06 March 2009

Applied Research: Innovation, Productivity and the R&D Continuum

The ACCC 2009 Applied Research Symposium: What does success look like? was held in Ottawa on 25-26 February, and featured interesting and informative presentations about the role of colleges in the R&D innovation chain. The conference focused mainly on some of the issues involved in establishing college applied research: building a research culture, intellectual property, metrics, and community-focused versus industry focused research. Walter Stewart, from the Toronto Region Research Alliance, gave the opening keynote, and challenged the audience to focus our efforts in applied research capacity development on how we can serve our mandate to students and industry. In so doing, we must not try to be all and do all, but rather focus our efforts according to our strengths. This fits well with the notion of complementarity.

My own talk - from which I took the title of this post - was intended to illustrate the role of Polytechnic applied research. My focus was on topics I have written about here, and the shared challenge we all have to work within our areas (geographic, specialization): complementarity.

Here are my speaking notes:

  • Canada’s Innovation Capacity
  • 13th out of 17 countries (OECD)
  • “D” for innovation: “it’s been a D for decades”
    Conference Board of Canada, How Canada Performs: A Report Card on Canada

    Canada seems very good at inventing things, but not so good at capitalizing on inventions.
  • Canada is second in OECD for HERD; 12th in BERD
    HERD: Higher Education Expenditures on R&D
    BERD: Business Expenditures on R&D
  • Firms are not making effective use of postsecondary applied R&D capabilities
    “We’ve gone too far in subsidizing R&D, and not far enough in subsidizing diffusion of innovation.” (Sharpe 2009)

    Our goal is to help firms make better use of applied R&D capabilities.
Role of the applied research office
  • We focus on Regional R&D Capacity and Innovation Transfer and
  • Complementarity in the R&D Continuum

    We are not trying to replicate what any of the university, government or industry research labs do. Rather, we do what they cannot do: fabrication of prototypes, for example.
  • We are a startup, and we help startups
  • We offer “Last Mile” R&D services
  • The Stages of technology development provide a useful framework for how we fit into the R&D continuum
How we’re different
  • We respond to industry needs
  • We have industry governance through the GBC Research Innovation Advisory Board
  • The IAB is a multi-sectoral SME and entrepreneurial stakeholder group whose primary role is to provide a current and effective link between the Research and Innovation office at George Brown College and the key sectors it serves
Innovation Support Services
  • We offer innovation support services to sector partners, using a validate/simulate/adaption model to
  • Validate practicality and usability of new technologies/products/processes
  • Simulate impact of their use
  • Adapt those technologies for deployment under diverse conditions
  • Testing practicality and market/user/practice adoption and adaptation lets us focus on the implementation of innovation

    This is the Diffusion of Innovation
From discovery to design
  • Our Multidisciplinary Collaborative Problem Solving model mobilizes college disciplines in support of industry needs
  • The intentional application of applied research and innovation services to industry needs and contexts means we focus less on discovery, and more on the design of innovation - how to test the practicality of new products or services (adoption and adaptation)
  • Our model uses college verticals in a horizontal integration strategy
    This is a matrix for understanding our innovation intentionality:
    College disciplines are verticals of expertise. A project is a horizontal that accesses expertise as needed/required from each vertical.
  • Move from idea to invoice
Innovation Literacy
  • This is a cornerstone of what our students gain from participating in applied research projects: the ability to think creatively and apply problem-solving skills to diverse and intangible issues within industrial problems and contexts.
  • Innovation literacy is a transferable skill that enables our students to be flexible innovators in the workforce.
  • Our students are Highly Qualified and Skilled Personnel
    Innovation literacy is the creativity called for by Martin and Florida
Open Innovation
  • “…the use of purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation, and expand the markets for external use of innovation, respectively.” (Chesbrough)
  • All colleges, working together, can foster an open source approach to innovation and capacity building for improved social and economic productivity in Canada
Open Innovation Network
College and Community Innovation Program
  • The NSERC CCIP represents a significant investment and awareness of the importance of colleges in the innovation chain in Canada.
  • Relating back to HERD and BERD (see Productivity, above), the CCIP is a P3RD
    A Public Private Partnership R&D investment
  • This is a public R&D subsidy that is specifically designed to increase BERD commensurate with HERD

We must take this opportunity, and, in recognizing it as P3RD, deploy these funds strategically to foster social and economic productivity. We have an important role to play in the R&D continuum in Canada, and that role should also focus on how colleges can work together - like the Polytechnic Applied Research Cluster model - to ensure that this capacity can realize its potential and contribute meaningfully to improving Canada's innovation capabilities. Canada's college are key to improving community economic and social development.

My challenge to us all is to make this collaboration work, to find ways to work together in a complementary fashion. It is important to celebrate our successes, but it is even more important now to look ahead to the future and chart where we are going. This future-forward orientation will be the focus of a panel I will be convening for the ACCC Annual Conference.

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