26 February 2011

Productivity through Innovation: More on workforce skills and innovation

The ACCC recently released Productivity through Innovation: Applied Research at Canada’s Colleges and Institutes. Key themes include the value proposition of college applied research, the instillation of innovation literacy in college students engaged in applied research, and the emergence of downstream indicators for social and economic productivity enhancements. The link between workforce skills, innovation literacy and productivity is a topic of great interest, and one I will be devoting a fair bit of time to in the months ahead as I noted earlier. I'll be presenting ideas on these issues, with a focus on the measurement of impacts, at two upcoming events: the ACCC Applied Research Symposium in Victoria, BC, 22-23 March 2011, and the Polytechnics Canada Annual Conference in Vancouver, BC, 5-6 May 2011.

A lot of my thinking on this topic has been spurred on by the OECD report on Workforce Skills and Innovation. As my previous post on this says, this report is the most significant data to date on the net effects of R&D and the diffusion of innovation. The Canadian innovation system will be well placed to capitalize on a participatory, people-centred innovation that focuses on the development of innovation literacy at all levels of the workforce, and the multiplier effect that results within industry when undergraduate-prepared students (from colleges and universities alike) are paired with those with graduate training. This is a very important point for all involved in R&D: it is not a zero sum game of choosing one over the other. Rather, acknowledging a fully integrated and complementary approach to fostering innovation lets all components of an innovation ecosystem play to their strengths. GBC made this point in our submission to the R&D Panel, as have others.

It bears repeating: 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.

22 February 2011

George Brown College's Submission to Expert Panel on Federal Support for R&D

The George Brown College Submission to Expert Panel on Federal Support for R&D is available in full here. Our submission was developed in consultation with our Innovation Advisory Board. A summary of our most important recommendations is as follows:
  • The government should support the full range of R&D and innovation activities as defined by the OECD. 
  • A Canadian innovation strategy is needed to support business innovation. This strategy should include leveraging post-secondary institutions (PSIs) for innovation support and access to R&D equipment.
  • Government should support clusters to support firms. Orient marketing, outreach and funding programs to the needs of industry and foster greater complementary linkages among all PSIs. 
  • Expand the definition of highly qualified personnel and implement Conference Board of Canada recommendations on developing national innovation education requirements and linkages. 
  • Continue and expand the suite of programs under the College and Community Innovation Program umbrella.
  • Streamline application processes and forms, encourage complementary PSI business innovation supports, and reduce overlap and increase cooperation among federal and provincial agencies. 
  • Provide an “any point of entry” contact point for all involved in supporting business innovation.
We look forward to the final recommendations of the Panel.

College applied research and work force skills: our value proposition

Last week Colleges Ontario convened an applied research symposium that featured students and industry speakers who outlined the college applied research value proposition. Michael Bloom of the Conference Board of Canada was the host, kicking off the day with a good context on the need for Canada to engage ore industry in applied R&D. The student speakers were a real highlight - each outlining what they have learned from their work on applied research projects as part of their college education.

This is the biggest point that emerged for me from the day. Our best way forward as a system is the integration of applied research in curricula, thereby teaching a wider workforce innovation literacy skills. The recent OECD article on workforce skills and innovation offers solid evidence for this integration. While many in the college system are advocating for commercialization chairs or applied research leaders, I believe our most promising way forward is to focus on how we mobilize multidisciplinary teams to solve industry R&D problems. These ideas are perhaps contiguous, but our strongest value proposition is not a focus on individual investigators, but on a more holistic "wikinomics" or participatory and open innovation approach. This means involving students in applied research as a core facet of their education. This will create more innovation literate graduates, thereby promoting the diffusion of innovation more widely. The net effects of innovation literacy at all levels of the workforce is the multiplier effect this can potentially have on all sectors of the economy. I'll be focusing more on this issue in the weeks and months ahead as part of the development of a large, multi-site research study George Brown College is leading on behalf of a large consortium of 19 partners.

10 February 2011

Research lands at MaRS: GBC there with Tenet Computing

George Brown College students and faculty presented at yesterday's launch of the MaRS Regional Innovation Centre, supporting our applied research work with Tenet Computing. George Brown College and Bridgepoint Health partnered with Tenet Computer Group Inc. to test and implement Tenet’s emergency management software. Tenet’s PINpoint™ for BlackBerry® application facilitates cooperation and coordination during emergencies by ensuring that users always have up-to-date information stored in their BlackBerry smartphones, including critical documents and contact lists. Funding for GBC's involvement is from our CCIP award.

The MaRS Regional Innovation Centre is part of the Ontario Network of Excellence - the Ontario Innovation System that support business innovation and market entry for academic inventions.

08 February 2011

Reverse Innovation

Here's an interesting look at the role of global markets and the diffusion of innovation. Reverse innovation refers to "trickle up" from the periphery to the centre where innovations come from under-developed nations and then enter developed nations.  What is interesting about the HBR post is the realization of being on the "cusp of a new era" (as well as the posters claiming neo-colonial bias). Language aside, perhaps what this means is that we are seeing less one way innovations and better integration of global mindset and market places with more fluidity and flexibility. Or, to put it more simply, this is what people-centred innovation is really about. In my last post on the OECD workforce skills article (a must read for anyone in this space) I linked to the article which provides solid data on the prevalence of incremental innovation being key to increasing productivity, and the role that those with intermediate skills play in fostering innovation. Those of us working on  technology design have seen how the "RWX" approach to has transformed the user experience from one of passive browsing to active interaction (not quite a tautology...) where the end-user is a viable and active contributor to the continual refinement and ongoing development of the technology itself. This is innovation as perpetual beta, what I have earlier coined as adoptation: the adoption/adaptation of innovation.

02 February 2011

Interesting article on workforce skills and innovation

The OECD has released an excellent overview of major themes relevant to workforce training and innovation.

This is one of the best papers I have read in a long while that articulates what we refer to as innovation literacy and the role of instilling this in our graduates, as well as the potential downstream effect on the economy of graduates so trained. Many topics of high relevance are touched on: the evolution of academic programming to meet labour market needs; the importance of training innovation-related competencies and what we in Ontario call essential employability skills; the role of innovation intermediaries in the overall economy - by this I mean our role in helping our industry partners to innovate, as well as the intermediary role that our graduates with innovation experience play in their future occupations; and the role of high performing organizations and the supports required to enable firms to innovate. There is very useful data on the relative percentage of types of R&D performed versus innovation in the economy (the bulk of business innovation is Development, not Research), and strong evidence cited to support the fact that the majority of innovation conducted is incremental, and is best enabled by innovation intermediaries - people with intermediate skills. A participatory, people-centred, open innovation is clearly enabled by education that supports the acquisition of advanced skills, education and training alongside those skills we include in innovation literacy. These data also show that firms that train and promote education of their work forces have clear competitive advantages.

This is well worth the read for anyone in the innovation system - firms, post-secondary institutions, and governments alike.