16 December 2014

Industry-Academic partnerships have a role to play in R&D

While decrying the imposition of business into the science and technology (research) endeavours in the country, many conveniently ignore a few basic facts. Canada spends more per capita on public spending for research and development (R&D) than other G8 countries, yet we are the lowest for business spending on R&D. We have an enviable record of invention and publication, yet one of the worst records on innovation. Compounding the issue is that we do not have the GDP to support unfettered research into anything and everything. We must make choices.

In 2012 the Council of Canadian Academies published the Expert Panel Report on the State of Science and Technology in Canada (on which I had the pleasure of serving), which found that:
  • Canada is among the 5 leading countries in 7 of 22 fields, and among the 10 leading countries in an additional 14 fields.
  • With 0.5 per cent of the world’s population, Canada accounted for 4.1 per cent of research papers in 2005-2010 (7th in the world)
  • However, Canada holds only 1.7 per cent of patents
  • In 2010 Canada had a negative balance of nearly $5 billion in royalties and licensing revenues
There is much to be celebrated about Canada’s world leading basic research. We need more focus on translating this research into practical application for social and economic good. Our negative balance in IP – one of the worst records in the world – should be alarming to any Canadian. Successive expert panels have all said we have a systematic failure in this country to capitalize on the excellent basic research capacity we possess in our world leading research institutions. This failure is two-fold: we do not commercialize inventions effectively, nor does our industry invest in R&D and innovation, thereby offering a poor receptor to the outputs of academic research.

Well-funded basic research is necessary, but not sufficient for a functioning innovation economy. Countries like Canada, with our economy so dependent on resource extraction industries, need to start adding value to the raw resources we extract so we are less dependent on things like the price of oil. Basic research with little or no focus on application or commercialization becomes just one more example of how Canada exports raw commodities (ideas) without adding value (commercialization of these ideas). We can no longer afford this.

Integrating industry within the value chain of research and development means that we have an academic culture oriented toward applying basic research, when and where this is applicable. This enables industry to have easy access to our university, polytechnic and college basic and applied research capacity to help create social and economic value. Where ideas emerge that are ready and can be taken to market, we need industrial receptivity to make this happen. This requires a corresponding receptivity in our publicly funded research organizations to working with industry.

The new Science Technology and Innovation Strategy strikes a balance between basic and applied research, encouraging an ecosystem approach to innovation. This means fostering partnerships among our universities, polytechnics and colleges and industry to spur industry R&D spending and the emergence of inventions into the market. For example, Polytechnics and Colleges like George Brown work with many university scientists, helping them to get PhDs, patents, publication and products out the door, just as easily as we work with industry to get new products and services to market.

Innovation intermediaries are needed to fix what is broken in our innovation system. This requires partnerships – not partisanship – and a focus on making choices about where we invest as a country. Building the next generation of scientists, workers and business leaders requires hard work and cooperation. We have the foundation; let’s build on it together.

05 December 2014

Federal Government Launches new Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy

Prime Minister Stephen Harper yesterday launched the much anticipated new Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy. Seizing Canada's Moment: Moving Forward in Science, Technology and Innovation 2014 is a comprehensive and significant update to the 2007 Science and Technology Strategy. The new Strategy recognizes the idea to invoice continuum that is necessary for vibrant economies: world leading basic research linked to fruition in business innovation and social and economic benefit for all Canadians.

Receiving strong recognition in the new Strategy in the role of innovation intermediaries such as colleges and polytechnics. As the press release of Polytechnics Canada states:
The Strategy now includes an ecosystem approach to innovation which will lead to long-term economic benefit for Canada. It appropriately credits the diverse players in Canada's innovation ecosystem for their contributions: world-leading research universities, innovation intermediaries such as our polytechnics and colleges, and firms that are commercializing research and inventions.
This is a hugely significant approach.  Seizing Canada's Moment references the Jenkins Panel work in ensuring that there is a smoother path from invention through to innovation, both for our world leading universities and Canadian industry. The four priority areas of 2007's Strategy are reaffirmed, as reiterated in the Council of Canadian Academies report the State of Science and Technology 2012 (on which I had the pleasure of serving), with some expansion, detailed below. Fundamentally, our economy cannot prosper if we do not have both academic and industrial productivity. This means ensuring that we focus public R&D spending on national priorities, support the development of ideas to realize market success (academic productivity), while supporting business innovation (industrial productivity). With Canada spending more per capita on HERD than other countries, but with BERD lower, we cannot sustain this lop-sided approach to S&T. The new Strategy gets this balance right.

The 2007 Strategy set the stage for a strong focus on the country's strengths in research and development, or science and technology as it is often referred to. It paved the way for enhanced investment in basic research in our world leading laboratories. That Strategy also initiated the College and Community Innovation Program (CCIP), which saw college and polytechnic applied research recognized as a viable component of the innovation ecosystem.

There are a couple of key updates included in Seizing Canada's Moment. First is the creation of three new pillars: People, Knowledge, and Innovation. The second is a refreshed articulation of sector priorities.

The Pillars: Including Innovation as a key pillar is perhaps the most significant update. This pillar explicitly recognizes the benefit of linking ideas to invoice, or concepts to commercialization. This is not simple jingoism. Successive expert reports have articulated our excellence in basic research but our lack of business innovation. The Innovation pillar recognizes the value of the innovation ecosystem, of supporting world leading research and its fruition into social and economic value. It is worth quoting this in full:
[Seizing Canada's Moment] will also seek to close the persistent innovation gap that has hindered the transfer of ideas from the laboratory to the factory floor and the store shelf. The Strategy will also encourage businesses to work with partners in the innovation system, including by making Canada’s world-class research infrastructure, expertise and researchers available to them. It will encourage scaling up successful programs and consolidating program offerings to improve access and increase impact. The Strategy also emphasizes the need for Canadians to protect their intellectual property and enhances Canada’s access to global markets. (p 2)
The bottom line here is that where we spend more per capita on basic research than the rest of the world, we do not have the GDP to support unfettered research into anything and everything. We must set priorities. We also need to staunch the flow of Intellectual Property (IP) and realize this value to those that funded the R&D in the first place: the Canadian taxpayer (Canada has the largest negative IP balance of any other country).

Sector Priorities: The new Strategy recognizes the priorities from 2007's Strategy, while adding Advanced Manufacturing and a focus on things like additive manufacturing (3D printing) and disruptive technologies. Agriculture has also been added to the environment area. Both of these are overt recognition of the importance of the inputs to a resilient economy: the ability to make and/or produce what our society needs close to home. Also included in this area (as it was in 2007) is a focus area on food and food systems. George Brown College is very active in supporting this important sector through our Food Innovation Research Studio (FIRSt), which is supported by a College and Community Innovation Program Technology Access Centre grant. Demand from industry for our services is so great in the food area that we are working on expanding our capabilities in this important area of the economy.

