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.

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