30 December 2011

Innovation 2012: Tipping Point or Tilting at Windmills?

It's fitting to end the year with a rumination on innovation and a look to the year ahead. Yesterday I was on BNN's The Close talking with Michael Hainsworth on Innovation in Canada. In the discussion I said that 2012 will be a tipping point for innovation in Canada, largely because it has to be. With the Euro-zone crisis and our own debt to GDP ratio, now is the time for Canada to up its game with respect to adding value to raw resources (rather than simple extraction) and to create innovative products that command price premiums, rather than be a low cost manufacturer. This is about culture change, and fostering business innovation and an innovation mindset as a hedge on the future.

I've written often about productivity, and my comments on the Close yesterday benefited from discussions with Bert van den Berg, Director of NSERC's Knowledge and Technology Transfer and the CCI Program. Creating innovative products means being a "price setter" - being able to charge more for items instead of  simply trying to wring out more value from specific units of labour. Doing so will enable us to connect our world-leading basic R&D system to the needs of the market - be these defined or undefined. Market- or user-driven innovation is key to enabling businesses to compete in global markets. Central to this is the point made by the Council of Canadian Academies' 2009 report on business innovation, Innovation and Business Strategy: Why Canada Falls Short. In this report, the expert panel outlines the need for businesses to have innovation as a core business strategy. This points to two challenges for Canada: increased focus by our business sector on high-value market opportunities, and increased focus by public actors on supporting businesses focused on value-add opportunities.

Companies are handsomely rewarded for successful innovations, while not innovating can be a short road to extinction. Innovation implies a risk - companies are doing something others cannot or have not done. Better enabling our world-leading basic R&D system to support market innovation increases the potential for Canadian success. For Canada, being more innovation-focused is about changing business culture - fostering, supporting and recognizing the innovation mindset which we need for future success, and about increasing public R&D support for business innovation.

An example of a business that does employ innovation as their core strategy is GBC Research partner Infonaut.  Infonaut is addressing the need for innovation in healthcare (through the application of innovative technology) while addressing a "must solve" problem - hospital acquired infections - the fourth leading cause of death in North America. Their product, Hospital Watch Live, is currently being installed in the Transplant Ward of the UHN's Toronto General Hospital. This is an example of an innovation-focused company who has successfully commercialized technology as enabled through a partnership with college faculty and students.GBC Research has partnered with Infonaut over the past several years, enabled by NSERC CCIP funding, that explicitly supports business innovation and our capacity to put students to work with Canadian companies like Infonaut.

College applied research connects supply and demand in the innovation economy in two ways: we work with industry partners on applied research to help bridge capacity gaps and get products to market. We do this by mobilizing our talented faculty and students, the latter who learn key innovation literacy skills. This is our hedge on our future innovation capacity. Not only do we help Canadian companies become more innovative and get products to market, but we are future-proofing the work force by instilling innovation literacy in our graduates. Innovation is a social activity, and it requires communication - about the needs of the market, and the sources for solutions for these needs, including the application of science and technology (applied research).

The Jenkins Panel recently reported on business investment in R&D (BERD), and the CCA expert panel on the State of Science and Technology in Canada which I am part of is reporting in 2012 on public sector R&D (HERD and GOVERD). Many have pointed out that there have been numerous expert panels and reports on why Canada lags in innovation and what can be done about it. The time for action is now. A recent report indicates that at least one of the Jenkins Panel recommendations may be enacted as soon as this coming year. We can go further and implement innovation vouchers for companies wishing to partner with a college or university to do applied research - this idea was presented by Polytechnics Canada recently as one way to let the market decide how to access innovation support services from the public post-secondary education system. The recent extension of the ARC Initiative by FedDev is another way to get companies innovating in partnership with training the talent for the innovation economy.

It is incumbent on all of us involved in supporting, sponsoring and spending on business innovation to work together to catalyze our collective efforts. To not move forward is to continue tilting at the innovation windmill.

13 December 2011

FEDDEV launches ARCI extension

Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear yesterday announced an extension to the successful FedDev Applied Research and Commercialization Initiative. This is welcome news to businesses in southern Ontario who wish to partner with college, universities and polytechnics on business innovation. The announcement comes on the same day as Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney urged businesses to increase investment in productivity. This follows the recent launch of the Federal R&D Review which has recommended stronger supports for business innovation, as well as the launch of the Digital Technology Adoption Pilot Program (DTAPP). DTAPP is an initiative being launched by the National Research Council aimed at aiding business investment in productivity-improving technology. As Carney says, it is time for Canadian businesses to step up. Accessing the many programs supporting business innovation and partnering with colleges and polytechnics on applied research and innovation will aid the economy.

George Brown College, like our counterparts, is open for business innovation.

23 November 2011

Innovation, competitiveness, productivity: who is responsible for research outcomes?

The ACCT Canada conference concluded this week, and as indicated in my last post, featured many good speakers discussing the role of technology transfer and commercialization of research in Canada. Highlights included a Debate on Commercialization Systems & Supports, in which John Molloy, President & CEO, PARTEQ Innovations, asked rhetorically: given that Canada spends $6B per year on R&D, who is responsible for commercialization of research? The notion of responsibility resonated with me, as it foregrounds a very useful discussion relating to Canada's poor record on innovation and productivity.

I've noted here before that not all research need be oriented to a commercial outcome. That said, all research has a purpose, be it discovery or applied. The difference is in the time horizon of this application. It is disingenuous of us to say that we conduct research for its own sake, for even curiosity driven research has an outcome rooted in an unspecified future.

The panel I moderated on the role of colleges, polytechnics and CCTTs featured an excellent discussion by the panelists on these issues. Nobina Robinson, Chief Executive Officer, Polytechnics Canada, Michel Trepanier, Professor, INRS UCS and Institut de recherche sur les PME/UQTR, Niall Wallace, CEO, Infonaut, Inc., and Vanessa Williamson, Executive Director, Colleges Ontario Network for Industry Innovation engaged ideas such as the role incremental innovation, increasing productivity in low technology areas of the economy, the need to facilitate partnerships between academic and industry where the client is the focus and fostering risk and responsibility in our approach to innovation. This perspective on applied research foregrounds the difference between push versus pull research, and a good point was made that in the Canadian R&D scene there is no real voice for the industry partner, particularly small to medium enterprises (SMEs). Bringing this voice to bear is something Polytechnics Canada has been a particularly strong advocate for, and underscores the college applied research mandate of linking the training of highly qualified and skilled personnel (HQSO) to the applied research endeavour as one way to foster greater innovation literacy in the economy writ large.

The audience engagement was interesting given the scope of the questions. We are at a unique juncture in Canada with respect to the engagement of the college applied research layer of the R&D ecosystem, and working together in complementary ways to link basic and applied research with industry and commercial outcomes is an entirely appropriate thing to do given our need to increase innovation, competitiveness, and productivity. To shy away from this is to abrogate our responsibility to the future as entrusted to all of us who receive public money to engage in our work.

