02 June 2015

CICan Annual Conference features Applied Research

The Colleges and Institutes Canada Annual Conference was convened last week in Winnipeg. Applied Research was featured this year at the conference in lieu of a stand alone Applied Research symposium, as has been past practice. This was a great way to showcase how much applied research is core to Canada's colleges, polytechnics and institutes. CICan released a document entitled  Partnerships for Industry Innovation that showcases the scope of applied research now being conducted across Canada. There is much to be celebrated here in terms of how colleges foster industry innovation while teaching key innovation literacy skills to our students.

And speaking of students, GBC Research convened two panels - one on the student experience and another on applied research metrics. I was to moderate these but unfortunately was not able to make the trip. Dawn Davidson, Director of Research and GBC, moderated the first panel; Bert van den Berg of NSERC took over the second.  

The panel on the student experience in applied research was called "This is what applied research looks like: From the student experience to skills" and featured the following:
  • Jean Niravong, a graduate of the Chef School who worked on many projects with an emphasis on healthy food, and an instructor at the College;
  • Miyoko Oikawa, is a current student in the Bachelor of Technology – Construction Management and a key member of the ARGILE research team, conducting research on building envelopes; and 
  • Lisa Govia, a graduate of the Business Analyst program, and recent key member of the project management team in the research office, now at Royal Bank.

The focus of the discussion was on the two key outputs of College applied research : we help our partners to innovate, while giving students key skills and innovation literacy. These skills help students apply knowledge learned in programs leading to greater innovation capacity in their careers. The three graduates/students spoke eloquently about what they gained from this experience and what it has meant to their careers.

The second panel was on "Applied Research Metrics, Measurement and Evaluation" and featured Dawn Davidson, George Brown College, Mark Hoddenbagh, Algonquin College, and Sherrill McCall, Cambrian College. The purpose of the panel was to address Strategic Mandate Agreements recently mandated by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. These SMAs include metrics for evaluating applied research. It is recognized that it would be useful to have common metrics for the college system. This panel discussed how best to measure outcomes at the provincial level, and what these measures mean to our stakeholders.
Here is the longer abstract created for the discussion:
The refinement and continued development of applied research at Canadian Colleges, Institutes and Polytechnics has been further reinforced with the latest federal STI strategy which acknowledges applied research as a key component of the country’s innovation ecosystem. The college approach to applied research fosters industry and social innovation while equipping graduates with innovation skills.

In Ontario the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) recently mandated post-secondary institutions to create Strategic Mandate Agreements (SMAs) in order to enhance the cohesiveness of the Ontario post-secondary institutions, with the goal of creating a system based approach. Included in the SMAs for colleges are metrics for evaluating applied research; universities have metrics for both basic and applied research.  These outcome measures are important to ensuring effective return on investment for public funding into activities either core or ancillary to institutions’ academic mandates.

It is less clear at this juncture that there is a common approach to outcomes measurement for college applied research. Where some institutions feel that cost recovery is imperative, others feel that this detracts from the core academic mission of colleges. Regardless of where one sits on this spectrum, it is important to identify effective college applied research metrics, measurement and evaluation frameworks such that there is agreement in the Ontario system as to how institutions can work together to ensure consistency of experience, be this for students, faculty and staff, and our research partners.
These are important issues of high relevance to the college applied research community. Many of us have been working on these issues for some time, specifically looking at ways to measure both capacity to deliver applied research services and the contributions to the economy these produce. More on this in the days and weeks to come, including exciting developments among the Technology Access Centres, who are cohering around a national network designed to support applied research standards across the country.

The CICan conference as a whole, and the inclusion of applied research, marks a significant milestone in the evolution of the discourse around innovation policy as enacted in our colleges, institutes and polytechnics. I am looking forward to next year's conference in Quebec City.

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