In addition we have some sound principles: Focusing on Priorities; Encouraging Partnerships; and Enhancing Accountability. The Partnerships principle is particularly important, as it recognizes the very real need to link the "business, academic, and public sectors both at home and abroad are essential to assuring world-class Canadian successes and to accelerate the pace of discovery and commercialization in this country. The cost, complexity and pace of scientific achievement demand the creation of smart partnerships, through which the unique capabilities, interests and resources of various stakeholders can be brought together for greater success." This principle will lead to greater academic and business innovation and productivity.

Seizing Canada's Moment reaffirms the role of federal government support to the S&T value chain - there is a good graphic on page 15 that illustrates these supports. A good example of this is George Brown College's Green Building Centre, which received support from the Federal Economic Development Agency of Southern Ontario (FedDev). The Green Building Centre was recently officially opened by the Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) and Bernard Trottier, Member of Parliament for Etobicoke-Lakeshore. It is through support like this that Canada's colleges, polytechnics and universities can be oriented to fostering business innovation.

There is much to be celebrated in Seizing Canada's Moment: Moving Forward in Science, Technology and Innovation 2014. This is a strong statement on the value of Canadian S&T, and addresses very well the challenges to fostering greater business innovation for social and economic productivity. Good for the federal government for getting this right; the new Strategy was definitely worth the wait.

In the days and weeks ahead there may be those that will decry this new approach to science, technology and innovation. Don't listen to these voices, for they are purveyors of the past. Instead, look to the future for ways on which we can build on what makes Canada great, and how we can work together to make it greater. After all, it is much harder to build than it is to tear down.

21 November 2014

SSHRC launches the College Community Social Innovation Fund

Today the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) has announced the anticipated launch of the College Community Social Innovation Fund (CCSIF). This program will fund applied research conducted with partners in an array of social innovation. This is a significant opportunity for colleges and polytechnics to engage in demand-driven social innovation with our industry, community, and not for profit partners. 

“The Community and College Social Innovation Fund represents important, new and very 
welcome funding that will connect the talent, facilities and capabilities of Canada’s colleges 
and polytechnics with the research needs of local community organizations,” said Nobina 
Robinson, Chief Executive Officer of Polytechnics Canada in their press release. See also the Government's press release here, in which CICan president Denise Amyot states:

"Colleges, institutes and polytechnics are mandated to contribute to the social and economic development of the communities they serve. The scale and scope of college applied research in social innovation is significant, and makes a difference for community and social service organizations across the country, whether improving the lives of disadvantaged Canadians, addressing environmental challenges, enhancing teaching and learning, or improving health and wellness in communities. We are pleased that the Government of Canada is investing in college social innovation research-this is key to increase opportunities for community organizations to tap into the talent, facilities and capabilities of Canada's colleges and institutes."

16 November 2014

Polytechnics Canada Student Applied Research Showcase and the "How To" economy

The 11 members of Polytechnics Canada assembled at BCIT this past week to celebrate the Student Applied Research Showcase. The event is always a highlight, and this year was impressive as 11 leading students from across the country pitched their projects to a panel of judges. Each did an excellent job of articulating their research experience, but I think what was most impressive was when they were all called to the stage as a group to answer questions from the audience. When asked what they had gained from their experience on applied research, several spoke up about the application of skills and knowledge gained, the benefit of working for a real client, and how the experience prepared them well for the world of work and helped them get a job.

Earlier this year Polytechnics Canada CEO Nobina Robinson wrote about the "how to" economy in a Globe and Mail op-ed, in which she articulates the value of applied research as a unique way in which the knowledge economy is aided by the ability to translate knowledge directly to the needs of society. She writes: "In an economy with a growing demand for innovation talent in all sectors, we need to train people to know not just the “why” of knowledge, but the “how-to” of technical talent." Resilient economies are those that have the capacity to innovate and to add value to products and services. When students learn through our academic programs and work with industry partners on applied research projects – developing real products and services – they gain innovation literacy, key skills that amplify the technical skills they acquire in our programs. The multiplier effect of innovation skills was evident in all of the student presentations.

The Polytechnics Canada Student Applied Research Showcase is an excellent window into the world of applied research and the value it brings - to our partners, our education programs, and especially our students. Our economy is in good hands with people like those 11 who presented to the audience at BCIT, who is celebrating 50 years as an institution and 25 years of applied research. It was a fitting celebration, of BCIT, Polytechnics Canada, and the students, who very ably represented not just their home institutions, but our future ability to innovate.

10 November 2014

The GBC Green Building Centre: Open For Business Innovation

The Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for the Federal Economic Development agency of Southern Ontario (FEDDEV) and Member of Parliament for Etobicoke-Lakeshore Bernard Trottier were at our Casa Loma campus today to officially open the Green Building Centre. Many of our industry partners were on hand to celebrate the opening. The Green Building Centre is GBC's newest applied research facility that is supporting the growing Canadian green and smart building market. Prior to the ribbon cutting, The Minister, MP Trottier and industry guests toured the various labs developed with funding from FEDDEV:
  • Building Information Modeling
  • Advanced Prototyping
  • Building Materials
  • Building Sciences
  • Building Automation
The Green Building Centre also features a Building Accelerator and Entrepreneurship Space for industry partners to work with our students and faculty on applied research projects.

Minister Goodyear, who in a former post was the Minister of State for Science and Technology, has presided over the development of the college applied research capacity in Canada. In his speech Minister Goodyear talked about the strengths of Canada's excellent basic science R&D capacity (as recently outlined by the Council of Canadian Academies), but the need to also focus on developing our business R&D capacity. Facilities like the Green Building Centre are helping companies to invest in R&D and to develop new products and services. This applied research helps to translate the results of basic science into innovation, which means jobs and wealth in the economy. Already the Green Building Centre  has resulted in 59 new jobs, and helped our partner firms commercialize new products in the green building industry.

When companies work with colleges and polytechnics on applied research, not only are new products taken to market, but the next generation of skilled, innovation-literate graduates gain valuable industry experience. This experience complements the technical skills gained through our programs. The multiplier effect of funding such as that from FEDDEV is helping George Brown College to help industry to innovate in important areas of the economy. (In addition to Green Building, we are very active through our Food Innovation Research Studio and in health technology). Today's opening marks the official launch of the Green Building Centre, where we are open for business innovation.

