22 December 2010

Looking back, Looking ahead: Investing in Applied Research

Properly speaking a post so titled should come in January, but as we close out the year I thought it would be useful to summarize some key points from the past year, but more importantly, what I see as some key themes that I will be focusing on in the year ahead.

The past year has been a good one for applied research, for polytechnics, and for colleges engaged in instigating industry innovation. The Federal R&D Review is one of the more significant policy opportunities that emerged, with its focus on business innovation and what public policy measures can be taken to foster this. There can be no debate that we need to increase productivity and our national capacity to innovate. Polytechnics and colleges involved in industry applied research are working toward this and have made strong gains in the past year. Government sponsorship is helping us to help industry innovate. The increased funding we have received is not part of a zero sum game that pits colleges, polytechnics and universities against one another. The internecine reflex that encourages such thinking prevents us from moving forward.

For the year ahead I have three themes:

  1. The diffusion of innovation: to my point above, our ability to be responsive to the innovation and productivity challenges that beset us is contingent on complementarity and cooperation. This doesn't mean less of a focus on excellence. Rather, it means focusing on excellence while promoting a national, participatory and unified perspective on fostering greater business innovation. The intentional application of applied research and innovation services to industry needs and contexts means we focus less on discovery, and more on the design and diffusion of incremental innovation. Our focus is not on us, but on what we can do downstream by enabling industry innovation.
  2. People-centred innovation is a grounded way to promote participatory innovation - our way of engaging students, faculty and our partners, using the principles of human-centred design. This approach, contiguous with open innovation, fosters innovation literacy in our graduates while being focused on the downstream results of our work, as noted above, while being mindful of stakeholder needs. This is an outside-in, versus an inside-out approach, meaning we need to adopt the perspective of those we are working with and for. This is a basic precept of participatory design that lets us see our responsibility (to improving innovation and productivity for example) against any perceived right (to obtain funding for research). People-centred innovation acknowledges that innovation is a social activity.
  3. Using our imagination. It is time to modernize the Canadian postsecondary environment and create a national innovation system that clearly articulates universities, polytechnics and colleges. This new national system will be receptive to industry engagement, and will foster innovation literacy at all levels of HQSP. Doing this requires a collective will to imagine the future where we can compete in the global innovation economy. To do this we need to take research from ideas to invoice: we must craft an Innovation Policy that encourages firms to invest in R&D and provides an "any point of contact" entry to link industry with our postsecondary institutions (PSIs). Doing so will achieve a threefold ROI:
    • A Return on Interest from basic research that provokes thought and ideas, leading to disruptive innovations through long term research investment;
    • A Return on Innovation from applied research that increases industry R&D spending and our collective capacity to innovate, leading to improved productivity; and
    • A Return on Investment from experimental development through the creation of new products and processes and through the training of students, who enter the workforce ready to innovate.
 All of us implicated in the Canadian innovation system have a responsibility - a response-ability - to step up and continue to work together with each other and other players in the system. We need to think past the immediate and see the longer term goals of improving social and economic prosperity. In these tumultuous and kinetic times, our productivity challenges demand this of us.

21 December 2010

R&D Review Consultation Paper Released: Your Input Required

The Expert Panel on Review of Federal Business Research and Development Programs today released the consultation paper that will form the basis for informing the Expert Panel on the role of government funding programs in support of business innovation. The Panel has been asked to provide advice to the government on the following areas:
  • What federal initiatives are most effective in increasing business R&D and facilitating commercially relevant R&D partnerships? 
  • Is the current mix and design of tax incentives and direct support for business R&D and business-focused R&D appropriate? 
  • What, if any, gaps are evident in the current suite of programming, and what might be done to fill these gaps? 
As I've noted in this space many times, Canada's low BERD is an issue that requires national attention. The  polytechnic and college applied research approach to applied research and experimental development is one way that we can encourage businesses to invest in R&D, as noted in my recent submission to the Panel.

The Consultation Paper offers an interesting view of the state of R&D in Canada and is asking for input on 15 questions related to business innovation:
  1. In addition to the R&D activity defined by the OECD, should government be funding other business activities related to the commercialization of R&D? If so, what and why?
  2. Does Figure 2, the model of business innovation presented above, capture the key structural factors and inputs to innovation? If not, what is missing?
  3. Regarding capital, is there an adequate supply of risk capital for Canadian firms at each stage of their growth (start-up, small, medium, large)? If not, why not? Where returns on investments are low, what are the reasons and potential solutions?
  4. Regarding ideas and knowledge, do you believe it is important for Canadian firms to perform their own R&D and, if so, what do you believe are the key factors that have been limiting business R&D activity in Canada?
  5. Regarding networks, collaborations and linkages, what are the main impediments to successful business-university or business-college partnerships? Does the postsecondary education system have the right capacity, approaches, and policies for effective partnerships with business?
  6. Regarding the creation of demand for business innovation, what role, if any, do you believe that government should play in being a “first customer” for R&D investments in Canada?
  7. Regarding talent, is Canada producing sufficient numbers of graduates with the right skills to drive business innovation and productivity growth? If not, what changes are needed? Where demand for advanced skills is low, what are the reasons and what changes, if any, are needed?
  8. Can you describe whether and how your firm employs students currently enrolled in community colleges, polytechnics and universities, and what government measures could make it easier to work with students during their academic programs and to recruit them after their graduation?
  9. With which federal programs supporting business or commercially oriented R&D in Canada do you have direct experience and knowledge? In your view: 
    • Which of these programs are working, and why? 
    • Which programs are not working, and why not? 
  10. If you have direct experience and knowledge of the SR&ED tax credit, what are your views in relation to the following: 
    • Does the current structure of the SR&ED tax credit encourage incremental investment in R&D? Does it free up capital to invest in other aspects of innovation activities in the firm? Does this vary by size, ownership, sector or nationality of firm?
    • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the refundable portion of the SR&ED tax credit for Canadian-controlled private corporations and to what extent does it encourage the growth and commercial success of SMEs?
    • Bearing in mind the improvements being made by the Canada Revenue Agency, are there additional opportunities for change to simplify the administration of the SR&ED tax credit and facilitate the applications process?
  11. How could the Government of Canada lighten the administration requirements of its programs on recipients and improve outreach to business?
  12. How could the Government of Canada be more innovative and responsive to meet new needs or opportunities, and try alternative service delivery-approaches in its programs?
  13. Are there any gaps in the Government of Canada’s support to business and commercially-oriented R&D? Do firms performing R&D in other countries have an advantage over Canadian firms because of access to programs that are not available in Canada? What would be the principal features of new programming to fill these gaps?
  14. What lessons and best practices can be taken from provincial business and commercially oriented R&D programs, and how should the two orders of government align their programming?
  15. Is there a difference between R&D and innovation? If yes, how are they different? Should government focus on R&D or Innovation? What should the balance be?
The deadline for submissions is February 18, 2011.

Every participant in the Canadian innovation system should reply, particularly those firms that work with colleges, polytechnics and universities on collaborative R&D. It is important to use this opportunity to inform government R&D policy as we work together to foster improved business innovation in support of downstream social and economic productivity.

