27 October 2014

Demand driven innovation and the politics of research

Canada needs excellence in its capacity for basic research, applied research, and experimental development. These are the three elements through which we conduct and measure the R&D or S&T pipeline, from idea through to invoice, according to the Frascati Manual.

Successive expert panels and reports have shown Canada to have an excellent basic research capacity, but a lacklustre innovation and business R&D capacity. Here are a couple of op-eds that talk about these issues: one from the Globe and Mail featuring an international partnership on basic research, and the second from Polytechnics Canada CEO Nobina Robinson in the Hill Times talking about applied research. Both of these have in common a recognition that we have an excellent basic research system in place, and this is necessary for the full functioning of applied research and the innovation channel this implies.

But pushing harder on the research button is not going to change things. This requires specific policy and effort - to foster greater applicability of our basic research capacity by engaging partnerships, both within the academic world (among colleges, polytechnics and universities together), and with firms. As Robinson points out, "innovation is not purely a scientific activity - it is an economic one." And so while I applaud and support our national efforts to funnel more money into science and R&D, let's temper this with economic rationalism as we realize that we do not have the GDP to support unfettered inquiry into anything and everything. Regrettably, budgets require making hard choices. And that's no zombie idea.

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