07 November 2014

Education, information

This was a busy week for those interested in education. The Conference Board convened its annual PSE Summit, HEQCO held a conference on apprenticeships, and the Society of College and University Planning convened to discuss PSE planning, including physical infrastructure and programs. Of these I was unable to attend the HEQCO, though I have been told it was very good and featured excellent in depth discussion on important issues regarding skills, the skilled trades and the apprenticeship systems in Canada and elsewhere. Also related is a recent conference I attended at Simon Fraser University on Innovations in Undergraduate Learning.

The PSE Summit was presaged by a workshop on Monday held at Ryerson University's Digital Media Zone on "Rethinking the PSE Institution." It was a good discussion on how PSE can and should adjust to the changing world around us. The DMZ was held as an example of this, and rightly so. My read on the DMZ is that it is taking innovation and entrepreneurship and explicitly teaching this in a more competency based learning framework. It works because it is what the world needs, and what student (for the most part) are seeking - relevance of their education.

Relevance is a defining feature of much of the discussion on education, and as well it should be. I've quoted John Godfrey here before: "The goal of education is to make people privately happy and publicly useful." Yet while most people will agree with this, there is still a sharp demarcation between education as a way to better oneself versus education for gaining skills to get a job. I don't think these are mutually exclusive. Education is always both transactional and transformative. We should be focused on outcomes-based education wherein students are told up front what skills and knowledge they will gain from a course or program. This enables students to see themselves on a career trajectory while we instil values congruent with our society. While there are those in the university and college sectors who eschew anything that remotely sounds like practicality, we ignore this at our peril. To these I say: Show me the student who does not want a job. That student does not exist.

That said, we should of course always encourage learning within or learning programs. This means recognizing, as one PSE Summit presenter said (quoting Alvin Toffler), "The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn." Learning how to learn is an essential component of what we need to teach in order to future proof our economy. This creates resilience. It is a defining feature of those innovation skills I've termed innovation literacy. If the pace of technological change ushers in new forms of learning (about and with new technologies, for example), then the pace of credentialing similarly needs to be accelerated and adapted (IBM's M Mindel). In short, not only are there new competencies and skills associated with innovation as J. Salmi put it, these lead to the development of learning models such as what Ryerson's president Sheldon Levy has called zone learning, which is just "an updated form of co-op."

University of Toronto president Emeritus Robert Birgeneau gave one of the better keynotes at the PSE Summit with an overview of the California system. He described, among other things, the excellent articulation that defines credential laddering in the California PSE system (a real "system" I would point out, unlike Canada's many and competing systems). Most tellingly, he also went into detail about the new master education plan California is creating, in which there are community colleges, state universities and large, research universities, which are logically placed in a per capita allocation. To put this another way, Birgeneau pointed out that, if Canada were to structure PSE this way, Ontario would have 5 doctoral granting research-intensive schools, Quebec 3, BC and Alberta 2, etc. and create pathways among these. It reminded me of the U15 proposal for research funding, which is a good way to ensure that we can fund appropriately our best chances for global research excellence. This recognizes that we cannot continue to support everything and anything and everyone to be global research leaders. We have to pick winners. And we need an education system that serves the needs of the research pipeline an the development of human capital (read: potential): colleges, polytechnics and universities, both those that are undergraduate focused and those that are research intensive. Sooner or later this will come to pass for sheer economics. We cannot afford duplication in either credentialing or research intensity.

And so we end where we begin, in the need to focus on the development of a system (education and research) that works together, and provides students with outcomes and pathways throughout lives and careers. These issues arose at the SCUP conference and the SFU symposium. At SCUP there was a focus on planning and building physical spaces to reflect new learning, but also on program prioritization. Engaging in these sorts of exercises forces us to confront the cold reality of relative value of certain programs and types of education. This is as it should be. At SFU, there was a lot of discussion about outcomes amidst some fear that outcomes will restrict the ends of pedagogy, which to some is simply "crating good citizens." A noble goal, to be sure, but the majority of these citizens (95% according to one speaker) are entering universities to get a job and a career.

Those who eschew outcomes based learning I would liken to those who believe in magic. The students enter the educational institution, take some courses, and are magically transformed into a good citizen. To state what skills someone will learn from a given program or course disrupts this magical thinking, pulling back the curtain to lay bare the mechanisms of learning. The course or program is a black box in which magical things happen that are ineffable. This is alchemy, a transmutation that cannot be rendered explicit for fear of disrupting the professorial power to conjure this transformation.

To be fair it is difficult to render everything explicit. But we must be honest with ourselves and our students about what they will gain for their investments, and for those investments of public money we put into education. For if Canada tops the OECD in the percent of population with a tertiary education, yet there is still a mismatch in skills and gaps in career readiness, then there is a disconnect in the publicly-funded system and the needs of the private sector, where the majority of jobs are, in addition to the private needs of the individual to lead a fulfilling life as a participating citizen. This may simply be a communication gap (which is the rationale behind our innovation literacy badging program). And there are good models of public+private partnerships for education and research.

The private and public goals of education are complementary. The discussions held this week at these various venues has shown that there is great potential for the PSE system in Canada. There are good models at home and abroad that can shine a light on how we might reimagine our PSE systems, and make of them a true system.

27 October 2014

Demand driven innovation and the politics of research

Canada needs excellence in its capacity for basic research, applied research, and experimental development. These are the three elements through which we conduct and measure the R&D or S&T pipeline, from idea through to invoice, according to the Frascati Manual.

Successive expert panels and reports have shown Canada to have an excellent basic research capacity, but a lacklustre innovation and business R&D capacity. Here are a couple of op-eds that talk about these issues: one from the Globe and Mail featuring an international partnership on basic research, and the second from Polytechnics Canada CEO Nobina Robinson in the Hill Times talking about applied research. Both of these have in common a recognition that we have an excellent basic research system in place, and this is necessary for the full functioning of applied research and the innovation channel this implies.

But pushing harder on the research button is not going to change things. This requires specific policy and effort - to foster greater applicability of our basic research capacity by engaging partnerships, both within the academic world (among colleges, polytechnics and universities together), and with firms. As Robinson points out, "innovation is not purely a scientific activity - it is an economic one." And so while I applaud and support our national efforts to funnel more money into science and R&D, let's temper this with economic rationalism as we realize that we do not have the GDP to support unfettered inquiry into anything and everything. Regrettably, budgets require making hard choices. And that's no zombie idea.

24 October 2014

College Research Rankings: The Measures That Matter

GBC was pleased to ‎learn this week that we were ranked #3 in college research funding according to the Research Infosource top research colleges report released this week. Congratulations to BCIT and NAIT for achieving #1 and #2 respectively.

This is a great boon for BCIT as they are celebrating 50 years of education and 25 years of applied research this year.‎ I look forward to celebrating in November as BCIT hosts the annual Polytechnics Canada student applied research showcase. It is good to note that seven of the top 10 are Polytechnics Canada members, a testament to the strong applied research focus these organizations have taken as a measure of differentiation.

