28 March 2008

CONII Health Sciences Node Symposium a Success

The CONII Health Sciences Node Symposium was held today at Seneca College, attended by some two dozen representatives from the 10 member colleges of CONII. The purpose of the event was to establish the CONII Health Sciences Node community of practice and to begin the work of organizing and orchestrating collaboration among the 10 CONII members. The day was a very successful group think on the nature of innovation in this sector.

Brian Barber, Director of Technology Development and Commercialization at the UHN, gave a keynote address to initiate proceedings. Brian advocated building bridges between the academic and economic communities in order to proactively foster the necessary return on investment in research. He recognized the cultural divide that exists between the research and commercialization communities, and that those of us engaged in the innovation sector are involved in a culture shift writ large.

Colleges fit into the research continuum by offering services and environments suitable for testing prototypes and concepts. We can also offer unique capabilities in helping to change the way health care is practiced. There is a role here for "disruptive innovation" Brian reminded us - to play an active role in bringing about change. It's clear that our current health care system is presently unsustainable as is (it consumed 46% of the last Ontario budget, and it's growing each year). The role of researchers (applied or otherwise) is to take a proactive - rather than a reactive - role in making meaningful change a reality for health and human services. With the changing health care environment (think ubiquitous technology designed to monitor/aid health) we have a significant opportunity to participate in shaping the future of health care. It won't be easy - the group today spent some time reviewing challenges. But the opportunity is there. It's up to us to collaborate - to work together and make this happen.

Collaboration is difficult and messy, particularly so when stakeholders are all pursuing the same funding opportunities. CONII provides precedence here that we can build on. There is a delicate balance needed between protecting our own interests versus building capacity system-wide (a topic I wrote about some time ago). These are early days in the innovation marketplace, and we all have a place and role to play in ensuring Canada can achieve its prosperity goals.

Some time ago I wrote about ROI2: Return on Investment; Return on Innovation. This can be amended as ROI3: we need a return on investment and innovation, but also interest. If the return on innovation is the gravitational pull of ideas, then the return on interest is the ability to spark interest, to provoke thought, and to stimulate ideas. Contingent knowledge assumes we evolve these ideas. Let's make an environment conducive to this evolution.

24 March 2008

Cloud computing augurs storm

An article today on Google's web services approach to computing (often referred to as cloud computing) raises some interesting points on the future of software and web services and the trade offs in privacy control. While many speculate that cloud computing heralds a new era in using the Internet as an access point for information appliances, the article shows that there is a downside to all of this: the loss of privacy and the propensity for information to be subject to the US Patriot Act. In 2001 Phil Agre wrote a piece for the IEEE Spectrum called "Welcome to the Always On World," in which he foretold the coming era of mobile computing ubiquity, the precursor to the web-as-application space on which Google is setting its sights. Technology in this sense is the pharmakon - that which both cures and ails us. While cloud computing offers us excellent avenues for innovation for products and services in the information economy, we would do well to remember the unintended consequences as we construct new interfaces and information infrastructures.

18 March 2008

New GBC campus on the Toronto Waterfront

The Toronto Star published a story last week on plans for a new GBC campus located at the Toronto waterfront. The story reflects plans for locating the health sciences faculty within a newly revitalized waterfront area. A College presence there will play a significant role in the development of the Waterfront:

"To have students on the waterfront would make it absolutely vital; they would animate the area year-round, not just in summer," said Marisa Piattelli, vice-president of government relations, communications and strategic initiatives for Waterfront Toronto, the public agency that manages Toronto's lakeshore.

Such a move will also help the College continue student enrollment growth, since at the moment we are space-constrained.

12 March 2008

Upcoming forum on Community Based Research

For those interested in community based research (CBR) the following may be of interest:

Conversations on Community Based Research: Engaging communities with college faculty and students May 8 & 9, 2008


The historically rich relationships between communities and colleges and institutes provide the context for mutually beneficial research through the practice of Community Based Research (CBR). Trends to engage faculty and students with the community through service learning and the desire for many community organizations to identify their own research needs and seek research partnerships with colleges converge to enrich this practice.

The symposium will be held in the new Health Sciences Building on the David Lam campus of Douglas College in Coquitlam BC. The event will be national in scope with presenters and participants from across Canada. It will serve as the context for the release of a recent national survey of CBR at Colleges and Institutes. The survey has been funded through the Health and Learning Knowledge Centre of the Canadian Council on Learning. The symposium will also serve as the official launch of the new Centre for Health and Community Partnerships on the David Lam campus.

04 March 2008

Innovation in the kitchen

Yesterday I had the good fortune to participate in some experimentation at GBC's Culinary Institute. Chef James Smith's continuing education course is for working chefs who are keen to learn more cooking skills. Part of the course is structured so that each week, half the students cook and the other half tastes a three course meal. The tasters mark the presentation and taste of the food. The criticism was constructive, and both teams approached the evening with the zeal of lab scientists.

Notwithstanding the pleasure of tasting fine food, the experience offered me a unique view of these young chefs as they innovate with taste, presentation and skill. What struck me most was the preamble to the night's three dishes, in which the cooking team described how they met earlier in the day to review the ingredients and to structure the menu. While some things did not work out as planned, the team was highly engaged in epicurean experimentation. As I was leaving I spoke briefly to one of the chefs. He told me that, as a country chef (he works outside of the city) he enjoys coming in to Toronto to learn new tricks and ways of putting things together on the plate. Innovation, to him and his team, is about the art and science of innovation in the kitchen, experimenting with flavour profiles as they put together their dishes. The team structure that bifurcates into cooking and tasting/marking is a pedagogically sound way to link learning to innovation and research, offering a good example of how applied learning and research enhances the student experience (not to mention my own).