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. 

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