17 December 2010

On interaction, integration

Here are some more thoughts on people-centred innovation following this train of thought:

Some time ago I read a book by the founder of Ideo in which they talk a lot about human centred design. In trolling through the G-List search string I came across their site for a human centred design toolkit, "A free innovation guide for social enterprises and NGOs worldwide." It's worth a look. The principles of human centred design (HCD) are, as I've indicated earlier, highly amenable and adaptable to innovation. Focusing on how any innovation will have downstream impact - from people to social/economic productivity - is an essential way to ensure adoption. As noted in my twitter feed a while ago, "adoptation" is my new word to describe applied research and promoting the adoption/adaptation of innovation. Adoptation requires integrated thinking, it requires interaction among the users and producers of innovation, and it requires us to think about the people who will use a new product or service from the outset of design. it also requires conspicuous contribution - an open source approach to collaboration and complementarity.

14 December 2010

People-centred innovation

I am picking up on the concept of "people centred innovation" that SSHRC President Chad Gaffield spoke about in his panel at the recent ACCT Canada Innovation 2010 conference. Gaffield posits that the last century was about understanding technology, and that the next century - the 21st - will be about understanding people. Here is a link to a similar talk he gave earlier this year at the University of Alberta.

The principle here is that we need to recognize that innovation is a social construct or act, and that to pay attention to people is to understand the interactions and interlocutions of how innovation happens on the ground. This is good thinking for the innovation economy. The diffusion of innovation requires not a reliance on technological determinism but rather a nuanced approach to the integration of technology and a reliance on people. Here's an interesting take on people centred innovation from ACM Interactions magazine (a favourite of mine) and its relation to culture change - very much in line with Gaffield's thinking.

As I've noted many times before, our focus on integrating students into applied research fosters in them innovation literacy, a core competency for charting this culture change. Here's a statement that nicely sums these thoughts: "The world we live in isn't about the next new thing but about how well new things can integrate with established applications and processes." This integration requires innovative thinking, human intelligence and translation.

09 December 2010

A BERD in the hand...

A report out today shows a drop in BERD for the third straight year. This is a real problem for Canadian productivity. We need to realign the HERD|BERD imbalance in order to arrest our innovation free-fall. This news comes fast on the heels of the recent report that BERD dropped in the US for the first time since tracking began. The recession is being blamed for the Canadian BERD drop, but as I indicated in my last post, there's no recession in research. Further, if history is our guide, recessions are times when we must push ahead on innovation.

A related story shows that stock markets punish those firms that invest in innovation. This is a sad statement and indictment of the kind of short term thinking that gave rise to the economic meltdown in the first place.

08 December 2010

There's no recession in research: Report from Innovation 2010

ACCT Canada's conference Innovation 2010 concluded yesterday having featured some excellent discussions on building out the Canadian innovation system. Coming on the heels of the successful Polytechnics Canada Showcase, Innovation 2010 brought together R&D professionals from across the country to talk about action steps for continuing to build a complementary R&D system in the country. This is a good evolution from my first experience with the ACCT conference where the discussion was about why collaborate in the PSE sector to how should we collaborate to better enable industry to get inventions and innovations to market.

There were many excellent presentations and discussions - the format was particularly amenable to fostering lots of good dialog. Several things stuck out for me: SSHRC President Chad Gaffield spoke of the emergence of "people centred innovation" that he feels defines the 21st century. This resonates with me strongly given my own focus on human-centred design and how GBC Research integrates this into our approach to the diffusion of innovation. Steven Liss, VPR Queen's University, talked about how we should "own the podium" with respect to R&D and its commercialization. This echoes the "aggressive commercialization" that John Molloy (Partek, also at Queen's) made (see my note on my R&D Panel submission). Owning the podium means we need to pick winners and set priorities,which is in contrast to the usual approach Canada takes where we seek fair representation from all regions/sectors.

The title of this post is taken from a comment said to me by Brian Barber, VP of UHN's Development Corporation. He was referring to the fact that, even though there is a world wide recession that is impacting the availability of capital to take ideas to market, there is no shortage of ideas emerging from the research labs and industry partners we collectively engage with. This is a good reminder to focus our innovation efforts well.

04 December 2010

Innovation is the solution: Showcasing Polytechnic Applied Research

Algonquin College in Ottawa yesterday hosted the fifth annual Polytechnics Canada Showcase. Featuring innovation in action, students, faculty and industry partners from our nine member institutions convened to highlight work aimed at improving innovation and productivity.

The agenda kicked off with a panel that discussed how best to foster a complementary R&D system in the country - something I've discussed extensively on these pages. Rick Tofani talked about the Alberta "Innovation Renovation", and the breaking down of silos between universities, colleges, research centres and industry. Taras Hollyer from FedDev Ontario spoke of their efforts to seed capital in the Ontario innovation system, with a particular emphasis on job creation and capacity building for economic diversification. Margaret Dalziel from the University of Ottawa Telfer School spoke about the gap between the scientific community and the business community - the innovation gap or incentive vacuum where polytechnic/college applied research is most adept at addressing. Dalziel also spoke about how innovation activities in this middle, mediating space is not easily measurable by traditional metrics (patents, disclosures, etc) because getting innovation from idea to invoice involves many nuanced activities that are more qualitative than quantitative. This echoes a point made in my RD Panel submission: the diffusion of innovation requires us to find proxies and precursors to job creation and economic development so that we can begin to measure productivity milestones. Janet Scholz from ACCT Canada completed the panel's discussion, adding that we need long term approaches to collaboration and complementary partnerships in the innovation ecosystem. (NB: ACCT Canada is hosting Innovation 2010 next week in Ottawa).

All of these panelists discussed concepts highly relevant to open innovation, a topic that was picked up by Angus Livingstone's (UBC) luncheon keynote address. Livingstone gave the audience an excellent perspective on the need for action in the innovation space, and linking the high performing academic R&D players with the low performing business R&D side of the equation. Livingstone outlined a 5-point scale for assessing a company's innovation capacity, and reminded all of us that our goal should be to get a company assessed at 1 to a 2, and those at 3 to a 4 and ultimately 5. This is a sensible approach to fostering increased business R&D and the diffusion of innovation. Livingstone also picked up on the panel theme of measurement, saying that we need to begin to measure the intangibles like the relationships we form with industry partners. Doing so will take us past simple metrics of innovation as we work together to foster true innovation system capacity across the country.

The highlight of the day was presentations from students representing all nine polytechnics. Each student was given a 5 minute slot to tell about their project and the industry problem they worked on. This was followed by an open discussion and questions from the audience, during which the students displayed the core tenets of innovation literacy: problem solving, entrepreneurial thinking, and collaborative team work. GBC's students presented on our work supporting industry partner Syndications Canada and the development of a vertical axis wind turbine. As indicated in my twitter feed, the quote of the day came from Syndications Canada Managing Director Douglas Chaddock: "We hire GBC grads because they have a can-do attitude. We're CANadian, not CANTadian." He further stated that the advantage of college graduates is that they are not afraid to get their hands dirty as they work their way through the applied R&D world of business innovation.

Polytechnic applied research: it's all about collaboration, economic development, and getting your hands dirty.

30 November 2010

College applied research and the diffusion of innovation

I had the opportunity yesterday to address the Expert Panel on Review of Federal Business Research and Development Programs on the role of college applied research in the Canadian innovation system. My slide deck with notes is available here.

