30 October 2009

OCAD hosting conference on design research and health

The Ontario College of Art and Design is hosting a conference on the relationship of design research to health. Cultural Knowledge and the Healthy Society: A Research & Innovation Summit is being held November 23 - 25, 2009 at OCAD. This is an excellent opportunity to engage and interact with colleagues interested in the relationships between health, health informatics and design disciplines.
Cultural Knowledge and the Healthy Society: A Research & Innovation Summit was born of the belief that adding the knowledge and insights from design, cultural industries and creative/artistic research to health research will lead to a more effective system of health care and prevention as well as foster technological innovation.

This 2.5-day summit will bring together leading thinkers in Canada and internationally in the areas of design, art/creative research, cultural industries, health, humanities, social science, science and engineering to explore the possibilities of this interdisciplinary collaboration.

This event consists of free public talks (HospiTALKs) on topics that interest a large audience as well as small informal think tank discussions (inKamerA) on policy and research issues that will be attended by invited guests.

20 October 2009

Education for the Innovation Economy

I've been to several events recently that have all focused broadly on the innovation economy. The ACCC Metropolitan Colleges Symposium held in Montreal at the beginning of October offered was billed as the first of future opportunities to surface issues common to metro colleges. Common themes emerged commensurate with the conference agenda: (in no particular order) immigration and workforce integration, student services, teaching and learning, relationships with industry/external partners, and consensus that collaboration is key to collective success.

Innovation: Ideas to Action, an "unconference" sponsored by Helix Commerce International, brought together people from various industries to talk about how we can spark and improve innovation in the GTA, Ontario and Canada. It offered an excellent opportunity to hear from key innovation instigators. The next Helix Innovation Hive event, themed “Applied Innovation for Value Realization”, is scheduled for April 20th, 2010 in Toronto. Visit Applied Innovation for Value Realization. Additional information will be posted as it becomes available.

The Technical Workshop on Estimates of Research and Development in the Higher Education Sector (HERD) sponsored by Statistics Canada was held in Ottawa on Friday October 16, 2009. This was a very unique opportunity to participate in the review of how HERD is calculated (the last time this was done was in 1999 or so). Colleges were not included in the last version, largely because our applied research efforts were likely limited at the time. Now, however, we are playing an increasing role - $110M per year according to the ACCC. This figure does not represent all of the hidden unsponsored applied R&D we do. Of particular note is that the Frascati Manual (the OECD's outline for how HERD is calculated) outlines three forms of research. These are basic research, applied research and experimental development:
Basic research is experimental or theoretical work undertaken primarily to acquire new knowledge of the underlying foundation of phenomena and observable facts, without any particular application or use in view. Applied research is also original investigation undertaken in order to acquire new knowledge. It is, however, directed primarily towards a specific practical aim or objective. Experimental development is systematic work, drawing on existing knowledge gained from research and/or practical experience, which is directed to producing new materials, products or devices, to installing new processes, systems and services, or to improving substantially those already produced or installed. (2.1.64)
College applied research encompasses the last two of these, and is it worth noting that our focus on complementarity with other R&D organizations enables us to have a significant impact on the innovation economy.

The innovation economy is both a driver and an outgrowth of a knowledge- based society that requires us to ensure our graduates are not only content experts in their fields of choice, but also expert learners, able to adapt to our changing world. By directly involving our students in applied research we promote innovation literacy, producing graduates who have research, problem solving, leadership and entrepreneurial skills, along with the ability to recognize innovation in their work contexts. This is in addition to the job-ready skills our graduates already possess.

College graduates are vital to the national economy. Canada ranks first in the OECD attainment of tertiary education only when College education is factored in. GBC has an important role in addressing both the skills shortage and the skills gap within Ontario and across Canada. Our role in promoting innovation literacy makes us ideal participants in an "ecology of innovation" that promotes partnership, entrepreneurship, and educational pathways for students, industry and community partners alike.

All of us involved in the innovation economy are oriented toward the same goal of increasing social and economic productivity in Canada. The college applied research system will play a lead role in strengthening national and regional capacity to innovate, working with research centres, industry and community partners to enhance competitiveness in the sectors we serve.

On this note, it was somewhat interesting to see that Willard Boyle, recent Nobel Laureate, lamented government's intrusion into research by requiring business plans. While curiosity based research is a necessity, Boyle gets it wrong by reinforcing a false dichotomy between basic and applied research. After all, someone at Bell - where Boyle did his Nobel-winning work - wrote a business plan to pay his salary, a fact conveniently ignored by those who have been writing in the press about the state of research funding in Canada. As I've noted previously, Canada spends more than most countries on HERD; where we do poorly is on Business Expenditures on R&D (BERD), and the relation of HERD and BERD to Gross domestic expenditure on R&D (GERD).

An article in Saturday's globe picked up this duality. Unfortunately there is too much polarizing discussion about the relative merits of basic versus applied research. Suffice to say we need both, but we also need to turn our brightest minds to work on the problems of the day: sustainability and the green economy, climate change and productivity, for example. Steve Balmer's recent article on R&D and innovation underscores the need to foster more of this directed R&D in the IT field, one area in which Canada can compete internationally.

Funding for both basic and applied research that leads to innovation, advancement of knowledge, and commercialization is critical to improving community economic and social development. Call it a return on innovation.