Other interesting discussions included an overview of Canada’s Commercialization Challenges by Sorin Cohn, Chief Program Officer, i-Canada, and an excellent review of Trends in Industrial Research: Implications for tech transfer by Ron Freedman, Co-founder, The Impact Group in a luncheon keynote. Freedman's slide deck is online here, and is well worth a read.

Chad Gaffield, President of SSHRC, convened a panel on People Centered Innovations, that sparked interesting discussions relevant to the notion of responsibility and the ability of the education system to respond to the needs of the labour market. I've written before on Gaffield's notion of people centred innovation particularly as this relates to supply and demand for talent in the innovation economy. This is a very important point and highly relevant to what Gaffield termed customer-centric innovation, which is a good link to the recent Roger Martin article on this topic.

The preparation of human capital for the workforce, what Prof Jean Charest of Université de Montréal on the People Centered Innovations panel termed "human capability, is vital to the national economy. To dislocate the academic enterprise from the economy is to endanger the future of our productivity. People are the basis of innovation and entrepreneurship, and innovation is inherently a social activity. The responsibility - or response-ability - that all publicly funded people have is to help prepare the talent for the economy of the future. This includes integrating what I've termed  innovation literacy across academic programs as we engage all HQSP in the R&D enterprise, whether basic or applied.

On the subject of talent and HQSP, SSHRC is currently engaged in a renewal of their Talent Program. The discussion document outlines SSHRC's approach to this renewal, and contains a call to action for all of us engaged in education and research. I encourage everyone so engaged to review the Talent Program Renewal discussion guide and to respond to the questions posed therein. This represents a key moment to influence the future of our innovative capacity, particularly as it relates to people at the centre of the innovation economy. Key elements of the discussion include adopting a more consistent approach to research training across all of SSHRC programs, provisions for multi-institutional (and cross-sectoral) partnerships to support research training, and a range of further modifications and improvements to existing programs of direct support. The deadline for feedback is 15 December. As noted above, we have a responsibility - and an ability to respond - to this call to action. It is important that we do so.

21 November 2011

Policy innovation for an innovation policy

I am writing from Innovation 2011 - the annual conference of ACCT Canada, Canada's R&D Partnership conference. There are many interesting and relevant sessions, including the luncheon keynote by Polytechnics Canada CEO Nobina Robinson. GBC Research partner and CEO of Infonaut Niall Wallace is here to participate in a panel discussion on how colleges and polytechnics can aid industry partners in taking products to market.

Of interest also is an article in today's Globe by Rotman Business School Dean Roger Martin. In "Canada, like Steve Jobs, should zero in on innovation," Martin talks about the need for Canada to focus on innovation, not invention, as a key way to solve our productivity problem. Pointing out that Canada invests more per capita than the US on invention, with little to show for it, Martin makes a good point about how some policy innovation around funding and support for industry to innovate will lead to an innovation policy that puts "the user, rather than the scientist, at the centre of the picture." 

There is very timely advice here from Martin, including that it is time we taught innovation skills in the K-12 education system.

This article follows a good piece in Saturday's Globe business section called "Canada's innovation window of opportunity."  It discusses the Canadian productivity problem, innovation and R&D incentives. The Jenkins panel is cited, as is Jenkins himself who says: "the closer we can get to rewarding the outcome instead of the input, the better." This relates well to the need for us to provide the talent for the innovation economy and to educate industry on the need for productivity and the relationship this has to innovation skills.

The ACCT conference on R&D partnerships is a very timely discourse on the need to work together to link industry to the Canadian education system, and to focus these efforts of providing value for industry first and foremost. An open, participatory approach to innovation where we foster and reward market oriented outcomes will lead the way to a more prosperous Canada. Putting the user first means focusing not on what we do, but on what we can do to support social and economic innovation.

16 November 2011

ACCT Canada's Innovation Partnerships in Montreal next week

ACCT Canada is holding their annual R&D conference in Montreal next week. Innovation 2011 runs from 20-22 November and offers an agenda full of excellent presenters on R&D partnerships in Canada.

14 November 2011

Polytechnics Showcase: Students show their innovation and entrepreneurship skills

The annual Polytechnics Canada Applied Research Showcase was held at Humber College last week, sponsored jointly by BDC. The event featured great presentations from students from each of the member institutes. This is a highlight whereby students from each polytechnic showcase their work with an industry partner and compete for a prize for the best presentation. This year George Brown College student Alecsander Granger took the first prize - congratulations Alecsander!

New this year was a panel discussion of three employers who have hired a polytechnic graduate. Each pair spoke about the role of innovation and entrepreneurship and how the innovation literacy skills learned as part of applied research project work added value to the partner organization. GBC Chef School graduate Geremy Capone, now resident chef at the Electronic Living Lab for Interdisciplinary Survivorship Research, appeared with ELLICSR scientist Dr Sara Urowitz, spoke about the BRUNCH project.

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada Minister Diane Finley attended the conference both days, and presented the students with the awards in addition to giving a lunch time key note address. The text from her speech are available on the HRSDC website.

Day two of the conference featured an SME Summit, whereby industry partners worked with Polytechnics Canada members to shape the coming advocacy agenda.  Michel Bergeron, Vice President, Corporate Relations, Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), kicked off the day outlining the business innovation support that BDC offers. Bergeron in particular discussed how BDC adapted their approach to focus on incremental innovation, versus disruptive innovation, as this was the need expressed by industry. (Also well supported by OECD publications.)

Clair Gartley, Vice President, Business, Innovation and Community Development, Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), Bert van den Berg, Director, Knowledge and Technology Transfer Division, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and Tom Matulis, Acting Executive Director, Ontario Region, Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) also presented on the various supports their respective programs ofer SMEs. In short, it was an excellent SME survival guide that links the preparation of HQSP with the demands of the innovation economy.

01 November 2011

Investments in research, education and the "dividend of innovation"

There has been a lot of press recently about the state of undergraduate education. A recent article by HEQCO’s Harvey Weingarten on measuring skills attainment and educational efficacy offers timely  input on the issues of growth in demand and quality. The point here is that we need a more focused approach to measuring outputs from the education system in order to ensure we can continue to produce the workforce and citizens the country needs. To avoid this is to side step responsibility for ensuring our future economy can be more innovative and productive. We can look at this as a combination of lagging and leading indicators, and the discussion is also relevant to research.

For example, in today's Globe editorial, there is a brief piece on the role of basic research and its relationship to an unspecified future of serendipitous discovery. While the Globe goes for a soft target to set up its argument, the distinction between basic and targeted - or applied - research is a false dichotomy. The issue here is when the research gets applied. Awards such as the Gairdner and the Nobel prize are important indicators of excellence in science and discovery. These are lagging indicators, as they appear many years after the fact, providing strong evidence of the time lag relationship between basic to applied research. A leading indicator may be the propensity of a funding body to invest in a particular area - whether basic or applied - and the variable response to present conditions in the economy or culture that is producing a need for innovation in the first place. For the latter, any example of R&D into internet technologies - whether for healthcare or consumer demand - is an example. TO think of these two aspects of R&D as polar opposites is counter-productive, yet seductive, especially in a country with a GDP the size of Canada's. For even though we spend more per capita on R&D than most every other country in the OECD, our focus on lagging indicators only betrays a provincialism that is, according to many, responsible for our continued poor productivity and innovation performance.

