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.

17 December 2007

Research and Innovation Commercialization @ Precarn

Precarn has recently teamed up with Reid Eddison to launch a commercialization program for intelligent systems. This is another piece in the research and innovation (R&I) puzzle that will help us collectively pull up our productivity index. While reading their blog I noted also that Precarn has launched what they call IntelliFINDER Online Services, which is a matching service for R&I needs. It's similar to Innocentive. These kinds of matching services are like the lava life for the R&I set, a point I made some time ago about CONII. Just over a week ago I attended a session at the Toronto Region Research Alliance where a similar idea emerged for providing matching services for industry to contact academic and government research labs. This form of regional cooperation will aid us all in ensuring that Canadian research, development and innovation reaches markets.

14 December 2007

NSERC's College and Community Innovation (CCI) Program set to launch

NSERC's College and Community Innovation (CCI) Program is set to launch the week of December 17, says the new issue of Contact, NSERC's online magazine.

The $48m program is part of the federal government's Science and Technology Strategy that is leveraging the applied research sector of post-secondary education.

13 December 2007

News items on education and innovation

Recent news items about the role of education and innovation make interesting points on the relationship(s) between education, innovation and prosperity. As Canada slips in its OECD productivity rankings, these stories tell us about ways in which we can fill gaps in our productivity indexes with innovation and, of course, applied research.

The Canadian Council on Learning's recent report on Post-secondary Education in Canada: Strategies for Success "calls for the development of a road map that will provide strategic direction for post-secondary education—by setting goals and measuring progress—and makes specific recommendations on how Canada could achieve this in order to remain a “force to be reckoned with” on the international stage." A national post-secondary education system that is coordinated can better respond to present and future demands on the education, training and research needs of a knowledge-based economy workforce.

The Conference Board of Canada released this week an index on the attractiveness of Canadian cities, with Calgary leading the pack. The Globe and Mail's report on this item highlights the problem that "The credentials of highly educated immigrants are not being recognized, and their failure to achieve earning parity with their Canadian-born colleagues is 'a collective failure of business and all levels of government, not the cities' alone,' the report states." Getting internationally trained immigrants (ITIs) integrated into the workforce is essential if we are to climb the productivity ladder.

These stories together reflect the need for integrated education systems that link industrial needs with applied research capabilities that draw on regional strengths. In a global economy, competing with the school down the street is not the way to build a better national identity that links education, training and research closely with industrial and community needs. As I've said in this space in the past, we need to collaborate together to compete as a region, or even country. Doing so will foster improved Canadian innovation; prosperity will follow.

03 December 2007

Showcase a success

The Second Annual Polytechnics Canada Science and Technology Showcase held last Thursday at George Brown was a success. The event featured speakers from government (Matthew King, Assistant Deputy Minister, Science & Innovation Sector, Industry Canada) funders (Suzanne Corbeil, Vice-President, External Relations and Communications, Canada Foundation for Innovation) and industry (Jeff Timms, Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Siemens Energy & Automation). George Brown's President Anne Sado introduced the day, setting the stage for discussion on Canada's Science and Technology Strategy and the role of Polytechnic applied research in enhancing Canada's productivity. Presentations and posters by each of the Polytechnics gave attendees a sense of the kinds of applied research presently being conducted at the seven institutions, as well as to their collective capabilities.

A highlight of the day was a respondent panel composed of Phil Baker, President and CEO of Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network; Walter Stewart, Senior Advisor, Toronto Region Research Alliance; and Dan Donovan, Vice-President Business Affairs, Energy-FX. The panel gave insights on the presentations and the position of the Polytechnics in Canada's R&D scene. A lively discussion as to the need for partnership and collaboration, public funding (as in the US defence R&D spending) and the need to move forward "at warp speed" offered an excellent finish to a compelling look at the role of Polytechnic applied research in Canada's national strategy.

And speaking of events, a week prior I attended the Canadian Association of University Research Administrators annual conference, hosted by York University here in Toronto. Of note was a lunch keynote by Mark Romoff, CEO of Ontario Centres of Excellence. Romoff discussed the OCE's investment strategy (aligned with federal and provincial funding avenues) as enabling "technology transfer through knowledge transfer." Perhaps most significantly, he also outlined the need to get past inter-provincial competitiveness and to start thinking nationally in order to compete globally.

These events, and other meetings I've been attending recently, all feature the need to find ways to measure the effectiveness of research funding - measuring the outputs of research so as to quantify or qualify our success. These metrics are useful for internal and external marketing, as well as for contributing to the national agenda of increasing our productivity.