Appearing on the same time slot was John Molloy, president and CEO or Parteq Innovations, who was representing the university technology transfer side of the equation. Molloy led with an overview of the need for "aggressive commercialization," which boils down to the need to properly fund industry liaison activities external to, but which are cognizant of, the academic environment. Their focus is on disruptive innovation, not incremental innovation, seeking to take the big science finds and get these to market with as much alacrity and capital as possible.

The college applied research piece of the innovation system focuses on the incremental innovation space and the diffusion of innovation. We were highly aligned on the need for a complementary approach to industry R&D. We are also aligned on the need for integrating students from all levels of education into innovation activities. I've made the point earlier that fostering innovation literacy has a multiplier effect on industry innovation capacity.

Of particular importance to colleges and universities is how well we prepare the next generation of talent for entrepreneurial and innovation activities. Typically in Canada we measure the effects of student engagement in R&D by counting Highly Qualified Personnel (HQP), which refers primarily to graduate students. We need to expand this to include undergraduate college students and count Highly Qualified and Skilled Personnel (HQSP) to capture the larger potential of engaging our entire work force in innovation capacity development. Those with graduate degrees represent a small percentage of our population (less than 5%). HQSP embraces the role of advanced skills and education and reinforces a multiplier effect that innovation literacy can have on the wider population. When we expose our students in colleges to applied research problem solving they gain innovation literacy, as noted above. Colleges offer diplomas through to undergraduate degrees. Students so equipped with innovation literacy are more amenable to working with those with advanced degrees on innovation activities. We need innovation literacy at all levels of the work force. Our productivity and innovation challenges demand of us a consolidated approach to improving the innovation capacity of all workers in all sectors of the economy. Doing so will enhance the diffusion of innovation at all levels of the economy.

The key for college applied research is instrumentality, or the intentional application of applied research and innovation services to industry needs and contexts. This means that we are focused on addressing the industry problems faced by firms who are seeking to innovate and create new value in their sectors. We are an explicit instrument for addressing these industry problems, meaning that we respond to what is needed, fitting into the R&D continuum for latter stage innovation support.

23 November 2010

Higher Education Summit addresses innovation, credit transfer

Colleges Ontario's annual conference was held in Toronto the last two days, and featured many discussions on education as an enabler of downstream social and economic productivity. Highlights included the Conference Board's report on college applied research, "Innovation Catalysts and Accelerators: The Impact of Ontario Colleges’ Applied Research", and expert panels on credit transfer and addressing the future needs of society amidst change and challenge (c.f. demographics and the economy). There was also a great talk by the CBC's Bob McDonald who outlined the role of science in knowledge generation and how we ignore the role of knowledge change over time at our peril.

On the issue of credit transfer and articulation of the Ontario education system, I was disappointed to hear many people talk about how difficult this will be in Ontario and how it won't work, or won't work easily. While it is certainly important to acknowledge the challenges we face in achieving a true educational system, it is clear that we need to modernize the Ontario educational system. Adopting an "any point of entry; any point of exit" model such as Alberta's (to name one jurisdiction) will greatly aid our overall capacity to innovate and compete internationally. It is too easy to say why this can't be done in Ontario; it is much more difficult to work at building a responsive education system that has the needs of students and employers in mind.We need to challenge ourselves as a system, make bold, future-facing decisions, and act now to build the framework for integrating new immigrants and addressing the skills gaps and shortages that are upon us.  The innovation economy demands innovative responses to the challenges we face.

09 November 2010

Drop in BERD troubling

I saw a recent news story on US business expenditures on R&D (BERD) having dropped for the first time in the 13 years the sort of study has been conducted. When Googling for a link to the story I found a report that the same is true for the European Union. This is troubling, particularly given that times of recession are better times than most to invest in R&D and innovation. We need industry to step up and invest. College applied research funding programs such as the NSERC CCIP are de facto instruments of the state to socialize industry to spend on R&D, giving our student innovation literacy in the process. This point is made in the recent Conference Board of Canada report on applied research.

02 November 2010

Conference Board releases report on college applied research

The Conference Board of Canada today released a report on college applied research. "Innovation Catalysts and Accelerators: The Impact of Ontario Colleges’ Applied Research" offers important information on the complementary role that colleges play in the Canadian innovation system. This includes encouraging industry to invest in R&D, something Canadian firms do not do on par with our international counterparts. Correcting the imbalance between Canada's high per capita spending on R&D funded through higher education institutions and the lack of spending by the private sector is a key concern of government today. Failure to do so will result in lowered productivity and a continuation of our downward trend on our innovation capacity.

25 October 2010

Innovation key to improving productivity, standard of living

An interview today with Kevin Lynch offers continuing insights into why it is important to foster innovation and productivity as we seek to improve and enhance our standard of living. I've posted a couple of links to some of Lynch's works in the recent past - his insights are sound regarding the need for fostering improved business R&D investment vis-a-vis our investment in R&D through higher education institutions. Realigning the HERD|BERD imbalance is one key step in fostering improved productivity thus our standard of living.

Elsewhere in today's Globe is a piece on the sale of Nortel's Ottawa campus to the federal government. This is a sad indictment of Canada's failure to support private sector R&D. As I noted in my post on the Economy n+1, Nortel was responsible for a large portion of our reported BERD. Economy n+1 is the next stage of growth, past 2.0 and 3.0, anticipating a future state where social and economic productivity growth is part of the fabric of Canadian life. This requires us to be less risk averse. As Canada will rely on immigration for all net new labour force growth starting next year, we have an opportunity to capitalize on those who take the risk to leave their countries to settle in Canada. I think this bodes well for future change. As agents of change we have difficult times to get through to be sure, but change we must as a society to fix our ailing productivity.

15 October 2010

Industry Canada sponsors Expert Panel on Research and Development in Canada

Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear yesterday announced the Government of Canada’s Expert Review Panel on Research and Development. This is welcome news that will enable all partners in the Canadian Innovation System to further our capacity to engage industry in R&D and improve social and economic productivity. As the announcement states, Canada leads in Higher Education R&D investment, but lags seriously in Business Expenditures on R&D.  Realignment of this imbalance is a crucial step toward improving productivity and equipping and engaging the next generation of innovation economy workers  who will be well prepared to take on leadership positions with entrepreneurial and problem solving capabilities. As I noted in my last post, teaching innovation literacy as a core competency of every student across the entire education spectrum is one way we can help Canada boost our capacity to innovate.

The Expert Panel as announced by Minister Goodyear is a timely temperature check on how well our innovation system is responding to the needs of industry, and what we can do to further the goal of enhancing industry R&D and innovation more broadly. Nobina Robinson of Polytechnics Canada, of which GBC is a member, is a member of the expert panel.

Of note today corresponding to this key announcement is the report from the Conference Board of Canada on the role of immigrants in improving Canada's innovation capacity. With all net labour force growth set to come from immigration by next year, immigrants as "the embodiment of innovation" will be central to our national performance on innovation and improving productivity. Integrating immigrants swiftly into the labour market, taking advantage of their high degree of education and skills, and equipping them with the tools to get working productivity as quickly as possible are key concerns. George Brown College has been very active in this area, with many programs designed to do this, including our Research Commercialization and Innovation program (currently being revamped for its next intake).