Kevin Lynch, in an editorial today, makes this point well. Lynch focuses on the need for greater innovation in government, using online media and procurement methods to foster greater Canadian innovation. His point is that we can have austerity and stimulus at the same time if we think differently about the issues at hand. Namely: innovation. In an earlier piece, which I reviewed previously, Lynch and Munir Sheikh discuss their view that "Productivity growth is the dividend produced by innovation." I would add this to the discussion about education and the stimulus of innovation writ large (through targeted investments in R&D, whether basic or applied). That is, our investment in education, and in modernizing our approach to education with a focus on outcomes, enables us to produce a society with relevant skills and resiliency. This resiliency is the ability to transcend opposition thinking, and to apply innovation to issues as Lynch describes. Doing so enables a focus on the complementary ways in which education and innovation can work with the foundations of our excellent basic research infrastructure and to apply what we know and learn into the complex issues and problems facing society today.

The BBC's The Story of Science is perhaps one of the best things I've ever seen on this issue.

17 October 2011

Jenkins Report Released

The Jenkins Report on R&D in Canada is linked here. I'll get to some detailed analysis in due course, but on a read of the Executive Summary there are many good points that will serve Canada's innovation needs well. This includes:
1. The creation of the Industrial Research and Innovation Council - effectively the council for commercialization.
 2. The increase to IRAP and the creation of a national commercialization voucher program
3. The creation of an innovation navigator service - a guide to all federal programs
4. Talent: the inclusion of college graduates in future business innovation talent creation programs, i.e. in NSERC programs for undergraduate internships and faculty scholarships.
5. Procurement: using procurement to help spur SME innovation

The full report is available here. I am looking forward to the discussion on this.

R&D Panel to release report today

The R&D Review Panel, chaired by Open Text's Tom Jenkins, will be releasing its report today. Jenkins is giving a talk tomorrow at the Economic Club to discuss the findings.

In advance of this, there is a very useful article in today's Globe where Barrie McKenna outlines the significance of the opportunity the R&D Review Panel has for meaningful change in Canada's approach to innovation.Clearly we need to fix our broken R&D system, and McKenna rightly posits that the Jenkins panel represents the best opportunity we have to do this. As I noted in my last post, Canada needs an innovaiton policy, and this will involve making some very hard choices indeed. McKenna refers to this as the difference between an R&D democracy and an R&D meritocracy. The latter is a preferred model that looks at making targeted investments to produce results - a focus on outcomes versus spreading everything around.

There is enough expertise across the country to fashion a complementary R&D ecosystem, to be sure, and Canada, while spending more per capita than most other OECD countries, frankly does not have the GDP to support unfettered research in any and all domains. Revamping our tax regime to provide more direct supports (like Germany et al) and providing more upstream support for business innovation will help modernize our approach to R&D. Our future productivity hangs in the balance.

03 October 2011

Canada needs an innovation policy

"Canadians are an inventive lot, but have trouble making it pay," reports Barrie McKenna in today's Globe and Mail, outlining the worn adage about Canada's failure to capitalize on R&D discoveries. McKenna talks about the need for Canada to start focusing on extracting value from our R&D, lest we become a nation of innovation renters. Are we innovation serfs? The example of Nortel shows that we are close to this, letting go of prized IP whose development was been heavily subsidized by Canadian taxpayers. It would be worth finding out how much of the Nortel R&D spend was financed by SR&ED tax subsidies, and if this was repaid when the IP assets were sold off. For the latter, likely not. We will be renting back that IP for generations to come.

Nobel Laureate John Polanyi's editorial in today says that science needs freedom in order to discover. Good point. However, his point that the focus on relevance shrinks scientific horizons may cloud the issue of ascertaining how our world-leading R&D system can provide the most benefit to Canadians. Canada spends more money than most other countries on per capita R&D. We need to think instrumentally about how to use this incredible capacity to address the pressing issues of today - climate change, energy use, food security. An interventionist, instrumentalist applied R&D policy can enable countries to sponsor basic R&D and realize both basic and applied science gains. Think: the Internet. With greater value extracted from scientific discoveries we will be able to increase per capita R&D (theoretically, at least). Without this value extraction, our per capita R&D spend will only decrease. This is not a zero sum game, and we should be careful not to posit that we must privilege one over the other.

Here is a useful overview of Canada's approach to invention, showing our anomalous focus on S&T and our collective assumption "that there is a continuum from knowledge creation to development of application, and finally commercialization and utilization." Canada needs an innovation policy that lets us fund basic science (invention policy) and to focus on where these inventions have application and value and follow through on taking these to market. The last federal budget announced a new program for college and university collaboration. This is a perfect example of an interventionist approach to funding basic research, linking it to the applied research capacity in Canada's colleges and polytechnics, and out to industry. We need more of this, not less. It does not diminish the quality of science. Quite the opposite: it shows Canadians that we have the capacity to invent and innovate in order to make our lives better.

Witness the Nobel Prize for Medicine, announced this morning, shared by two Americans and one Canadian, Ralph Steinman. It's worth quoting the Globe's lead sentence on this story: "Three scientists won the Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for discoveries about the immune system that opened new avenues for the treatment and prevention of infectious illnesses and cancer" (emphasis mine). There you have it in one sentence: basic + applied research.

A focus on adding or extracting value from inventions is what Canada needs more of. We need an innovation policy with the capacity to fund basic science, even as it links applied research to business innovation for the good of social and economic productivity.

30 September 2011

Education is not a zero sum game

Reports this week about the value of a university education have led to much debate over the purpose of education: is it to enrich people through knowledge or simply prepare people for the world of work?

The Globe reported on Monday that "University education no guarantee of earnings success", and examined the payoff for people entering undergraduate education. Academica's Ken Steele says in the report that options such as college and apprenticeship programs should be explored. Patrick Keeney, in a column in the National Post back in August laments the turning of education into vocational training. Keeney in particular decries the "hollowing out" of education as our society seeks an emphasis on results and returns on investment. While a laudable goal to provide a liberal education for its own sake to a population, Keeney overlooks the history of university education as a purview of the elite. We know that education leads to a more productive and inclusive society, hence a world-wide desire to increase education attainment at all levels. Emphasizing outcomes at all educational levels does not cheapen education, but rather increases its value to a society. Failure to see this represents a failure of the imagination and an atavism for a past elitism.

I've written here before on Canada's number one ranking in the OECD for tertiary education. It bears repeating: this is only when you include both college and university. Given the fact that many students come to college with university degrees already in hand (up to 25% at George Brown College), these data are somewhat skewed. Nevertheless, the real story here is that education is both useful (knowledge gains for its own sake) and usable (instrumental to a country's social and economic productivity).

Instrumentality and outcomes based learning are applicable to research. There is no zero sum with university teaching and research, as pointed out today in an opinion by Stephen Saideman. The same is true of education. I've quoted this here before: as John Godfrey, head of the Toronto French School has said, "The goal of education is to make people privately happy and publicly useful."