As good as the research funding rankings and the somewhat arbitrary research intensity figure are (research intensity=amount of money spent per faculty engaged) these are not the real measure of value of college and polytechnic applied research. The real story is alluded to in the data Research Infosource has compiled on numbers of partners and projects in this snapshot. Algonquin College tops the list on numbers of partnerships and projects, with BCIT, Sheridan and NAIT (along with George Brown College in second place in both) rounding out the top three in each category. 

This is a stronger measure because it speaks to reach and potential of what we do in terms of industry partner engagement and (missing from the list) student engagement. For example, on the Polytechnics Canada fact sheet you can see that the 11 members did the following research activity in 2013-14:
  • 1,789 Companies/clients serviced by applied research offices
  • 1,774 Applied research projects active and completed 
  • 946 Prototypes developed 
  • 11,927 Students engaged in applied research activity
Similarly, the Association of Canadian Community Colleges, now called Colleges and Institutes Canada, has data for applied research activity in its members (which includes all of the Polytechnics Canada members, so these data are inclusive of those above) that show "In 2011-12, more than 24,000 college students and 1,700 faculty and staff collaborated with 4,586 companies across 524 research areas."

Also not captured here is the industry spend in each of these institutions Very often, given the way in which college and polytechnic applied research works, funding support pays for 50% of the costs associated with a project. This leveraged funding component provide a more nuanced view of the value based on the system capacity. A rough calculation to simply double the awarded funding would give a ballpark figure, though this is funding awarded, not funding dispersed; dispersed funding is a better measure of a particular organization's capacity because it shows the spend rate which is more easily matched to projects and partners to get a sense of scale. Including the numbers of students and the outcomes of the work (such as prototypes and products delivered to markets) enables us to start to infer impact. This impact is necessarily linked to research funding, but research funding is not a sole determinant of the outcomes capacity as it exists.
This starts to give us a more robust picture of the value - to firms, to students, colleges and polytechnics and the public - at the value for why we do this important work: to help firms to innovate while training the next generation of innovators. For the real value here is what exists in our partnerships with Canadian industry - and here I include cultural, community and corporate partnerships. Alex Usher has a good post about the relationship of firms to the research endeavour. Ignoring this connection, and the value of graduates equipped with innovation literacy in the economy broadly, are the outcomes that we should be tracking in order to better align the college and polytechnic applied research capacity with the social and economic needs of the economy.

Kudos for Research Infosource for advancing these issues. I look forward to more conversation about how best to measure - and what to measure - the value of the applied research system now in full swing across the country.

07 October 2014

Toronto Foundation launches Toronto Vital Signs 2014

Today marks the launch of the Toronto Vital Signs report, an in-depth look at the social and economic health of the region. As the message from Toronto Foundation CEO Rahul Bhardwaj and John Barford, Chair of the Board of Directors, makes clear, there is a lot to be proud of, yet a lot of work yet to do to ensure Toronto maintains a world class place to live and do business. The Toronto Star has a special section today which details the key messages, including how place determines success in the region.

George Brown College is proud to be the lead research partner for the Vital Signs report.

01 October 2014

Skills, innovation, the economy

With much discussion of late over skills and the role of education, it is interesting to see Alex Usher's post today featuring a Venn diagram of skills employers need versus those that alumni wish they had. It reinforces the work we do on innovation literacy and the promotion of those skills required for job market - and economic - success.

A recent Conference Board of Canada report called The Bucks Stop Here: Trends in Income Inequality Between Generations paints part of the picture here as well. There is some good news in this report, including increased labour market participation and a narrowing of the wage gap for women, and I note that the report states "The rise in average incomes does suggest that younger workers still have opportunities to advance." There is also a call to increase productivity in the labour force, which is consistent with many reports that look at how our labour force compares to other countries. With increasing retirements – and a corresponding shrinking of the labour force – increasing productivity is key to helping shape a vibrant economy.

Issues that are raised here such as underemployment and skills mismatches are real and important to address. One way that George Brown College is addressing these issues is to focus on a tight linkage to industry need in our programs. And, our emphasis on innovation literacy and what are called "soft skills" - those skills such as team work, communication, and entrepreneurship – gives our graduates a leg up in the job market. In addition, our focus on experiential learning – providing the capacity to apply skills through courses, applied research projects and internships, all help students to learn skills and apply them.

The Conference Board report notes that "The critical issue that emerges is how to ensure that younger workers are able to put their knowledge and skills to use in ways that will drive their incomes up faster than we have seen over the past three decades. " This is a very important point. Our focus on providing students with experiential learning and encouraging students to demonstrate what they have learned through for example our new digital badges program helps students seeking employment to demonstrate what they have learned in their programs and how they have applied this learning to real world contexts. Investing in education is a good thing, but this investment needs context: is there a labour market demand for a chosen profession? And importantly, what is industry's role in investing? We know that Canadian industry does not invest in additional education and training to the level our international counterparts do for their employees, and this is something that we foster with our close links to industry through our program advisory committees, for example.

Our focus on soft skills, on innovation literacy and entrepreneurship, and on how our programs link to employment give our students the tools with which to build experience and to gain employment. Students hone these skills further through experiential learning such as applied research and learn how to articulate the skills and knowledge they have gained so employers will understand what they know and know how to do. This puts the emphasis on the agency of each individual student, who is encouraged to come to the College, learn from our industry-relevant programs, and then demonstrate these skills and knowledge. We provide the context and the tools, and the encouragement to learn, and earn, a living.

22 August 2014

Innovation, funding, tax credits

Here's a link to good overview of some issues with the current Scientific Research & Experimental Development (SRED) tax credit regime. As I've noted earlier, there are some issues with how SRED works that are not in keeping with how R&D is conducted nor measured. As the Globe article posits, the Jenkins Panel has also recommended changes to the SRED program. While the SRED program has done a lot of companies a lot of good, it is skewed against the kind of market driven applied R&D that helps get new products introduced into markets. Overhauling SRED would be daunting to be sure, but anything that helps firms engage in R&D more directly should be welcome news.

11 August 2014

Science, Technology, Students

In picking up the thread of research and development in Canada, there have been a few good articles of late that help frame the fall conversation. This will be particularly important as the federal government readies the release of its anticipated update to the S&T Strategy.

The Globe has a piece by economist Todd Hirsch on the lack of S&T investment by industry. This is not new news. Hirsch does do a good job of articulation what this may mean down the road for Canada's economy, especially when, as he notes, Canadian companies are "flush with cash." Partnering with a post-secondary institution such as a college, polytechnic or university can help industry to de-risk the R&D enterprise. This has been a staple of government support for R&D of late.