13 October 2010

10 things to improve innovation

A report out today from the Coalition for Action on Innovation in Canada lists 10 easy things Canada can do to improve and foster innovation. I've pasted this list below. Download the complete report here.

The list is interesting for its focus on spurring industry R&D spending through incentives, as well as a target on education. We should be fostering innovation literacy throughout the entire school system across the country.

What is missing from the list is simply marketing: letting firms know that the postsecondary institutions that comprise the public sector facet of the innovation system is here and ready to work with them on improving products, processes and practices. A study last year by NSERC that looked at industry awareness of their R&D programs (whereby industry can partner with an academic institution) showed a very low rate of knowledge (only about 7%) on how NSERC for example can help firms innovate with PSE partners.

And speaking of partnerships: NSERC yesterday announced three new platforms for funding college applied research in concert with industry partners.

Ten things Canada can do quickly – and pretty cheaply – to become a leader in innovation:
1. Make R&D tax credits open to public companies and businesses that lose money.
2. Create government-sponsored “co-investment funds” with private investors to finance emerging companies.
3. Adopt the world’s strongest intellectual property regime.
4. Launch pilot partnerships between retired entrepreneur coaches and startups.
5. Enlist more retired executives to help the government dole out R&D funds.
6. Use the federal government’s buying power to spur adoption of new products and services.
7. Set a national target of a 90-per-cent high-school graduation rate and boost master’s and doctoral graduates.
8. Help foreign graduate students gain permanent immigration status.
9. Form a national network to share know-how among existing clusters of innovative companies and industries.
10. Create an independent advocacy group to push innovation by Canadian companies.

06 October 2010

Toronto Community Foundation launches 2010 Toronto Vital Signs

Toronto Community Foundation President & CEO Rahul K. Bhardwaj yesterday launched the 2010 Toronto Vital Signs, a comprehensive annual report on 11 key indicators of Toronto's quality of life. Bhardwaj gave a speech to the Canadian Club to launch the report, which was accompanied by an open letter with advice for the new mayor of Toronto. The letter outlines the need for Toronto to step up to the real challenges we face, promote collaborative leadership, and enable Toronto to emerge as a truly global city. Bhardwaj's speech was broadcast live by Rogers, and will be available online later this week.

The Vital Signs summary offers an excellent overview of some of the challenges we face in ensuring we have a livable and vibrant city. These challenges are germane to our overall productivity as a city and a region. From improving learning opportunities and the conditions of  the creative class, facilitating immigrant integration for an active workforce that can meet the skills gaps and shortages with innovation literacy, to ensuring we have an efficient and effective transportation system, we have much to celebrate but also lots to work on with respect to working, getting started in Canada and  improving our overall health and wellness. The 11 indicators in the Vital Signs report offer key insights for improving productivity. It is incumbent on us all to heed these insights, and to ensure they are front and centre in our ongoing discussions about how we can best be enablers of the innovation economy and to create a healthy, vibrant and innovative society.

George Brown College is the lead research partner for the Toronto Community Foundation's Vital Signs. 

24 September 2010

Innovation needs a backbone

ORION's new CEO Darin Graham spoke to the Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance earlier this week on the topic "Innovation needs a backbone." Graham's talk was an excellent call to industry to invest in R&D, as well as for those of us in the public innovation support sector to work together in supporting industry innovation. ORION provides the necessary ICT capacity to enable collaboration in the public R&D sector, and opening this up to the private sector is a good example of what a P3RD (see "the innovation equation") innovation support system can be.

Graham reminded us that innovation does not inherently exist in the universities and colleges; rather, it is inherent in the people who go there - the students, faculty and our industry partners. He also reminded us that innovation in not invention. Innovation has outcomes in the realization of social and/or economic value. Fostering innovation is at once as easy as enabling serendipity and interprofessional collaborations, but as difficult as doing this in a world of competing values, cultures ("academic: publish or perish versus private: profit or perish") and priorities. To enable innovation we need transparency in terms of our interface among organizations (c.f. brokering R&D relationships) and in our approach to intellectual property. This form of open innovation will push productivity improvements through a complementary approach to enabling industry innovation through a robust innovation infrastructure, in this case the ICT products and services that are the interface to collaboration as well as the locus of R&D development itself.

And while we are on the topic of enabling innovation, here is a link to a recent article that reinforces the need to invest in education as a main driver for an innovative economy. This includes integrating immigrants into the work force and addressing the skills gap and skills shortages we face. Ensuring we have highly qualified and skilled people with innovation literacy across all economic sectors will help lift Canada's poor productivity performance.

20 September 2010

Education In Formation [reprise]

Here's a link to a good op-ed piece by Todd Hirsch that details issues relevant to the transformation of our education system to meet both the skills gap and skills shortages many forecast are on our immediate horizon. Hirsch outlines an important precept of education: we must prepare graduates with transformational and translational skills that go beyond work as a noun, and give students an understanding of seeking "a career as something you do, rather than something you are." By this Hirsch means a broader interpretation of skills - what we call innovation literacy - that enables people to think of their work in terms of flexibility. Entrepreneurship is one trait that spans many disciplines. Hirsch reminds us that this means people who can "manage, help, create, design."

These are the skills of the innovation economy.

15 September 2010

Public Policy Forum, the innovation system, productivity

The Public Policy Forum convened a workshop on Monday regarding the linking of industry and academic communities. The session was well attended and had a very good focus on complementarity, and providing industry with an "any point of entry" solutions-oriented approach to improving R&D in Ontario. Relevant to this ongoing discussion is an article in today`s Report on Business: Canada's productivity trap: Recovery running on 'sweat and toil ... not brains and innovation'. It is yet another wake up call for Canadian industries to invest in new technology, one of the surest ways to increase productivity.

08 September 2010

Ryerson's DMZ focuses on applied research

Here's an article on Ryerson's Digital Media Zone - announced some time last year - that focuses nicely on the role of applied research and engaging students in addressing industry problem solving. The piece is a nice example of how applied research is oriented toward innovation support activities, and not supplanting basic research. Both are required to support productivity growth. The Colleges Ontario Network for Industry Innovation (CONII) was established for this purpose: to be an explicit instrument for industry problem solving as complementary to the R&D innovation system in Ontario.

03 September 2010

Mapping innovation

Two stories this week on mapping innovation relevant to George Brown College's efforts on the innovation front:

The first is the launch of the “Toronto Labour History Walking Tours” map, on which GBC professors played a pivotal role, lets people navigate the city while learning about key labour events in Toronto's history. This is one of many examples of our support and commitment to social innovation.

The second is a story in the Globe regarding Geographical Information Systems, their use and proliferation, and impact on productivity. GBC Research is supporting Canadian GIS company Infonaut in the testing of their innovative GIS-based solutions for health care and infectious disease management.We have been working with Infonaut since 2009.

30 August 2010

Innovation Receptor Capacity for Canada's Research

University of Toronto president David Naylor and UBC president Stephen Toope today debunk seven myths regarding innovation in Canada. In "Don’t swallow these innovation nostrums," Naylor and Toope make a strong case for complementary research - linking basic and applied research - and the building up of Canada's business receptor capacity to commercialize ideas and innovations. I don't agree with their assertion that governments should not set research priorities. Rather, setting priorities enables us to focus our energies and resources on those areas and issues that will have the most impact on our national economy.

