nations, led by a staggering $10 billion endowment from the UAE. The African Way tells a similar tale of large-scale efforts in Africa to foster science, technology and innovation not just for social gain, but economic as well.

All of these form an interesting backdrop to our own national efforts at fostering innovation, now crystallized in the Federal Science and Technology Strategy. As I have said in this space previously, this is a good attempt at fostering an innovation culture in Canada as we seek to gain ground in the productivity indexes as measured by the likes of the OECD. As I reflect on the past year of applied research and innovation and the wider contexts in which we work, I am reminded of another Seed story on scientific literacy. The author, Steven Saus, reminds us that a "deeper understanding of scientific literacy cannot be the responsibility of any one group, individual, or program. It is created and fostered by all aspects of a society; it rests on a systemic approach that requires change in all sectors."

This is what those of us involved in the research and innovation enterprise are collectively engaged in. The point of posting these stories I picked up from Seed is to reinforce that this effort is global. Notwithstanding the dire prognostications of our slippage in OECD productivity ratings (which will have a meaningful downstream effect on our overall quality of life, to be sure), there exits real potential to engage with the policy instruments put now before us and to work collaboratively towards national goals in the R&I agenda. I for one am looking forward to it.

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