Of course there are those that decry this approach to R&D funding, saying that requiring industry partners will debase the pursuit of science. A recent Ottawa Citizen op-ed claims that governments are "starving" fundamental science research with the focus on industry engagement. Without wading too far into this, I wonder if a more nuanced approach is required? Certainly declining grant success rates is frustrating for anyone applying for funds. But fostering a greater national approach to partnering in research generally, and in this I include with industry, and among universities, colleges and polytechnics, both fosters greater academic and industry R&D productivity, while giving students better experience. I've made the point many times that engaging students in applied R&D with industry fosters innovation literacy. The point here is that, as CCA reports have outlined, we are excellent at many areas of basic research. I just think we don't have the GDP to support unfettered research into everything and so have to make choices. And health is likely a good one.

With the economic recovery perhaps not as good as we might hope, there is a couple of voices coalescing on the value of Canadian education. Both Mark Kingwell and Minister Jason Kenney have not dissimilar views. While the former lauds the value of Canadian universities such as the University of Toronto, Kenney goes a step further in seeking to leverage immigration specifically to attract and retain talent. Both underscore the value of our educational systems as being components of the larger productivity strategy that involves talent and R&D.

And this is a good segue into the Strategic Mandate Agreements that the Ontario government has recently required of all PSE institutions in the province. I've not yet had a chance to review these in detail and to compare and contrast them, but it will be interesting to see how our colleges, polytechnics and universities can work together to meet the needs of the labour market generally, for the economy of today and that of tomorrow.

02 June 2014

Recognizing innovation literacy with badges

Since the launch of our innovation literacy digital badges I've received numerous inquiries regarding the program, particularly since the story about our badging program appeared in Academica. I thought it would be useful to provide an overview the the program, and why we have launched it and what we hope it means to our students and graduates.

The premise of the program is that it is important to acknowledge the acquisition of skills students gain as a result of working on applied research projects conducted with industry and community partners.  These innovation literacy skills are ancillary to the technical and other skills students gain in our academic programs.

The foundational premise is that these innovation literacy skills are acquired through this applied research work. The second premise is that it is important to render these skills visible to students. That is, we must ensure that students can see and acknowledge that they have gained skills pertinent to innovation. We can tell students they have gained these skills, and most can articulate that they have gained these skills, but it is important to render explicit the tacit assumptions of skills acquisition in order to complete the learning and reinforce the value of innovation literacy. Third, it is important to make this skill acquisition visible. Enter the digital badge.

Badges are an increasingly popular way for students to show to potential employers how they have gained skills and experiences that do not normally appear on an official transcript. They can be displayed on an e-portfolio or co-curricular record, or on a social media profile such as LinkedIn or Facebook. The important thing is that badges are explicit recognition of skills that are gained through experiential learning.

For the past few years the team at George Brown College has been working to foster innovation literacy skills in our graduates that work on applied research. We have developed ways to measure this longitudinally, and this work is in progress. In the meantime we felt it important to take steps to ensure graduates understand what innovation means, and how their applied research experience enables them to take a proactive role in fostering innovation within the broader world of work they enter upon graduation.  It is important to demystify innovation, as in so doing we derisk it for the economy broadly. By ensuring that all graduates can achieve some understanding of innovation and how they can participate in it, we foster a better chance of future productivity. Key here is recognition of informal learning and its relationship to formal learning.

I've written earlier about the need for a more national approach to outcomes based learning that can account for both formal and informal learning. Such a "learning passport" system would enhance the linkages between learning and life (work), something colleges and polytechnics assume as part of our mandate. This explicit connection need not solely be focused on the transactional acquisition of skills of immediate use. For when we teach skills we also teach how to learn, and learning how to learn is a skill that fosters resilience and the transformational effects of education.

George Brown College Excellence in Research and Innovation digital badge
George Brown College Excellence in Research and Innovation digital badge

28 May 2014

On education, practicality and permeability

Alex Usher has a good article out today on what he calls permeability, referring to the idea that education, practically focused, is best when it is practiced in concert with (not in opposition to) industry or society at large. Usher refers to an example of this as "the applied-research projects that come from local businesses, and are proliferating in place like Ryerson and Canada’s Polytechnics." This is a timely discussion, coming on the heels of the recent Polytechnics Canada conference and just this week the annual conference of the ACCC (now called Colleges and Institutes Canada), both of which focused on how colleges and polytechnics offer an education that is inextricably linked to the socio-economic productivity of Canada.

14 May 2014

Recognizing Innovation: GBC Research launches the Excellence in Research and Innovation badge

GBC Research was at the OCE Discovery conference these past two days, a great event that every year brings together those who function as innovation intermediaries in Ontario. This includes the OCE as conveners and intermediaries, and the colleges, polytechnics and universities who help firms and student and faculty startups get to market. It's a great event that showcases the bench strength of the Ontario innovation ecosystem. There were many good speakers, and a real highlight was the lunch time keynote interview with Steve Blank, on the agenda as "Godfather of the Lean Startup method, Silicon Valley entrepreneur expert and author of The Startup Owners Manual." Blank had many good things to say - including that startups are in search of a business model that scales, while established companies execute business models. Good advice.

Discovery was also the setting for a real landmark event for GBC Research: the awarding of the very first Excellence in Research and Innovation digital badge to GBC Mechanical Engineering Technology graduand John-Allan Ellingson. John-Allan is an exemplary student, having participated in many applied research projects and presentations to industry, government and academic audiences on the value of his experience and the innovation skills gained as a result.

Photo of John-Allan Ellingson, with OCE Director John MacRitchie, GBC Research Director Dawn Davidson, and Robert Luke GBC VP Research
Photo (from L-R) of  OCE Director John MacRitchie, GBC Research Director Dawn Davidson, Innovation Badge recipient John-Allan Ellingson, and GBC VP Research  Robert Luke 

About the George Brown College Excellence in Research and Innovation digital badge:

Badges are a way to recognize informal learning. The GBC Excellence in Research and Innovation badge is how we are now recognizing innovation literacy in those students who have participated in an applied research project.

George Brown College Excellence in Research and Innovation digital badge
George Brown College Excellence in Research and Innovation digital badge
Distributed by the Office of Research & Innovation to commemorate successful student participation in research projects, these badges can be attached to a LinkedIn page, Facebook account, or wherever a prospective employer could see it. These badges go beyond what’s learned in class to acknowledge the skills that don’t appear on a transcript: the ability to problem-solve, communicate with team members and produce innovative solutions to industry problems. This is the essence of innovation literacy.

Congratulations to John-Allan!