Naylor and Toope articulate the value of science and technology education, but also the importance of producing graduates with social innovation skills gained through non-technical courses of study. Promoting innovation literacy means producing "independent-minded university and college graduates from diverse backgrounds [that] are critical to building creative societies with innovative foundations." This is required reading for prescribing a national innovation system.

23 August 2010

Innovation and Human Centred Design

An excellent article in today's Globe and Mail discusses the relationship of human-centred design and the business of innovation. In "Extreme affordability: Why we must wear the user’s shoes," Neil Seeman and Kenneth Lam illustrate how important it is to foster a user-centred perspective when designing any innovation and its ultimate integration into practical use. Theirs is a case study in the need for applied research and experimental development - the two latter phases of research according to the OECD Frascati Manual - where low cost solutions are found by putting ones self into the everyday experience of the end user of a particular product or service.

There are many examples of this approach around George Brown College. From Jamie McIntyre's (CCET) innovative approach to New Product Development using a quasi experimental/retrospective approach to user inclusion, to RJ Clements' (CSHS) experimentation with the Wu Casting Technique to lower the cost of prosthetics for third world applications, many GBC programs such as the Institute without Boundaries and the Institute of Entrepreneurship and Community Innovation (BA&D),  integrate this approach. The Research Commercialization and Innovation teaches this explicitly because we understand the necessity to equip our graduates with an innovation literacy that includes the ability to understand the end-user experience as a foundation for building future innovative products, services, and processes.

As I've noted earlier, our expertise in human centred and participatory design informs our approach to collaborative problem solving with our partners.

18 August 2010

Recombinant R&D

I was remiss in posting another link to a good article in Monday's Globe: "Commercialize or Calcify" by Daniel Muzyka, dean of the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia. Muzyka adds to the growing chorus about the need to "re-energize Canada's economic engine . . . through innovation and commercialization." Like other university commentators Muzyka's focus is solely on the role of university research, neglecting the importance of leveraging all aspects of the innovation system in the colleges and polytechnics. Regardless, he offers important words of advice on the nature of innovation (it's incremental) and the need for businesses to step up their game, invest in R&D while leveraging financing available from funding agencies such as NSERC who are committed to supporting business and academic partnerships in support of innovation and improved productivity.

16 August 2010

Open Innovation in Practice, Not Theory

Here is a link to a good piece in the NY Times on Open Innovation: : Innovate, Yes, but Make It Practical http://nyti.ms/9L9hit. It contains a few examples of what it means to listen to market needs in the development of new products and services. Thanks to Andrew Jenkins, member of GBC's Innovation Advisory Board, for sending the link.

On a somewhat related note, Roseann O'Reilly Runte, president of Carleton University has this to say about education and its relationship to civic engagement. While Runte focuses solely on university education and financing it in support of broader wealth creation, the same arguments apply across the education system as a whole.

10 August 2010

Comment on Canada's Innovation Malaise

Conference Board of Canada president Anne Golden's op-ed piece today comments on Canada's Innovation Malaise. Golden does a good job of explaining why Canada is so poor at innovation, focusing on our cultural disposition toward "our traditional sense of caution." It is this sense of caution that prevents us from taking risks. As one of the comments points out, Canada does too good a job at tearing others down, rather than celebrate entrepreneurial thinking. Perhaps this is a throwback to having to live together in a harsh environment - we've taken a sense of community too far to countenance divergence (in this regard we exemplify the Japanese proverb "the nail that sticks up gets hammered down"). Regardless, we need to continue to foster education that trains highly qualified and skilled personnel with innovation literacy and with downstream effects on productivity front of mind. We need to reassure ourselves that it is okay to focus on the commercialization of ideas emerging from basic R&D. Taking  a complementary approach to conducting R&D within open innovation, and not shying away from risks but rather celebrating risk-taking and finding reassurance in failure as a basis for learning will help us find new ways of doing things to replace simple fealty to resource extraction.

06 August 2010

New funding for college applied research

The Canada Foundation for Innovation recently announced its anticipated College applied research infrastructure program. While details are yet to be forthcoming, this is another positive step toward ensuring that the Canadian innovation system can meet the R&D needs of SMEs. As I've written about previously, improving Canadian productivity is essential. This is particularly so given the world economic crisis from which we are slowly emerging.

Other recent research funding news of note is SSHRC's new program architecture. SSHRC is making headway in fostering partnerships - the focus of their first round of grants under their new program. Partnerships are the cornerstone of complementarity, and, as I've said before, the Canadian innovation system requires a complementary approach that articulates universities, government labs and colleges working together with industry -- and community partners -- toward common goals of national importance.

SSHRC's role in promoting social innovation will be significant. SSHRC is ideally positioned to play a lead role in social innovation and entrepreneurship, essential components of a balanced approach to our collective national attempt to improve social and economic productivity.

30 June 2010

Round table report on market trends and public education

The Learning Partnership yesterday convened a Round Table on Labour Market Trends and Implications for Public Education. The goals was to inform public education policy. Warren Jestin, Chief Economist of ScotiaBank, chaired the event, and offered introductory remarks on the context of the opportunities and challenges facing Canada and public education. Jestin identified three trends that will inform educational and economic policy, reminding the audience that we need to focus on the unfamiliar for growth. That is, the economy will rebound, but will not go back to what it once was. Jestin pointed out that the G20 is now the official voice of the world economy, acknowledging the complexities of the global economic system as being comprised of developed and developing nations.
The three trends are:
1. We must focus on the emerging world where we are not yet plugged in - but could be.
2. Discussions on the environment and sustainability are at a very early stage. Major changes are imminent and will impact all sectors.
3. Demographic changes will mean less people working and more retired.

Productivity must drastically improve if we are to complete internationally, Jestin said, and "there is a crying need for improved education and skills training." Jobs in health care will of course be in demand, as will change in how health care is operated and funded. Urban infrastructure requires investment and renewal if we are to compete on quality worldwide. Skilled graduates with innovation literacy will be in demand: "We need people who know how to do something in a rapidly changing world," including easy facility with language and technology. Driving this should be "more fluid transfer of credits between colleges and universities." This last point is especially important; articulation of the education system will make the innovation economy more effective and responsive to social and economic productivity demands.

Rick Miner spoke about his recent study "People without jobs; Jobs without people." This report is a must-read for anyone with an interest in education and its downstream effects. It is also a wake-up call for all of us to start (re)thinking how we conceive of education, how we structure its delivery, how we measure its outputs and social impacts, and what we need to do to ensure Canada remains globally competitive.

The subsequent discussion was interesting for its common approach - across many educational sectors represented - on change needed in our education system. A report on the Round Table is forthcoming. What is clear is that there is good alignment in education: Innovation is not just a word. It is an activity and a call to action to reformat our thinking and our approach to social and economic productivity.

24 June 2010

H20 in Toronto

No - that's not a typo, and it's not about water. The H20 Summit & Top 100 Awards Breakfast is the Hospitality 20, which I attended this past Tuesday with members of the Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts management team. It was an interesting look into the industry, and featured a round table discussion on wide-ranging issues related to the economic recovery, talent management, greening the industry and innovation. The topic of innovation was an interesting discussion as it focused on aspects of improving productivity, but also on meeting current and future demands of consumers in the hotel and food service industries. The applied research of our chefs and food scientists fits into this very well.