The sooner Canada gets past thinking about education and research (basic and applied) as an either-or proposition, and start seeing complementary as a worthwhile goal, then the sooner we can work on fixing our long standing productivity problem. Making informed decisions about public policy and spending linked to outcomes where appropriate is necessary in a country with a GDP the size of Canada. We must choose where to invest in research, and to support the entire spectrum of basic and applied research through to market entry, because doing so provides balance and a hedge on the future that leverages our talent pool. The same is true for education where we produce this talent pool. We owe it to ourselves and to those who want an education and a job or career to enable everyone to take their place in advancing knowledge and in finding full participation in our society. Not doing so risks impoverishment of the mind and society as a whole.

16 September 2011

Just what is productivity, and why does it matter?

Kevin Lynch and Munir Sheikh outline a prescription for fixing Canada's innovation woes in an op-ed in today's Globe and Mail. The piece is a shortened version of their recent article in the Policy Options September 2011 edition on "Innovation Nation." Their premise is a good one: "Innovation can be thought of as the process by which successful firms understand this dynamic [constant change in world markets], change, adapt and modify their products, processes or concepts of markets to take advantage of the changing environment" (p.1). Low business spending on R&D accounts for our low productivity and that "productivity growth is the dividend produced by innovation" (p.2). Importantly, they also posit "the crucial point that productivity growth is as much a social issue as an economic one because it defines our aggregate living standards" (p.2). There is also a weak understanding in firms of how productivity is measured and impacts firm performance: "The challenge with multifactor productivity as an explanatory framework is that no firms sit down and establish a multifactor productivity strategy; they have no idea what it is" (p. 4). Indeed, research done at George Brown College shows a very weak understanding in local firms of the relationship between productivity and innovation.

All of this is not news, but Lynch and Sheikh do point out that we need to foster better upstream investment in R&D rather than downstream tax incentives. More direct support for innovation in firms rather than tax incentives after the fact is a better way to incentivize firms to spend on R&D. This is precisely the point of the College and Community Innovation Program, administered by NSERC, that is funding college applied research efforts. The CCIP is showing positive effects in prompting R&D investment in firms who partner with colleges and polytechnics to address innovation gaps and needs. Applied research conducted in concert with student learning gives our students innovation literacy and entrepreneurship skills. The CCIP is a small but positive step in the direction of fostering greater firm-level innovation and R&D spending. Analysis and evaluation of the program's effects and effectiveness will lead to fine tuning and iterative improvements. But certainly in George Brown College's experience we have enjoyed positive interactions with industry partners who access faculty and students in an effort to get new products and processes to market. With college applied research accounting for about 1.5% of total public investment in R&D, this is an excellent return on investment. It is also an excellent return on Innovation that increases industry R&D spending and our collective capacity to innovate, leading to improved social and economic productivity.

15 September 2011

The imperative to improve undergraduate education

An article in today's Globe and Mail offers some insight into undergraduate education at Canada's universities. For undergrads at Canada’s universities, a new way of learning presents a reported uncustomary "high degree of consensus among Canada’s universities about the need to focus on best practices in undergraduate experience,” according to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada's Paul Davidson.

It is good that the universities are focusing on undergraduate education, as this is a core strength we need to shore up; the future of Canadian social and economic productivity demands a renewed commitment to supporting talent across the entire spectrum of education. It is interesting to note that the the AUCC is acknowledging that "15 years spent focusing on high-level research has left them unable to give many undergraduates the experience they expect." This includes, according to Patrick Deane, McMaster University president, meaningful contact with accessible professors, and varied types of learning such as co-operative and field opportunities, problem-based assignments, and chances to do undergraduate research or self-assigned study." It is noteworthy to point out that these are the hallmarks of college and polytechnics education. George Brown College in particular is focused on offering our students field education opportunities - working with our industry partners on applied research is one avenue we achieve this.

A concerted effort across the post secondary education spectrum to improve undergraduate education with a focus on developing the highly qualified and skilled talent we need across the entire work force is imperative. Articulating college and university programs, enabling the mobility of learners across institutions and provincial boundaries, and providing life long and life-wide opportunities to learn new skills are all positive steps toward modernizing Canada's approach to talent generation, retention, and application to society's needs. A key feature of the college system is a focus on outcomes based learning. To decry this as a form of corporatizing education is to abrogate our responsibility as educators to ensure that students can apply what they learn to their future work. Universities and colleges alike would do well to ensure students emerge from educational programs with a clear sense of what they can do to add value to our society. As I've noted here before, quoting John Godfrey: "The goal of education is to make people privately happy and publicly useful."

14 September 2011

Business+Academic R&D=Greater Productivity & Prosperity

An article today on linking businesses with academic institutions outlines key benefits to articulating higher education with the needs of industry to innovate. James Millway of the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity correctly describes this need - using the Waterloo region Technology Triangle as an example - though his focus on universities only misses the mark. The article does refer to Conestoga College - a member of Polytechnics Canada - as a constituent that participates in the training of highly qualified and skilled personnel that also supports business innovation in firms.

Linking industry and academic institutions is something done very well in many other productive economies (Finland, Germany, Singapore, UK, US). Canada has made good progress in this area, particularly with investments in college applied research that is geared explicitly toward aiding businesses with innovation supports. The last federal budget announced new funding programs for colleges, including a new fund for colleges and universities to work together to support industry. This is a strong example of a public+private partnership approach to R&D support that is advancing a de facto Canadian innovation policy. At present Canada has a strong invention policy - as noted here Canada is fourth in the world for Higher Education Expenditures in R&D, but 15th in the world for Business Expenditures in R&D. That is to say, we have a world leading basic research infrastructure that produces top talent and inventions. What we need now is an innovation policy. An innovation policy will foster greater ties between business and academic institutions, leverage our world-leading level of tertiary attainment (from colleges and universities), and address key challenges and opportunities in R&D for greater social and economic prosperity. The Review of Federal Support to R&D will likely address this given its focus on business innovation.

As we collectively modernize our approach to research, development and innovation, we would do well to recognize complementary strengths across the entire post-secondary education system as drivers of innovation and downstream prosperity and productivity. Yesterday's release of the OECD's Education at a Glance clearly shows the value of all forms of education. The Martin Prosperity Institute has recently published two reports on The Value of Education (Part 1 and Part 2) that further support the investments in education and the potential this represents for the Canadian economy. Linking education and workforce preparation with the needs of the innovation economy is the most sure route to future prosperity.

13 September 2011

OECD releases Education at a Glance 2011

The OECD's Education at a Glance statistics for 2011 were released today. Detailed reading is required to see where we place on international tertiary attainment, for example. Data presented at the OECD conference last June indicated that Canada may not have retained the top spot, though it appears from my initial read of this that we have (Type A and B across all age groups).

In the section on How many Students will Enter Postsecondary Education, there is a good point made regarding the need to grow spaces in PSE, but also to ensure that instruction methods can meet the demands of new types of learners.