Photo of John-Allan Ellingson
John-Allan Ellingson

Learn more about John-Allan's work through these two videos:

The SOS Crane

The Advanced Prototyping Lab 


09 May 2014

Polytechnics Canada promotes entrepreneurship of, in education

The annual Polytechnics Canada policy conference was convened this week at Algonquin College in Ottawa. The theme of this year's conference was "Polytechnic Education: The future we want, the difference we make, the change we need".

The agenda included an opening keynote by Matthew Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work. It was a great opening to the conference as Crawford focused on the necessary balance between manual and intellectual labour, itself a false dichotomy.  The main idea here is that the kinds of work that colleges and polytechnics prepare people for has been traditionally delegated to second tier status. The time has come to realize we need a complementary approach to education.

The Honourable Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment and Social Development Canada and Minister for Multiculturalism gave a keynote speech at the conference dinner preceding the event, focusing on the kinds of changes we need in ensuring we have better labour market information, credit transfer and mobility, and on the new reforms to apprenticeships. It kicked off very good discussion at the conference on the value of work (as per Mathew Crawford), as well as skills that employers need and how we can instil these in our graduates.

A panel discussion featuring representatives from all three political parties reviewed the role of the federal government in education, and there was a strong focus on innovation and the needed connection between applied education, the labour force, and the larger R&D capacity of the Canadian industrial ecosystem.

An ensuing speech by by Nathan Cullen, Member of Parliament for Skeena-Bulkley Valley, B.C. and Finance Critic for the Official Opposition, New Democratic Party of Canada, was a good review of the consonance that exists across political lines on issues pertaining to education and policy. Cullen also made strong points about the need to reinforce the value of college and polytechnic education - a point picked up by many - where this value has had historically diminishing returns in terms of its perceived value. In simple terms, this means a historical bias favouring universities as the ticket to the future has led to the skills issues we now face (for which we need better data, of course).

It was Cullen who stated that "Polytechnics are the entrepreneurs of post secondary education." This is a very good point - the members of Polytechnics Canada are innovating in our approach to integrating applied research as a core facet of experiential learning while helping firms to innovate. We are advancing the apprenticeship discussion to update and modernize the system for better social and economic productivity. And we are working to connect supply and demand for the innovation economy.

Addressing this topic specifically was a panel on "Connecting Demand and Supply for a 21st Century Talent Agenda". Speaking from the employer perspective was Ross Laver, Vice President, Canadian Council of Chief Executives, and making the link to post-secondary change was Professor Ross Finnie, Director of the Education Policy Research Initiative (EPRI), University of Ottawa. It was an excellent overview of the needs of employers, and how education institutions can work to meet these needs. The crown learned about the nature of skills shortages and the lag of the PSE system to deliver the skills we need now, which runs the risk of ignoring the realities of the skills needs down the road. This is complicated by the fact that the jobs we will need to fill in 10 years may not exist right now. Todd Hirsch, writing in today's Globe, makes a similar point. (warning: paywall in effect).

A closing panel on healthcare shows how polytechnics from across the country are helping entrepreneurs innovate in the health space, while providing needed culture change impetus with the teaching of innovation literacy to a wide variety of students. GBC Research partner Infonaut was featured.

We need better labour market information (LMI): "The plural of anecdote is not data" enjoined Polytechnics Canada CEO Nobina Robinson. This was echoed by many - starting with Minister Kenney right through to Ross Finnie, the latter who also focused on the relatively new field of behavioural economics. This means understanding the context in which the students (now and in the future) are making decisions about the kinds of education in which they will engage includes some of the prejudices against college mentioned above. This is not to say that university education is not useful, but rather that it is not for everyone, nor preparation for all of the jobs we have and need to fill now and in the future. It is worth repeating: we need a complementary, non-binary view of education - and research for that matter - that starts from what the market needs.

Once again it was an excellent discussion, with participation from many across the education, government and policy spectrum. The focus on the future with a practical attention paid on how we will get there - and what changes we need to work on together - was very fruitful, and significantly advanced the discourse on education, skills and innovation.  Nobina Robinson summed up the day succinctly: "When events like these ask the right questions we can get to the right solutions."

Polytechnics Canada next convenes at BCIT in November for the annual Student Applied Research Showcase. With BCIT celebrating 25 years of applied research, it promises to be a good event.

29 April 2014

CMEs and the Internet of Everything

Yesterday George Brown College hosted a day long staff workshop on all things technology. The inaugural GBC Tech Day was co-sponsored by GBC Research and Innovation and our ITS department, and was really the idea of our CIO, Paul Ruppert. The day was a huge success, and I mention it here as a way to talk about the opening keynote by Rick Huijbregts, of Cisco Canada, also GBC Executive in Residence at our Centre for Construction and Engineering Technologies. Rick has also spoken at the last Polytechnics Canada Research Showcase at SAIT in Calgary. 

Rick spoke about the world of a computationally connected future, with impacts in everything from smart buildings to mobile communications. The focus on the Internet of Everything (IoE) reflects the transformational potential of a world in which billions of devices and people are connected. This leads to new products, services and jobs, and connects well with the point I made in my last post about what Vicki Saunders, Founder of SheEO, spoke about when she said that "CMEs are the next SMEs." ‎Creators, Makers, and Entrepreneurs (CMEs) have a lot to do with invigorating our economy, and the IoE represents a key opportunity for Canada. Rick issued a challenge that resonates with our collective need to reach for the potential, and to have the courage to change what and how we do business in return for helping to shape the future.

Our Advanced Prototyping Lab, and projects we have conducted and are working on in our Green Building Centre, leverage the IoE concept as we help CMEs (and SMEs) realize new market potential. Watch this space for upcoming news about our work in these areas, and in particular plans we have to expand our capacity.

25 April 2014

Research Money Conference promotes "CMEs as the next SMEs"

The 13th annual Research Money conference was convened this week in Ottawa, and as in past years featured excellent discussion on the sate of research and innovation in the country. Following on the heels of Budget 2014 the conference theme was Budget 2014: Re-balancing Innovation Support Programs. What was interesting was the a major emergent theme of the conference was the need to expand our thinking in terms of embracing innovation far past the confines of discovery. This means ensuring that R&D is applied, as innovation, not the same as invention, means translating the fruits of basic R&D (in which Canada excels) into business outputs (where Canada lags).

An industry panel was among the many highlights, on which Vicki Saunders, Founder, SheEO, said "CMEs are the next SMEs." By this she refers to ‎Creators, Makers, and Entrepreneurs, reflecting a significant focus of the conference: the importance of the humanities and social sciences in effective business innovation. To this end, Vicki Saunders talked about adding Arts to STEM (STEAM), reinforcing that effective business innovation and entrepreneurship requires people who understand human behavior and psychology, particularly as this relates to selling inventions to make them into innovations. 