When the panel was asked what we can do to better prepare our graduates, one comment was that we should continue to have an open dialog with industry partners. There was acknowledgement that CHCA does an exemplary job of working with industry to prepare highly qualified and skilled graduates, and that our role in preparing our graduates for work in these industries requires us to encourage innovation and productivity in addition to the job-ready skills we are well known for instilling in our graduates. Our preparation of graduates with innovation literacy and exposure to innovation and downstream productivity issues is reminiscent of the points I raised in my last post regarding Stephen Murgatroyd's 10 challenges for colleges, particularly to embed creativity, change management and adaptability in our curricula.

11 June 2010

The net effects of innovation and applied research

The ACCC held its annual conference earlier this week, which featured some good sessions on the practice of applied research at Canadian colleges. Many keynote speakers made reference to the importance of applied research and innovation and colleges' collective close links with firms. Most important was the discussion not on applied research per se, but rather on the downstream net effects on productivity our applied research work with firms has.

Stephen Murgatroyd gave the closing keynote on Innovation, Colleges and Community, where he discussed key challenges for Canada's productivity and what colleges can do about this. Among other things he spoke of the need to encourage flexibility and adaptability in our students, the intangible skills that we call innovation literacy. Murgatroyd calls colleges "the best hope we've got" for improving productivity in Canada. Many topics raised in this space were raised, from the need to encourage more open innovation and coopetition, to "a relentless focus on improving productivity" in firms - the downstream effects of our work - rather than a focus on what we do in and of itself. This is solid, grounded thinking. Our work in applied research is important, but if we are successful we are in the background, an enabler of innovation writ large in social and economic productivity improvement.

Murgatroyd finished with 10 challenges for colleges:
1. Stop focusing on innovation and focus on productivity, design and skills development.
2. Embed creativity, change management and adaptability in all curricula (c.f. innovation literacy)
3.Don't focus on R&D, but rather on design, development, deployment and sustainability - what we can call the effects of applied R&D.
4. Use networks to create local and regional clusters.
5. Build cross-functional capacity within colleges and firms - this is a staple of interprofessionalism.
6. Be glocal - realize our work is local but interconnected to global trends and markets.
7. Invest in futures thinking, and partner with industry to develop innovation roadmaps.
8. Pursue and create Public Private Partnerships - what I have elsewhere termed P3RD.
9. Build community capacity.
10. Communicate our work directly to firms, governments and the public.

Related here is the recent release of the new OECD Innovation Strategy. The OECD continues their  focus on people and education and training, and speak about innovation literacy as an intangible asset linked to tacit knowledge, as well as the importance of a highly qualified and skilled work force. The mobility of the work force thus equipped with innovation skills-sets is an important driver of innovation and social and economic productivity.

05 June 2010

Food Research for Cancer Survivorship

Yesterday's launch of the Princess Margaret Hospital's Electronic Living Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Cancer Survivorship Research (ELLICSR) featured Chef James Smith and Chef School Graduate Sharon Booy demonstrating recipes created as part of a collaborative project GBC is working on with PMH-ELLICSR researchers. Building Recipes and Understanding Nutrition for Cancer-Survivorship Health (Project BRUNCH) has developed over 30 recipes that are simple to make and tasty, focused on making healthy eating easier for cancer survivors. The Toronto Star's story on the launch of ELLICSR has an accompanying photo of Chef Booy. Yesterday's event was very well attended, with over 200 people - patients, clinicians, staff - taking in a variety of presentations from ELLICSR partners, including the cooking demos showcasing recipes developed by the project. Project BRUNCH is part of GBC's NSERC funded program of research. This is an excellent example of how George Brown College works with community, clinical and industry partners, and mobilizes faculty and student expertise to address practical, real-world problems.

31 May 2010

Productivity, research, standard of living

I've been remiss in commenting on the recent announcement of the $190M Canada Excellence Research Chairs (CERC) Program, particularly in light of a couple of opinion pieces in the Globe and Mail. The first by Sumitra Rajagopalan ("When science gets political, long-term knowledge is lost") raises the question of why there were no women candidates in the pool of CERC researchers. However, she also laments the federal government's focus on applied research and the setting of national research objectives and priorities. This is flawed thinking. As I've noted many times before, Canada is first in the G8 (second in all of OECD) for Higher Education R&D (HERD) spending. We lag in Business Expenditures on R&D (BERD). Failure to reorient this imbalance will continue to skew our overall productivity. Jeffrey Simpson offers praise for the CERC program, but also points out that such a focus on research at the university level may be a detriment to teaching undergraduates.

The College focus on applied research sees undergraduate teaching and learning as core to our applied research mandate. That is, we integrate students in all of our applied research projects because it gives them innovation literacy - key problem solving skills relevant to their future jobs.

I was reminded of the importance of these issues when I read an editorial in today's Globe. "Wealthy, healthy and wise" points to the recent report by TD Economics that details the need for further post-secondary education spending in Canada as a key way to arrest falling productivity. The TD report is excellent; however, the Globe gets it wrong by focusing only on university education. Canada may be 11th in OECD university participation rates, but we are first in tertiary education when Colleges are included in the mix. We need to realize that a focus on complementarity for both research and education is necessary - where all facets of the PSE system are combined in a single, focused innovation system that links the provision of advanced education at the college and university level matched to both applied and fundamental research capabilities. Both inquiry based research and the support of industrial applied R&D needs are essential to resolving Canada's overall innovation and productivity malaise.

21 May 2010

GBC Research at OCE Discovery

The Ontario Centres of Excellence Discovery conference was held this past week, bringing together industry and academic partners in the Ontario innovation system. MRI/MTCU Minister John Milloy gave the luncheon keynote address, and used the event to announce the website launch of the Ontario Network of Excellence. Many GBC faculty and students attended, including GBC graduate Sharon Booy, who did an excellent job representing the applied research product development of the Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts. Sharon worked with GBC food scientists and chefs under the direction of Winnie Chiu and Moira Cockburn to develop recipes for N2 Ingredients. Her presentation was selected from the GBC student projects sponsored by the OCE Connections funding program.

Also in the news is a story about the CHCA work with Mill Pond and the development of fruit butters (as featured in this space previously).

17 May 2010

Polytechnics AGM focuses on social and economic productivity

The Polytechnics Canada AGM was held at Conestoga College last week, and featured speakers from government - including an opening keynote by Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear. His speech outlined the anticipated impacts of the Applied Research and Commercialization Initiative FedDev announced recently. Minister Goodyear's comments presaged the day's panel on Regional Economic Development, which featured a discussion about the culture change in Canada as we work collectively to enhance social and economic productivity through targeted applied research investments. An industry panel featuring John Keating (Comdev) and GBC partner Niall Wallace (Infonaut) echoed the value of connecting students to industry through applied research as having an overall positive effect on the industry partners and the students themselves. Of particular note was a comment on the need to broaden the definition of innovation, as we work across the country to link our highly qualified and skilled personnel into the industry sectors the polytechnics serve.

