25 April 2011

ORION Summit 2011 a Success

The ORION 2011 Summit - Innovation Needs A Backbone - was one week ago, and I've been remiss in posting some thoughts on it (other than through Twitter). In short, it was a very good conference that included many excellent discussions on the future of RD&I: research, development and innovation, as enabled by high bandwidth technologies such as ORION. On Monday I convened a panel discussion on the role of colleges in applied research. It was an excellent overview from knowledgeable people who are focused on improving our record on innovation and productivity. The role of student training was nicely discussed - reflecting earlier thoughts on the multiplier effect of preparing a future workforce with innovation literacy skills.

Ilse Treurnicht, CEO of MaRS, introduced day 2, reminding us to galvanize our local assets as highly qualified and skilled people are highly mobile globally. Significantly, she said we need to generate "stickiness": an affinity to Canada that will help get our best ideas into the market. During a panel convened by MRI on the new Research and Innovation Centres (RICs), one panelist commented on the need for virtual density - the way in which RICs and all actors in the innovation ecosystem are connected through ORION to provide any point of access service to discoveries seeking market entry from university labs and/or firms seeking innovation support. The notion of distributed research clusters is one that Canada can particularly excel at, given our wide geography and distributed expertise. Linking talent across the country to provide innovation support services - a point  GBC made in our submission to the R&D Review Panel - is one way we can build Canadian capacity to accelerate innovation, and enable the innovation economy generally. And there is good precedent for this: have a look at a recent study on clusters in Norway referenced in this Blogging Innovation post: Innovation Requires Global Pipelines Not Local Clusters.

It's worth providing the following in full; it's food for thought:
The results indicate that firm innovation in urban Norway is mainly driven by global pipelines, rather than local interaction. The most innovative – both in terms of basic product innovation and radical product and process innovation – firms are those with a greater diversity of international partners. Local and even national interaction seems to be irrelevant for innovation. Furthermore, the individual attitudes of the manager make a difference for the firms’ engagement with the outside world. More open-minded managers have a greater diversity of international partners and rely more on global pipelines, whereas those with higher levels of regional trust depend on local and, to a lesser extent, national contacts. (p5)
When local interaction does not suffice: Sources of firm innovation in urban Norway, by Rune Dahl Fitjar and Andrés Rodríguez-Pos.
Dr Gilles Patry, President of the Canada Foundation for Innovation, gave an overview of infrastructure supports CFI provides, including the new College-Industry Innovation Fund. He reminded the audience that "it's people not organizations who innovate." Innovation is a social act; promoting people-centred innovation is a key focus for those of us engaged in supporting Canada's innovation system. Patry outlined three issues:
1. We are in a global war for talent (see Ilse Treurnicht's comment, above)
2. Innovation is a national agenda
3. The power of networks.
Patry's point is that we need to develop an entrepreneurial, risk-taking culture as part of a national innovation strategy, and this should be enabled by the training of skilled workers through research-based education. Part of this involves developing what Matt Ratto, UofT faculty member and founder of the Academic-Private-Public consortium DDMIT lab calls "interactional expertise." This is a great term useful for describing the kinds of amorphous skills we can associate with people-centred innovation and innovation literacy - the capacity for adoptation and development for in situ innovation.

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