There is a strong correlation made on the attainment of tertiary education with innovation and productivity: "Having a more educated work force gave these countries a head-start in many high-skill areas. This  advantage is likely to have been particularly important for innovation and the adoption of new technologies." It is also noted elsewhere that unemployment for those with tertiary education is on average 4%, well below averages for those with no education. In short, "Higher levels of educational attainment typically lead to greater labour participation and higher employment rates."

For colleges, there are some good data and insights on what the OECD terms Vocational education and training (VET)": see pp 122 ff. The data show that this kind of market-oriented education pays good dividends for learners who enter the job market.

30 August 2011

Infonaut CEO Niall Wallace on Innovation, Healthcare

Infonaut  CEO Niall Wallace is featured on The Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation website in a good post about what Infonaut is doing to promote innovation in healthcare in the province. GBC Research has been supporting Infonaut's applied research and innovation for the past few years; their product is a game changer that will result in saving lives and money in our healthcare system.

New Waterfront Campus one year from opening

Join us today at Sherbourne Common Park to celebrate the one year count down to opening our new Waterfront health Sciences Campus. Today's Globe has an interview with GBC President Anne Sado discussing the new campus and its focus on interprofessional health sciences education. The new campus will also feature significant new applied research capacity for GBC; it will be the nucleus of the Interprofessional Online Research and Technology Assessment Lab (I-PORTAL).

I-PORTAL will be a prominent element within George Brown College's East Bayfront Campus currently being built on the Toronto waterfront. This new campus will see the consolidation and further integration of GBC's health sciences education and training programs, with an even greater emphasis on interprofessional health care practices (building upon GBC's leading Interprofessional Learning Centre). I-PORTAL will form part of the GBC Research Labs and encompass new or expanded clinical simulation, visualization, prototype fabrication, design studio, operational community clinic and incubator/accelerator business venture development infrastructure that accesses the realistic training facilities serving our educational mandate. The Waterfront Campus will be the centrepiece of our business innovation support, and will be linked through cutting edge networking and video conferencing to advanced prototyping facilities at our Casa Loma and St James campuses, and our world-leading prosthetics and orthotics clinical, education and applied research facility at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. Together, these areas will offer local industry a prominent point of access to all of our applied research and innovation support services through the revitalized port lands on the Toronto Waterfront. 

10 August 2011

GBC Chef School receives food research funding to support Ontario food markets

George Brown College's Chef School is the recipient of funding to enhance the use of Ontario food products at the college and within industry. The project continues the Chef School's innovative approach to industry-focused teaching and learning while helping generate economic benefit for Ontario. Funding from the Broader Public Sector Investment Fund was announced at teh Chefs' House yesterday by Carol Mitchell, Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, who was joined by MRI Minister Glen Murray. Read the press release and the Globe story on the announcement.

08 August 2011

Canada needs to think about R&D ROI3

Saturday's Globe and Mail has an interview with the National Research Council's president John McDougall, who offers a very refreshing perspective on the need for Canada to make choices around the R&D we finance. Echoing statements I've made in this space myself, McDougall says that we should be looking for a return on investment for our R&D efforts, and directing the use of public monies into those areas that Canada needs addressing and can excel in. While his choices of areas may not be to everyone's liking, the idea of directive research efforts is something Canada would do well to listen to. While our ratio of HERD spending per capita is fourth in the OECD, our GDP is not large enough to enable unfettered research in all areas. McDougall decries the "slice and dice" mentality Canada brings to the distribution of funding, and posits that correcting this is one way to address our long standing innovation gap: “We’re dealing with limited resources, and it’s not as if there is a mattress full of money that keeps replenishing itself. We’ve got to get value out of it.”

As the article notes, this is a fairly controversial stance. Regardless, kudos to McDougall for addressing the need to balance our commitment to funding all basic research with the very real need to turn Canada's brightest minds to addressing significant problems we face as a country.

Canada's enviable status at the top of the world research heap is to be commended, but it is time for us to make concerted efforts at producing results based on this deep pool of excellence. Part of the issue here. McDougall notes, is that the general public is not able to understand the connection between basic science, innovation and productivity: “We aren’t clear with the public in Canada what we are doing. They can’t see it,” he said. “Part of success means being able to communicate with people so they understand what you’re doing and why it matters.” This is essential to enabling our industry to see the connections between innovation and productivity  and for our research community to see the crucial links between getting ideas out of the labs and into the market, while helping industry innovate and compete.

Helping industry innovate is what colleges and polytechnics do well. Linking the Canadian research enterprise to industry needs does not sully research nor lower quality. Quite the opposite. Rather, articulating basic research, universities, government labs and colleges with industry will help Canada address our long standing innovation gap and poor productivity.

As I said earlier: Doing so will achieve a threefold ROI:
  1. A Return on Interest from basic research that provokes thought and ideas, leading to disruptive innovations through long term research investment;
  2. A Return on Innovation from applied research that increases industry R&D spending and our collective capacity to innovate, leading to improved productivity; and
  3. 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.

02 August 2011

Innovation visas: passport to a productive future

The Globe's Time to Lead article today offers an opinion piece on the notion of an innovation visa for immigrant entrepreneurs. This follows on their story yesterday about "Attracting the Entrepreneurial Immigrant." Both are good reads on a very simple policy change that will capitalize on the entrepreneurial nature of new immigrants and make it easier for people to come to Canada to create companies and jobs. The Globe's editorial is succinct: lets make it easier for those who will generate new ideas to set up shop in Canada. These follow another story ran in early July featuring two entrepreneurs caught in the immigration system. The innovation visa is being tried by the US; here's a good time to follow the lead.

02 July 2011

Speed to market and user-centred innovation

On Thursday I was interviewed on BNN's The Close, addressing "Innovation in Canada". The segment afforded an opportunity to showcase some of the work that the George Brown College Research Labs are doing to support business innovation in Canada. The interview was timely given the release last week of the Science and Technology Innovation Council's latest report that outlines Canada's still-lagging innovation performance.

It's worth summarizing a few key points: Innovation is adding value - social or economic. It's not about invention - it's about translating invention and/or ideas into something of value. Innovation is not necessarily new to the world (this is invention), but new to a market. Canada has a world leading basic R&D system, but no innovation system and no innovation policy to support knowledge translation into innovation. Businesses don't invest in R&D (c.f. our HERD/BERD imbalance). We need to capitalize on our talent pool - which STIC also reinforced - in order to foster the diffusion of user-centred innovation throughout Canadian culture. George Brown College links the supply of talent to industry innovation demand by mobilizing our students and faculty to address industry needs. Here are three examples:

Theralase - this is an example of new to a market (definition of innovation) - not new to the world. Watch a CTV news clip here. We are collaborating with Theralase Inc. to do a feasibility study and to explore the possibilities of using cell destroying power of the Photodynamic compounds (PDCs) to attack and destroy bacterial contaminants of food. The company also wants assistance in ascertaining the market opportunity and potential commercialization products in this field. The objective of this study is to Do background and market research;  List competitive technologies; Scope the project; and Deliver recommendation on PDC application to the sanitation process in the food service and food manufacturing industry.