John Baker, Desire2Learn CEO, spoke eloquently about the need for innovation in the economy and his company's pursuit of it in the learning technology space. He also linked his speech into two of SSHRC"s Future Challenge Areas, further showcasing the relevance of humanities and social science disciplines in the effective R&D translation enterprise in Canada. To this end, innovation literacy requires a broad set of skills that are complementary to each other, much like disciplines working together are. This discussion bodes well for the future of R&D, and its translation into innovation for social and economic productivity. 

04 April 2014

Government of Canada launches Digital Canada 150

Today the Honourable James Moore, Minister of Industry, announced the launch of Digital Canada 150. The new strategy has been in the works for quite some time, and comes at a time when the government is launching new initiatives designed to support Canadian industry. There are five pillars:

  1. Connecting Canadians
  2. Protecting Canadians
  3. Economic Opportunities
  4. Digital Government
  5. Canadian Content

Each offers key planks of the strategy designed to bolster Canada's knowledge based economy. Pillar 3 - Economic Opportunities offers some good incentives for firms to tap into $200M in funding to promote the adoption of digital technology. This is similar to the Digital Technology Adoption Pilot Program IRAP rolled out over the past few years, and which was  hugely successful in enabling polytechnics and colleges like George Brown to work with firms to get them online and productive. We focused a lot of our work on Building Information Modelling (BIM), as part of our Green Building Centre applied research focus. BIM represents the future of the construction industry and George Brown College is pleased to support this significant advance in concert with our industry partners.

Watch the video of the Digital Canada 150 announcement here, and check out the site.

26 March 2014

Toronto Region Board of Trade on a resilient regional economy

The Toronto Region Board of Trade hosted Roger Martin of the Institute for Competitiveness & Prosperity on Monday to speak to a new report they have released called Toward a Toronto Region Economic Strategy. The report follows on the important work on clusters TRBOT has been sponsoring over the past few years and the most recent Scorecard on Prosperity (2014), and features an in depth analysis of the sate of the Greater Toronto Area economy, the inputs that make it function, the clusters that dominate the socio-economic landscape, and what action is needed to spur growth. It is the call to action that are the main features here, as the Toronto Region is not performing well. As TRBOT CEO Carol Wilding and TRBOT Board Chair Beth Wilson state in their introduction, the report “leads to a framework for a regional economic strategy and examines where Toronto excels, faces challenges, and provides opportunities for consideration for the region not only to become more economically productive, but also to be a more livable and prosperous region.” In short, the story as it is is not that good. Toronto lags in many areas, and concerted action is needed to maximize the potential latent in the region.

It is good to see the report acknowledge the full spectrum of the post secondary landscape, from colleges, to polytechnics to universities, as being part of the Education and Knowledge Cluster. The other clusters – Financial Services (the single largest cluster by far), Information Technology, Processed Food, and Life Sciences – are all important drivers of the regional economy. Key here is finding ways for businesses to lead cluster development and refinement, and to spur industry to invest in the three pillars of economic development: new technology, training of employees, and R&D.

Certainly in the training and education aspects Toronto does well, with numerous leading universities, polytechnics and colleges in the Greater Toronto Area. On the R&D side, the report makes positive mention of the need to foster greater industry R&D spending, as well as increasing the capacity of education institutions to partner with firms on R&D activities. These kind of public-private partnerships for R&D (what I call P3RD) are important drivers not only of business innovation, but also of fostering broader innovation skills throughout the educational process, from undergraduate through to graduate.

The report calls for the creation of a higher education advocacy group for the Toronto area, building on the London, UK model, in support of the Education and Knowledge Cluster. This is a good i9dea, and builds on the increasing awareness of al PSE institutions in the region of the value of working together. More work is needed, and such an advocacy group will enable us to combine the best from each, recognize that each kind of institution – university, polytechnic, and college – all play important roles in supporting the entire range of workforce development. The same holds true for research, as both basic and applied research excellence is needed. This will foster greater academic productivity, as well as greater business innovation and productivity.

The report acknowledges the complementary role that colleges and polytechnics play in the education and R&D ecosystem. It also speaks about experiential learning, and the value this brings to all students from any educational context. This is a signal opportunity to invest in the teaching of innovation and entrepreneurship skills commensurate with fostering academic inventions and commercialization together with business innovation.

The Processed Food cluster represents a key area that I’ve been active in for the past couple of years, all in support of the TRBOT’s efforts to foster greater competitiveness and growth in this important sector of the economy. The Food Innovation Research Studio (FIRSt) is a key applied research centre of excellence at GBC, and the applied R&D we conduct with local firms combined with our leading educational programs makes us a key stakeholder in this area. There is good work going on here by many people; watch this space for updates in the future.

The report is a must read for anyone interested in the long-term health of the GTA. It has important data on what is working and why, and equally important information as to what actions are required to enable Toronto to realize its full potential. It is a highly credible and reliable source of information and insights that forms a key fulcrum of the TRBOT “Think Twice, Vote Once – Decision 2014: campaign. Kudos to the TRBOT, the Martin Prosperity Institute, and KPMG for producing this important work. It should be circulated – and read – widely.

18 March 2014

IRAP supports demand driven innovation: Business Innovation Access Program launched

The honourable Greg Rickford, Minister of State for Science and Technology was at Sheridan College today announcing the launch of the NRC Business Innovation Access Program (BIAP). BIAP, also known as innovation vouchers, were promised in Budget 2013. As Minister Rickford stated in his address to the crowd, the program features "hassle-free vouchers, valued up to $50,000 per project, to access business and technical services carried out by Canadian researchers and students." The vouchers are a direct result of the Jenkins Panel which recommended vouchers as a way to support firms to get access to talent, facilities and networks in Canada's postsecondary education institutions.

This is a smart update to the innovation toolkit - it puts the funding in the hands of firms and creates demand driven innovation - this is the "pull" model of R&D that Canada's polytechnics and colleges excel at, but which universities also do well. Linking these systems in Canada to provide business innovation support fosters an open innovation approach to encouraging firms to invest in the development of new products and services.

With BIAP firms can tap into business and technical services provided by innovation intermediaries such as colleges, polytechnics and universities. The program assumes there will be good industry awareness, so communication of the opportunity will be key. Also assumed is the effective working of the NRC concierge service, which was also recently launched. These programs reinforce innovation as a social activity, and their success is contingent on all actors in the innovation ecosystem - firms, intermediaries, economic development agencies and other governmental supports (NRC, OCE et al) - working together.

There is good precedent - not just for vouchers (as they have been successfully delivered in other parts of the country)  - but also for the innovation ecosystem approach. We are working toward an effective integration of the various players all in support of fostering greater productivity, here of firms to tap in to R&D capacity, but also more broadly of basic research conducted in our world leading labs. The Concierge service, much like the P3RD system, are oriented toward fostering greater transparency of who can provide services, where and how, and developing public-private partnerships to support R&D.