07 May 2010

First annual GBC Research Showcase a success

Applied Research and Innovation and Staff Development jointly hosted yesterday the first annual GBC Research Showcase yesterday. Over 70 faculty from across the academic divisions attended to hear presentations and view posters of scholarly and applied research activity. The day was a great success, highlighting the many innovative projects conducted over the past several years at the College, and making explicit the links between scholarship and the pursuit of advanced degrees and how this positively affects our students. A panel discussion in the afternoon made these connections very clear. Marlene Slopack (Centre for Construction and Engineering Technologies), Victor Wroblewski (Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts), Bruno Fullone (Centre for Business), Jamie McIntyre (Centre for Construction and Engineering Technologies), and Constantine Campaniaris (Centre for Fashion Management) discussed their own research, be this the pursuit of advanced degrees or applied research projects with their students, and how this has enhanced the connection between their own learning and their role as professors. They nicely echoed Michael Cooke's (VP Academic and Advancement) opening remarks about the necessary connections between scholarship, research, teaching and learning.

A keynote presentation was delivered by Winnie Chiu, Managing Director of the Compliments Culinary Centre, whose work has appeared often in this space, and Donna Carmichael, President of Mill Pond Cannery and Preserves Company Ltd, who we recently featured as a result of GBC's work in helping Mill Pond produce and take to market a line of (very delicious) fruit butters. The Mill Pond story is a great success story for GBC Research, as it is an example of our multidisciplinary approach to industry problem solving: faculty and students from the Chef School, Design and Business all had a hand in helping Mill Pond take their products to market.

A highlight of the day was a  "Dragon's Den" where five faculty pitched their innovative ideas in a competition for $2000 in seed financing to kick-start a research project. All five presented excellent ideas, judged by a panel of peers from the audience. The winner was “From Cooking School to Professional Kitchen: The Experience of the Female Chef” presented by Chef Debora Reid and Lauren Wilson. Congratulations Deborah and Lauren.

Another highlight was the presentation of achievement certificates to graduating students for their outstanding contribution to research at the college. All of these students have been involved in at least one research project. These students are from Graphic Design, Culinary Arts, Fitness and Lifestyle management, Fashion Studies, Nursing, Business and Architecture Studies. They have contributed significant time to research activities providing analysis, documentation, and mentoring to other students. They have demonstrated innovation literacy - problem solving and critical thinking skills - and exemplified team work. Congratulations to all of our students for their excellent work - we know that your applied research experience will give you an advantage in the marketplace.

19 April 2010

FedDev announces $15M to support Applied Research and Commercialization Initiative

Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear announced today $15M in funding for the Applied Research and Commercialization Initiative, sponsored by the Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario). The ARC Initiative is a significant opportunity to engage the academic and business communities in supporting the innovation economy and the jobs of tomorrow. The objective of this new initiative is to bring together the business and academic communities in collaborative relationships in order to engage in applied research and commercialization activities to develop new products, processes and practices. Polytechnics Canada calls this an "Innovation Game-Changer", and the program will greatly assist the innovation system in southern Ontario to meet the immediate industrial applied research needs of small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in the region.

The ARC Initiative is a pilot program open to all industrial sectors, from those supported in the Science and Technology Strategy to new, emergent sectors where SMEs are located and doing business in Southern Ontario. Funds will help mobilize faculty expertise in the polytechnics, colleges and universities to accelerate innovation in support of job creation and improved productivity. This new format for funding the innovation chain makes a direct link between college applied research and regional economic development, and showcases the value applied research has to industry partners.

The program will continue to build applied research capacity at Ontario’s research-ready colleges and expose students to hands-on applied research by solving timely, practical problems for local industry. The program will provide crucial front-end R&D support for SMEs struggling with minimal working capital. It also complements the NSERC College and Community Innovation Program. The ARC Initiative continues the federal government's  support of the applied research and experimental development components of the R&D continuum and will enhance industry investment in R&D overall.

13 April 2010

Open Innovation [reprise]

With thanks to Andrew Jenkins, member of GBC's Innovation Advisory Board, for sending me this link to an excellent article: Open Innovation: from marginal to mainstream. Open innovation is a topic I've written about a few times, and refers to a collaborative, open source approach to the business of innovation - the concept of complementarity that governs our interconnectedness with other R&D organizations

05 April 2010

Productivity, and why it matters

I was remiss in commenting a week or so ago when Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney commented on the sorry state of Canadian productivity. Needless to say, it's sobering to learn that Canada's productivity continues to plummet. Carney's comments that business needs to do more were met by protestations from some in industry. Regardless, the need to increase Canadian productivity is real. Today's Report on Business has a good op-ed from Gwyn Morgan on Why productivity gains should matter to Canadians.  A short while ago I referenced Kevin Lynch's article on our innovation deficit, and here is another piece he has written on Canada's Productivity Trap. Both Lynch and Morgan are aligned on the need to encourage education and innovation as ways to escape this productivity trap. Ontario's recent budget has a very strong and necessary focus on education, and perhaps most importantly in this area, better articulation of credit transfer among Ontario post-secondary institutions. We can liken the coming seismic post-secondary education sector changes in Ontario to moving from a feudal to a federated system. This evolution to an integrated innovation/education system will ensure our population has the education and skills to compete in the innovation economy.

Morgan closes his column with a definition of productivity from "the website of the National Trade Union Congress of Mauritius:"

"Productivity is a process of continuous improvement in the production/supply of quality output/service through efficient, effective use of inputs; with the emphasis on teamwork for the betterment of all."

15 March 2010

Two stories from the George Brown College Kitchen

Here are a couple of good news stories from the George Brown College Chef School:

The first is from today's Globe and Mail, and showcases the Community Health Education through Food (CHEF) program. This program is one way the GBC Chef School is giving back to the community by working with our community partners to find ways to make nutritious and healthy food to the city's poor and homeless. Chefs and volunteers convene at the Chef School to learn how to make healthy meals from standard food bank items. It's a great story, and one more example of how George Brown College supports social innovation in Toronto.

The second story is about Mill Pond Cannery and Preserves. Our chefs and food scientists have been working with Mill Pond over the past year or so to help them develop their fruit butter products. In the interest of applied research I have tried several of these, and they are delicious! The good news here is that the fruit butters have been picked up by McEwan's (see below for a picture of the products on the shelf). This is a real mark of success for Mill Pond and their innovative products - congratulations!

12 March 2010

Canada's innovation deficit

An article in today's Globe and Mail outlines the well worn path of Canada's innovation deficit. Kevin Lynch calls for increased business investment in R&D, which as I've written about before is very low compared to our higher education R&D spending. His point about the need to focus on commercialization and to foster R&D in specific sectors resonates with the Science and Technology Strategy and Canada's need to get away from a "business as usual" approach to innovation and to support "Stronger research collaborations between business and publicly funded research." He points out that "Sweden and Finland have much to teach us. Consideration could be given to targeting a portion of new government R&D funding to research that helps Canada solve specific challenges." I also support his assertion that "A broader public dialogue is essential. We need to make the question “What would it take for Canada to be an innovative economy for the 21st century?” part of our public narrative – partly because our innovation deficit is a threat to our competitiveness and living standards, and partly because we can be a world leader in innovation. We should aspire to be a nation of innovators. We should rebrand Canada as technologically savvy, entrepreneurial and creative."

Lynch does not mention the complementary R&D role that colleges and polytechnics are increasingly playing in the national innovation system. But his call for a dialogue on the innovation economy reflects our focus on education that supports what we call innovation literacy - creativity, problem solving and entrepreneurial thinking that adds value to product and process development.