Memotext - we are working on helping this company to create protocols for medication compliance prompts for people taking medication. Personalize emails, voicemails, text messages, SMS - prompts to improve medication compliance.

The Green Syndications Vertical Axis Wind Turbine - our faculty and students helped take an unworkable patent and create a product ready for market by establishing proof of concept based on a new five blade VAWT design. See GBC grad Edward Wong's award winning video of the project here.

Connecting the supply of talent to industry demand for innovation is necessary. When colleges engage students in applied research, they gain crucial innovation and entrepreneurship skills. This will lead to downstream capacity to innovate in industry contexts, thereby meeting industry demand for innovation. Colleges occupy this space almost exclusively, connecting our students to crucial innovation experience and socializing industry to spend on R&D. Our role in fostering greater innovation and productivity across the country is unparalleled, and our capacity to increase industry innovation is heightened with recent federal government budget announcements. I will be picking up these threads later in the summer and into the fall as we work on connecting industry to our talent pool, and making a mark on Canada's innovation performance.

24 June 2011

George Brown College: Open for Business Innovation

About 200 people attended three industry networking breakfast events hosted by GBC Research at The Chefs' House, GBC's restaurant. The event was a resounding success. Attendees learned about our applied research and business innovation in three core areas of expertise:
  • Sustainable building technologies
  • Culinary arts and food product development
  • Health technologies
A highlight of all three days was presentations by our students, who showcased the applied research projects they have worked on with our industry partners. Faculty were on hand to talk about their role in addressing business innovation needs, and the following industry partners spoke about their experiences working with us:

A common theme of all three days was that our students gain valuable real life, real time experience working with our industry partners on applied research projects as a core part of their learning.

Our main take-away message: We are open for business innovation. Collaborators wanted. Contact us as research@georgebrown.ca.

We thank the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) for providing funding for the event.

21 June 2011

Jobs, employment, innovation: more on supply and demand

The Globe and Mail has been running some  articles on the job market and employment, notably this week on youth employment. Today's installment is a good piece on the (future) fit into the job market for those emerging from school. Notable is the focus on skills for employment - skills that area transferable in any market. We've often referred to these as innovation literacy, a skill set that represents capacity for innovation and entrepreneurship.

Innovation and the innovation economy are key drivers of employment, and the Globe's series on manufacturing (Remade in Canada) portrays industries seeking to remake themselves to better fit with the evolving needs of global markets, and, importantly, what this means for employment writ large across the country. Saturday's installment is of particular note as it refers to the role Canada's colleges play in promoting applied research in industries like the textile industry, as well as in preparing workers for new roles in evolving industries. This is the impetus for us to teach innovation literacy, and to foster broadly innovation and entrepreneurship skills across all programs in the entire post secondary education sector.

As I noted earlier, there can be a disconnect in what employers want and what they need, and linking the supply of talent to industry demand is an issue of central importance for all of us. Statistics Canada's new plan to provide data on labour market supply and demand is welcome news in this regard. Focusing our efforts in education on  providing the skills our graduates need is a laudable goal that will help Canada remake itself for the global innovation economy. Innovation literacy is one way to promote a plasticity of being able to learn new skills for new jobs, now and future forward.

17 June 2011

George Brown College President Anne Sado receives honorary doctorate from the University of Toronto

The George Brown College community proudly celebrates President Anne Sado's honorary doctorate from the University of Toronto. Anne's speech is available via archived webcast. Read our press release here, which outlines Anne's many achievements.

11 June 2011

Collaborators Wanted: Join us at our upcoming Industry Networking Events

The George Brown College research office is sponsoring three Industry Networking Events, on 22, 23, and 24 June, from 730AM-930AM. Join us for breakfast at The Chefs' House, GBC's restaurant, to learn about our applied research and industry innovation supports in three areas:
  • Construction and Engineering Technologies, with a focus on green and sustainable building: June 22
  • Hospitality and Culinary Arts, where we focus on healthy food product development, June 23
  • Health Sciences, for health technology and health promotion product, process and protocol development, 24 June.

08 June 2011

Innovation <clutch> transmission, or, Supply and Demand in the Innovation Economy

Last week I had the good fortune to attend  the Canada and the OECD: 50 Years of Converging Interests conference in Ottawa. The event was sponsored by the Public Policy Forum and featured many notable speakers who addressed not only the history of Canada and OECD (I didn't know that, for a brief spell, we were the only/first member as we were first to pay our fees), but also the implications for our interactions with the OECD, and why the OECD is such an important instrument for public policy.

The conference echoed some interesting thoughts and conversations I've been party to recently regarding Canada's innovation engine, and what one colleague stated as "a failure to engage the wheels." That is, we have a high performing R&D engine, but the wheels are not fully engaged to ensure that this R&D translates inventions into innovation and market value (social and economic). The R&D translation component - the clutch - is what we are starting to engage in earnest across the country with our renewed focus on business innovation.

Speakers at the OECD conference spoke a lot about Canada's enviable tertiary educational attainment rate (first in the world, though demographics are apparently unseating us there in favour of South Korea). Every speaker who mentioned this, from OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria to BMO's Kevin Lynch, failed to say that this includes what the OECD calls both Type A (university) and Type B (college/vocational). All the speakers focused solely on university attainment, which the facts do not support. As I wrote last year, we are first only when we include colleges and polytechnics; we are 11th (now 12th I believe) for university attainment. We need to recognize the role of college and polytechnic education in Canada, and work toward better integration of our capacity to strengthen our economy through our industry-focused programs. It's worth noting that, in the 9 polytechnics, we educate half a million people per year (25% FT, 75% PT), and that 20-22% of these people already have a university degree.

Barbara Stymiest, RBC, Group Head, Strategy, Treasury & Corporate Services, gave a very good introductory speech on the need to engage industry in R&D so that government does not drive innovation in the economy. Governments have a role in promoting and providing open and active environments to encourage innovation and the sharing of ideas. This is the basic premise of applied research and experimental development. As Stymiest put it: "We need to train our business people, researchers and government people to be entrepreneurs, not just employees." We need more private sector engagement and leadership to drive innovation from the demand side, rather than government's supply side or providing the talent pool for the private sector.
We can call this demand-driven innovation, which includes user-driven innovation and the engagement of producers and consumers in the diffusion of innovation.

Secretary General Gurria outlined the OECD's perspective on "green growth" a theme of the conference. Green growth is the only responsible growth, he said: It's not a matter of austerity versus growth; rather, it's a matter of responsible growth, and this growth is green growth. To this end, all OECD member states must identify the skills learners need and what skills the economy needs for future growth. There is "untapped potential"  in all areas of the green economy, and our education systems need to encourage innovation skills with an eye toward sustainability broadly in order to realize future markets and opportunities that will continue to develop world wide. This points to a differential between what employers want and what employers need. GBC's work in this area is notable, as we are providing employers the employees they need with the requisite skills. We need to push further as a country and ensure our employers can recognize the need to invest in the skills for the future as well.