At a round table discussion about academic-industry partnerships after the announcement, Minister Rickford spoke about the importance of measuring outcomes, and of those providing services to use common forms and formats for reporting on how the BIAP service works.  Such outcomes should include both inputs and outputs, but also throughput: what firms find BIAP and how were they referred or otherwise located the service; how did they locate a PSE service provide; what kinds of services were required; how well were these matched to regional opportunities/service providers; what was the time required to launch a project; what the the time of the conduct of the project; did BIAP accelerate innovation for the firm; and what were the outcomes in terms of new products and services in the market.

There is a strong consonance here with the emergence of a collective capacity not just to foster greater productivity of R&D in firms and academia, but also of learning how best to benchmark performance against these kinds of goals. Canada has not really tackled these issues yet, but the discussion is at least focusing examining what we do and how we do it, in terms of innovation, and how can we leverage complementary systems to national advantage. And for BIAP at least, this means looking downstream at what firms are doing in the economy, and how those of us whose mandate it is to help can best support them.

For now, spread the word. Firms seeking innovation support should contact their local IRAP office.

09 March 2014

ACCC Research Symposium helps chart the evolution of college and polytechnic applied research

Lat week the ACCC convened the annual Applied Research Symposium, which provides an excellent view into the evolution of the country's applied research capacity being built in Canada's polytechnics and colleges.

The event was opened by the Honourable Greg Rickford, Minister of State for Science and Technology, who lauded the work being done across the country to support industry innovation. Minister Rickford outlined the important role of colleges and polytechnics in advancing Canada's new Innovation, Science and Technology policy, due out later this year. The Minister also spoke about the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) and the new Canada Social Innovation Fund (CSIF) as representing key advances in the country's ability to leverage all aspects of the post secondary system to the advantage of Canadian firms, community organizations, and importantly, mobilizing our world leading basic research capacity to its fullest innovation potential.

The CSIF, announced as was the CFREF in Budget 2014, represents a key advance in college applied research. Both new funds will be administered by SSHRC and will advance the new IST Strategy by leveraging all innovation intermediaries from across the basic to applied research spectrum for greater social and economic prosperity. There is a lot of work to be done, and Minister Rickford advised the crowd that the college system must now step up and realize this potential commensurate with the new funding, in particular for the CSIF. The CSIF will roll out over the coming months, with the first tranche of funds to be  awarded in the coming fiscal year. While the program design needs to be completed, the College and Community Innovation Program offers a foundation. The team at NSERC, who administers the CCIP on behalf of the Tri-Council, has provided an excellent model for working with the polytechnic and college system to iteratively develop a program that is responsive to the college system while enabling the colleges to respond to their constituents. This means ensuring there is funding for faculty release time within the scope of block awards given to colleges, with mandatory student engagement, community response (a pull, not push, model of research), and with social not economic returns on investment and interest.

As a member of the SSHRC Programs and Quality Committee I am looking forward to advancing the CSIF in conjunction with our college and polytechnic colleagues across the country.  As Minister Rickford stated, it is up to the system to step up and realize the potential of this fund. First up is for colleges to obtain SSHRC eligibility. This should be done immediately for those not already eligible. For colleges that are NSERC eligible for the CCIP, this should be relatively straight forward. Nonetheless, I encourage all who are interested in the CSIF to start this process now in preparation for the launch of the program.

There were many good ideas and presentations at the Symposium, including a panel discussion on the value of the college and polytechnic system to enhance and foster private sector engagement in innovation. Bogdan Ciobanu of the NRC spoke about IRAP programs, and noted the imminent launch of the NRC's Business Innovation Assistance Program - this is the industry innovation voucher program launched in Budget 2013. The voucher program, and the CFREF among others, raises the issue of applied research capacity, and just what will constitute a preferred service provider for innovation intermediaries. Equally important is the need to ensure that government agencies such as IRAP are cognizant of the business development and applied research practices of colleges and polytechnics. This mutual understanding has been evolving over the past several years such that we are at a point now where there is the start (at least) of the diffusion of innovation support and the understanding of this in the wider business community.

There is still much work to be done in fostering a greater sense of how colleges, polytechnics and universities can work together to realize the innovation potential of our basic science capacity while enabling industry innovation. This latter is the biggest lag to the country's innovation and productivity potential, followed closely by our historical inability to commercialize homegrown IP.

In keeping with this point the best part of the conference was a pre-conference workshop and discussion convened by the country's Technology Access Centres (TACs), as funded by the CCIP. George Brown College has one of the first TACs in the Food Innovation Research Studio (FIRSt). This group has advanced the thinking on college and polytechnic applied research significantly in reviewing concepts related to college research brand identity, standards, and franchising along the lines of the capacity and contribution model of applied research that Bert van den Berg and I introduced to the ACCC Research Symposium last year.

There is an important precedent for this thinking in the three decade history of the Quebec CCTTs. The CCTTs have built a brand identity in industry as a place where firms can access applied research, technology development, technical assistance and information & training. Within the CCTTs is an inherent common capacity to undertake this work in ways that are known and expected by industry. This model has grown over the last 30 years such that it has created an awareness and expectation of contribution along common standards. Learning from and building on this model, the TACs are well positioned to create a similar brand across the country, advancing the innovation potential latent in our firms and basic science labs alike. This is the most significant aspect of the evolution of applied research as represented in the country's colleges and polytechnics. The ACCC has supported this growth and evolution, alongside Polytechnics Canada and the Réseau Trans-tech.

Launched at this year's Symposium was the ACCC's updated environmental scan, which offers a good view into the world of college applied research. This is a good accompaniment to the research fact sheet of Polytechnics Canada and Réseau Trans-tech's evaluation report. And while there is still much work to be done in terms of orienting the college and polytechnic applied research system to outcomes and impacts, we are starting to get a clear picture of the activities and objectives of college and polytechnic applied research as it relates to student engagement and skills acquisition and firm level innovation. There is much to celebrate here, and the Symposium offered a good avenue to pause and reflect on what works well and how we can work together to continuously improve our approach.

The community is evolving and continuing to learn from each other while benchmarking itself against the criterion of excellence in support of greater innovation and productivity. When we are able to critically examine our practices and measure these against international counterparts such as the likes of the Fraunhofer and Tekes institutes, then we are showing ourselves to be world class in our approach to applied research. The ACCC Applied Research Symposium has shown the community has a willingness to engage in this way - particularly in the TACs - which marks an important step in the ongoing evolution of the college and polytechnic applied research capacity.