As I noted in my response to Budget 2010, the federal government is continuing its support of the applied research and experimental development aspect of the R&D continuum. GBC's press release outlines in more detail how Budget 2010 is supporting the commercialization side of things, which will foster greater social and economic productivity in the long term.

05 March 2010

Colleges, Polytechnics and Applied Research: Notes from Budget 2010

The Federal Government's Budget 2010, while modest, shows a fairly positive outlook for applied research.

Notably, the NSERC College and Community Innovation Program gets its budget doubled and is mentioned for its contribution to innovation and industrial competitiveness. An additional $15M per year is allocated to support its expansion, doubling the program to $30M annually. This is good news for those colleges (like GBC) that are well positioned to deliver on this program. The three granting councils also got a good boost; most notable is the “$5 million per year to foster closer research collaborations between academic institutions and the private sector through NSERC’s Strategy for Partnerships and Innovation.” The SPI was announced by NSERC President Suzanne Fortier at the Polytechnics Showcase last November

There are also good programs for fostering greater links to industry R&D partners. Infrastructure funding for education and research is also good to see. Colleges are listed as core R&D assets in the country – a good evolution in keeping with the direction of the S&T Policy.

The Polytechnics Canada press release on Budget 2010 contains more information on what this means for the applied research capacity that we represent.

04 March 2010

GBC Green Building Project Receives Funding

The George Brown College/Evergreen Brick Works Applied Research Green Innovation Lab Experience (ARGILE) has received $1M in funding from the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation. Led by GBC faculty Christopher Timusk from the Centre for Construction and Engineering Technologies, this five year program of research will see students working with industry partners at the Evergreen Brick Works site. ARGILE will be a “Living Lab” dedicated to investigating Building Construction, Restoration, Energy Efficiency, Product Testing, and the Development of Innovative Environmental Building Solutions.

Cities are responsible for 75 per cent of all the energy we use and the greenhouse gases we emit, with buildings accounting for nearly 40 per cent of that. To achieve urban sustainability, new technologies must be developed to re-construct our cities. That is the goal of research being conducted by Dr. Christopher Timusk and a team of students at George Brown College. Using selected heritage buildings at the historic Don Valley Brick Works site in the heart of downtown Toronto, the team is developing cost-effective, sustainable, durable and healthy renovation and retrofit techniques aimed at making old buildings energy efficient. What they learn will help Ontario-based companies become world leaders in the construction of products and processes of the future – and Ontario cities leaders in urban sustainability.

Here's the MRI press release:
Ontario distributes $40 million under Research Excellence program: Following recent investments in research at the Universities of Guelph and Waterloo, the Ontario government announced Monday nearly $40 million under the Ontario Research Fund's Research Excellence program to be shared by researchers at Queen's, UWO, uOttawa, George Brown College, uToronto, and York U. The province is investing close to $69.5 million to support 21 projects and over 214 researchers across Ontario.

03 March 2010

Micro-Financing the Innovation Ecosystem

College/polytechnic applied research offers complementary R&D capacity to the Canadian innovation system. Funding programs such as the NSERC College and Community Innovation Program and the Colleges Ontario Network for Industry Innovation (CONII) are part of a public+private partnership funding model (P3RD) that support the innovation ecosystem.

We see our role as not only supporting SME innovation capacity, but also in preparing industry partners to move along the innovation chain. An ancillary effect of our applied R&D efforts is the graduation of our SME partners into more developed funding programs such as the Ontario Centres of Excellence.

A majority of our work involves Proof of Principle projects with short time horizons that cost $10-$20K. A member of the GBC Research Innovation Advisory Board  put it succinctly: We engage in micro-financing of applied R&D for Canadian SMEs.

23 February 2010

Report on College Research

The Globe and Mail's Report on Colleges came out yesterday, and contains a good article on college research. Included in the print version is a sidebar on our work with Ocorant, Inc. The Heart Monitoring Vest project is a prime example of GBC's multidisciplinary, collaborative problem solving approach to addressing industry needs. Led by Fashion Techniques professor Marsha Jorgensen, students from Fashion, Engineering Technology and Nursing have been building prototypes of the vest over the past year. The project is one of several funded under our NSERC CCIP award..

05 February 2010

Applied research and the Canadian innovation system

The ACCC Applied Research Symposium convened in Ottawa these past two days, offering an opportunity for college researchers and administrators to discuss the maturing of the applied research sector. Highlights included talks by the presidents of SSHRC and NSERC, and VPs from CIHR and CFI. The message common to all three was the need to involve end users or end points in research. That is, research should be applied and involve those who will use the results at the outset, as well as be concerned with the downstream effects or implications. Applied research, according to the Frascati Manual, includes original investigation, but is focused on solving problems. This is the design behind setting national research priorities. Fostering a national research agenda that articulates complementary organizations into a network value chain will help us increase social and economic productivity by more effectively translating the investments we make in R&D in meaningful outcomes where this is applicable. This is especially important given that the Conference Board of Canada has once again given Canada's innovation capacity a "D" grade, saying "The Canadian economy remains a below-average performer on its capacity to innovate."

College applied research is an important component of the national innovation system, and can increase economic and social productivity in Canada in concert with industry, community and academic partners by mobilizing our students, faculty  and industry partners to address innovation gaps. Our focus is on the downstream net effects of equipping students with innovation literacy and the skills for the innovation economy, on fostering job-ready graduates who not only get the job, but get the job done. The ACCC Applied Research Symposium showcased our collective efforts at engaging industry in R&D. Other highlights included panels on industry engagement (GBC project partner Infonaut CEO Niall Wallace was a highlight of this panel), faculty and student engagement, and the ACCC's Science, Technology and Innovation Committee. Social innovation was also a topic, acknowledging the importance of the social sciences as a complement to the science and technology focus of most sponsored research. This underscores an important point raised by Paul Ledwell, Vice-President of the Public Policy Forum: we need to foster knowledge networks that have at their core knowledge translators - people who can translate research into the lived reality. The ability to translate is at the core of innovation literacy, and ensuring this translation is our collective responsibility.

An article in the Globe on Wednesday coincided with the first day of the Symposium and offered an excellent and timely call to action. What's cooking in Canadian innovation by Daniel Schwanen from the Centre for International Governance Innovation call for a more concerted effort to focus on fostering winners in our innovation ecosystem and how we can encourage (and so discourage) innovation by artificially "propping up" industries that do not perform.Schwanen echoes the need for "clearly evoked goals" in our national research agenda, and encourages us to "also think beyond narrowly defined science and technology. Science and technology are the foundation of future economic success, but innovation in culture, design, education or business and government processes can add value too." He ends with his cooking analogy"
In short, gathering the building blocks of innovation and expecting it to occur is not a sufficient strategy for the times. It is like expecting one will operate a successful restaurant by building a state-of-the-art kitchen and gathering the ingredients, without paying much attention to the staff, the recipes, or to creating an engaging atmosphere. Given the fiscal straits emerging out of the recession, it's time to ask again what's cooking in Canadian innovation.
The Canadian innovation system requires a complementary approach that articulates universities, government labs and colleges working together with industry toward common goals of national importance. The recipe for success in fostering innovation is in this mix.