This last point was made very forcefully by most of the speakers I heard at the conference. It further supports the government's (and the education sector's) role on the supply side of the innovation economy, which includes encouraging business innovation as well as being the compass on the growth potential of the future.  The panel discussion on Innovation for Growth addressed this directly. The speakers were Alistair Nolan, Senior Economist, Structural Policy Division, OECD, Chad Gaffield, President, Social Science and Humanities Research Council, and Amit Chakma, president of the University of Western Ontario.

Nolan outlined the OECD's innovation strategy and focused on the "intangibles issue" - those components of an innovation system that are not easily measured or articulated (like the soft skills GBC provides for example). Measuring innovation is imprecise, Nolan told the audience, and we face the necessary challenge of decoupling innovation from resource depletion. For example, patents are only one way to measure R&D output. Digital business models, art, design trademarks are increasingly more important for realizing latent innovation potential. "Entrepreneurship serves as a carrier for innovation and innovative ideas" Nolan said, and "public research institutions require reform to enhance and encourage R&D links with firms." These statements echo many ideas posited by Polytechnics Canada at the recent annual conference, where we focused on innovation and entrepreneurship skills development, and our role in fostering business innovation. On this front, according to Nolan, "we need to understand more about the complex trade offs in public R&D commercialization and firms." This means a more thorough understanding of what kinds of R&D investments translate more effectively into downstream innovation uptake. This is the clutch of innovation.

UWO's Chakma spoke directly about the supply side of innovation, confining his remarks to the university sector, but he did call for a "national project" whereby we direct science into certain sectors. This is a positive view of Canada's limited capacity to be all things to all areas of science. While we can encourage innovation and R&D into any and all areas, we would do well to be proactive in our spending to ensure we can maximize future potential and play to our strengths.

SSHRC President Chad Gaffield gave an overview of people-centred innovation, a topic I've been promoting since I first heard Gaffield speak on this topic last year. Gaffield reminded the audience that there is no longer a linear flow of idea to invention to the market. we are moving into a multi-directional flow of ideas (c.f. user-driven innovation) that is a transition from making (20th Century) to using (21st Century). My post a while back on thinking, making and innovation literacy points to the recent Globe article that outlines the need for a more nuanced approach to skills, including the science, technology engineering and math mixed with social sciences, humanities and the arts and design. All are necessary for increasing our innovation and entrepreneurship capacity. Integration and connecting digital technology, content and literacies, and business innovation and social innovation are core aspects of a 21st century people-centred innovation. People-centred innovation is about demand, not supply Gaffield reminded us.

Kevin Lynch's lunch time keynote was instructive here as well. Echoing comments he made at the Incremental Innovation conference a couple of weeks ago, Lynch reminded the audience that "pervasive globalization is both the opportunity and the challenge of the present age." The OECD is key to global guidance and Canadian policy setting in an interconnected, global innovation economy. It is the charting of the future course that the OECD speaks to, informing government policy as to what's next in the global economy.

06 June 2011

Budget 2.0 Supports Innovation [reprise]

Today's federal budget is a reprise of the applied research and innovation supports and continues the important work Canada's colleges and polytechnics do to support industry innovation. Notably, new funding is as outlined in the first iteration of the budget:
  • $80M in new funding for IRAP to link businesses with colleges
  • Supporting 30 new Industrial Research Chairs at colleges with $3 million in 2011–12 and $5 million a year on a permanent basis starting in 2012–13.
  • Allocating $12 million over five years, starting in 2011–12, through the Idea to Innovation program to support joint college-university commercialization projects.
Both the ACCC and Polytechnics Canada have worked hard with our industry partners to show the value proposition that college and polytechnic applied research brings to the Canadian innovation system. These are important structural changes that will have positive downstream social and economic productivity effects.

As an  enabler of the innovation economy, George Brown College is committed to supporting business innovation, and will be utilizing these new funding opportunities to further help build a robust and complementary innovation system in Canada.

28 May 2011

What employers want; What employers need

How Next Happens: Building our Economy through Incremental Innovation was held this past week in Toronto, and featured many excellent speakers on the need for an innovation policy in Canada. A paper was produced to spur discussion, linked here. MRI Minister Glen Murray opened the day, reminding us that "disruptive innovation is the exception; incremental innovation is the rule." This point is not often articulated, and the day's speakers impressed with a focus on the economic and social value of incremental innovation, which is responsible for most innovation productivity.

Minister Murray posited "innovation has replaced production as the primary driver of wealth creation and productivity," and that our collective failure to embrace this and the value of incremental innovation is one of Canada's failures. But this can be corrected, and the day's speakers outlined useful ways forward in this regard.

One way to do this is to teach innovation. Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management, says we should start this at the secondary level. To one point raised in the audience about innovation being unteachable, Martin replied: it's not unteachable; it's just not taught. He's right. It is this gap that we in the colleges and polytechnics are trying to fill with applied research and educational programs that teach innovation literacy - a constellation of skills that cohere around job-specific capabilities and enhance these with critical thinking and problem solving. As noted in the Polytechnics annual conference summary, the sector councils understand the need for these sorts of innovation skills, even when Canadian employers may not. This is the role of government policy as outlined in the "How Next Happens" event: provide leadership around innovation and entrepreneurship, and create an innovation policy that focuses on business innovation and helping firms plan for the future.

It was Roger Martin who presented good data on what he calls Canada's invention policy. That is, if you examine what the granting councils promote, they focus on invention, not innovation, and certainly not incremental innovation. Bill Mantel, ADM of MRI, did make the point that colleges, notably through the MRI-sponsored Colleges Ontario Network for Industry Innovation (CONII), do a lot to help firms with incremental innovation. More of this is needed to increase Canadian productivity. Mantel put this very well: "if you're going to talk about innovation, you have to talk about companies." CONII is an excellent model, Mantel told the audience, for working with SMEs and getting them to the right resource to help them innovate. The focus on firms is what will drive our future productivity. Invention from our world-class research labs is important, but focusing on what we can do to enable firms to innovate will be what lifts us out of our innovation nosedive. 

Peter Nicholson, of the Council of Canadian Academies, offered an excellent quadrant analysis of invention and diffusion. I've replicated this below. He grounded his discussion in a review of multifactor productivity and a point encapsulated by a good quotation from Zvi Griliches: "Most of the economy is quite far away from the boundaries of the current state of knowledge." That is, the State of the Art (upper right quadrant) is where most value is achieved by society for any given innovation, and this is where we need to move. This means encouraging firms to innovate, and linking our educational system to sponsoring innovation through applied research, but also through offering relevant educational programs that promote and foster innovation, entrepreneurship, and a move to the state of the art.

Diffusion of innovation model: P Nicholson
Kevin Lynch outlined four principles that should guide our approach to an innovation policy and improving productivity:
  1. Competitiveness is changing
  2. The globe is restructuring
  3. There is now  "great global talent hunt"
  4. Information is the new global currency
Lynch's point is that Canada needs to adopt information-driven competition - to use global benchmarking to drive innovation and productivity. We need to make explicit efforts on figuring out where we are (for example, within Nicholson's quadrant) and make every effort to move to where society gets the most value. Perrin Beatty summarized the day's discussion succinctly, saying as a society we have not put enough emphasis on the need for continual innovation. Our firms - and our workforce - needs to be able to understand the need for incremental innovation and its role in fostering improved productivity A challenge noted was that these concepts need to be made relevant - and resonant - with the Canadian public.

