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.