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.

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