What does this mean for college and polytechnic education in Canada, and indeed the entire post secondary education (PSE) system? It means focusing on offering programs that equip graduates for work in today's and tomorrow's innovation economy. It means understanding that employers want graduates with the skills to do today's jobs, and helping them understand the need for skills for tomorrow's jobs. Governments are instructive and do lead here, but can only do so much. The PSE system has a job to do in educating employers on what is needed to encourage greater innovation and productivity across the economy.

George Brown College excels at providing graduates with job-ready skills. By equipping our graduates with innovation literacy, gained through applied learning and practical research and innovation projects, we are giving the economy the skills employers need. Our collective public education mission is therefore two-fold: to educate the students that come to us for job skills and career pathways, as well as to educate employers on the need for adopting and adapting innovation and the skills required to future proof Canadian industry. The future of Canadian productivity is a team effort.

25 May 2011

George Brown College student wins OCE Discovery video contest

Edward Wong, GBC CCET student, won the OCE Connections video contest last week at the OCE Discovery conference.

Edward's video beat out competitors from universities and colleges across Ontario. Edward received $2500 for his win, and was lauded for his efforts. See the awards presentation video here - Edward is on at 3:47. We had two others in contention: the Portable wind generator, and Resilient City.

GBC's booth at the conference enjoyed a distinct increase in visitors after Edward's win; many people came by to learn more about the vertical axis wind turbine innovation project and to speak to Edward and his colleagues - including CCET professors Leo Salemi and Tyler Krimmel - about their work with industry partner Green Syndications. Video from the event, including MRI Minister Glen Murray's luncheon and awards ceremony speech, is available on the OCE website.
The OCE Discovery is the premiere event showcasing academic/industry innovation in Ontario and Canada. The GBC applied research team did an excellent job of organizing an outstanding multimedia presentation. Faculty members, staff and students from CCET, CHCA, and BAD were present with our industry partners showcasing many of the applied research and innovation projects conducted across the college. Attendees saw first hand what innovation looks like in Ontario's colleges and universities.

Please join me in congratulating Edward and the rest of the VAWT team, as well as all of the faculty, students and applied research staff who made a significant effort to mark us on the innovation map.

George Brown College Research Labs: Enabling the Innovation Economy

11 May 2011

Thinking, making, and innovation literacy

The Globe's latest article on education in Canada provides a useful reference to our ongoing discussion on credentialism, differentiation and instrumentality. Creeping crendentialism is evident as art schools now offer undergraduate degrees - the article outlines the difference between degrees (study) and apprenticeship into art (practice). This is not a bad thing in and of itself. An additive approach to education and fostering innovation and entrepreneurial thinking in all areas of education will better enable Canada to enhance productivity. Art schools in particular represent a key facet of enhancing our wider industrial capacity to leverage design talent in business innovation. This is not something we have done much of to date in this country.

Differentiation in education is an idea gaining credence, as we move away from a one size fits all approach to developing educational pathways that fit labour market needs and the needs of students seeking to find their place(s) in the national economy. That is, enabling people to access credentials in an additive fashion, integrated in work, and with the capacity to return to education to retrain, reschool, and renew as the labour market itself evolves and industry shifts over time. And, related to the point above about design, there is nothing wrong with instrumentality - the directed leveraging of talent (design, artistic) into improving business innovation. "Applied talent" is one way we could describe this, and this does not sully the purity of art as expression, but rather recognizes that art and design have a place in the world of business innovation. As Sara Diamond, president of OCAD University says: “[Graduates] need to be thinkers who are highly adaptable as well as makers.” This is the essence of instilling innovation literacy in graduates: being able to add value to innovation and entrepreneurial activities.

And speaking of innovation and entrepreneurship, the proceedings of the Polytechnics Canada Annual Conference are available here. There are lots of good points - see in particular the opening address by BCIT President Don Wright, who offers some salient predictions on future directions in education. This is part of moving the conversation on education forward. We need a collective courage to really examine the premise of our education system as we redefine it for the 21st century.

10 May 2011

Polytechnics and skills for the innovation economy

The last couple of days have seen some interesting articles in the Globe and Mail about postsecondary education and the rise of college and polytechnic credentials. The latest one refers to polytechnics and colleges and our role as finishing schools for those graduating university with BAs in need of work related context. The debate here is about the relative utility of a BA, and while an interesting argument, the focus on how polytechnics and colleges can offer post-graduate programs to give graduates practical job skills on top of these BAs is most relevant. As Rick Miner puts it in today's article, if we had a fully articulated postsecondary education system with full transferability, then we would better be able to give students more seamless education in less time, and for less money invested overall.

These points were made very clearly at the Polytechnics Canada Annual Meeting last week hosted by BCIT. As I noted in my brief summation, our focus on innovation and entrepreneurial skills, labour market mobility and credential laddering is pushing forward a necessary conversation in Canadian postsecondary education. A lot of the discussion focused on the "context skills" commensurate with working in teams and for greater workplace productivity. We know these as a group of skills we call innovation literacy, and it was good to see so many of our industry speakers calling for the integration of these skills. The Plenary Panel: "Start-up Canada: Building entrepreneurs through polytechnic education" featured a group of speakers (myself included) who had a very engaging discussion on the opportunity we have as a country to chart a course of differentiated education that is "outside in" focused, rather than "inside out." By this I mean we can offer laddered credentials, integrated within applied workplace projects (such as we do with applied research and capstone projects), that are focused on what employers need, and the needs of those seeking skills, training and education to become full participants in the knowledge economy. We can make a bold statement with education delivery in this regard, and help transform Canadian education for the 21st century. This transformation integrates science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills with nonSTEM skills, realizing that a people-centred innovation and the innovation economy requires us to remain flexible and nimble in our approach to innovation and entrepreneurship more generally.

And this leads nicely into the summation of the innovation and entrepreneurship session I moderated at the conference. The group landed on the following three priorities:

1. Integration
- of innovation and entrepreneurship skills in all PolyCan programs - start early, not just capstone, but foundation of programs
- ensure graduates understand the importance and relevance of I.E. skills
- of STEM/nonSTEM skills across curricula (inclusion of technical, soft, and context skills
- of benefits to industry in core messaging

2. Harmonization
- of messaging with sector councils and industry, government and community audiences, and other PSE advocacy organizations to jointly advocate for innovation and entrepreneurship skills, importance, and retraining/ongoing education needs of workforce

3. Differentiation
- between innovation and entrepreneurship
- in our focus on applied research - switch from outputs to outcomes - benefits to industry, other audiences
- in PolyCan programs - make a bold shift to lead the way in redefining innovation, entrepreneurship and links to education

These are good thoughts for this day, or for any day, as we work together to redefine education for the innovation economy.