Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Budget 2018 delivers smart science policy

The federal government's Budget 2018 is an advance for the science, research and innovation communities. The overall approach to gender equity, diversity and decolonization is important and timely.

The government has clearly heard the call from the Fundamental Science Review to increase our investment in research. There is a strong focus on supporting interdisciplinary and international collaborative research, which is essential for not only uncovering new areas of knowledge, but for realizing the value of ideas as they are translated into application, products, services and other innovation. This underscores the importance of design disciplines as crucial to Canada's innovation carrying capacity.

And here's the big news: "Budget 2018 proposes an investment of nearly $4 billion in Canada’s research system to support the work of researchers and to provide them access to the state-of-the-art tools and facilities they need" (p 82).

This is smart policy. Linking investments in science and technology ($3.2B investment in "research" writ large) to national priorities and, importantly, diversity and decolonization, is imperative for inclusive innovation. It is also in line with other leading OECD countries that set national priorities and focus on the spectrum of research - from idea to invoice - in order to realize the benefits of public investment in the production of public knowledge.

The most important aspect of this budget for innovation policy is the section on Leveraging the Full Potential of Business-Academia Collaboration. Changes and investment here to NSERC and CIHR promise to make public+private partnerships for R&D (P3RD), and additional funding for colleges continues the growth of capacity in the college sector to perform an important innovation intermediary function that links skills development to product and service development. The special focus on the Technology Access Centres is important as these are exemplary organizations adept at enabling private sector innovation.

The focus on the spectrum of research - from Basic Research, Applied Research to Experimental Development - is picked up in the re-imagining of the National Research Council (NRC). New investments in the NRC are absolutely necessary and essential to enable the NRC to start to really expand a focus on translating the world leading ideas uncovered in Basic Research into real innovation in the world. Among the $1.1Bn in funding that provides important inputs to capacity, the NRC gets a DARPA-like entity "to fund its scientists to work with innovators from post-secondary institutions and businesses on multi-party research and development programs." This is long overdue.

But things get really interesting in the Innovation Canada – Accelerated Growth Service section and "the creation of four flagship platforms" to deliver business innovation programs. I have elsewhere outlined the importance of focusing on the full spectrum of research activities and the lack of investment in Experimental Development (see my Capacity and Contribution Logic Model). This is a significant development that promises to help get more ideas turned into invoices by helping manage the process of research through to experimental development through a simplification of business innovation programs (a result of the Horizontal Review that Budget 2017 called for).

The Women Entrepreneurship Strategy is welcome news. This will help us focus on those outputs of innovation that are not typically valued, as outlined in this excellent article  from last week. This adds to "the Government’s coming reform to federal innovation programs [that] will include a universal goal to improve the participation of underrepresented groups, including women entrepreneurs, in the innovation economy." I also read with note the Intellectual Property Strategy. The launch of a Patent Collective is long overdue - all publicly-funded R&D performers should enter such a patent pool to mobilize stranded IP.

This is good science and innovation policy that provides new funding support for Basic Research, and support and services for Applied Research and Experimental Development, notably within the purview of public+private partnerships for R&D (P3RD). The diversity lens is essential and will result in a more inclusive Canada.

This is #smartsciencepolicy.

A Capacity and Contribution Logic Model incorporating TRLs and Frascati research definitions

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Decolonization, diversity and equity for inclusive innovation

Here is an interesting article about inclusive innovation and some of the tacit biases that exist in how we value the activities and outputs of R&D. In Women entrepreneurs are innovating in their businesses; it’s time to help them succeed the authors provide a very compelling case about how women have been largely excluded from the valorization of innovation because of a focus on products over all other forms of innovation.

In essence they argue - convincingly - that the focus on just products (usually technology) over services is devalues the types of businesses that women start, which they describe as being more services based. They outline the full spectrum of innovation that the OECD defines: product, process, organizational and marketing innovation.

Innovation happens in all sectors and across all platforms - social, economic and cultural. Broadening our definition of what constitutes a valid activity in a sphere of work has a commensurate and follow on effect on what outcomes are valued (a point I made earlier in my discussion about Capacity and Contribution).

As the authors point out: "Using this definition, we start to see these women in a new light – they are innovating in all sectors and in every aspect of their business. While we need to increase the number of female entrepreneurs in science and technology, it is important to recognize their contributions to Canada's innovation in all sectors and aspects of their businesses."

When we value the full spectrum of innovation and all of those participating we have a platform for understanding - and creating - inclusive innovation.

This should be required reading for all engaged in supporting research and innovation. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Creating gravitational pull in the innovation space

Yesterday the federal government announced the winners of the supercluster competition, with five winning bids spanning the regions of Canada in important industrial sectors: AI, proteins, ocean research, digital technology and advanced manufacturing. OCAD University is very pleased to be part of the advanced manufacturing group.

The supercluster narrative is of course based on the work of Porter et al that sees public and private actors working together in support of promoting discovery through basic research, applied research and realizing market value of these via experimental development.

There is significant potential here for Canada to amplify our move into the innovation economy. These investments will help transform the economy from simple resource extraction into one that focuses more on product and service design and adding value to the raw materials we have in abundance (and here I include the ideas that emerge from basic research in our world leading universities). Translating basic research into market success - moving from idea to invoice - is essential in the global economy. The supercluster initiative will create gravitational pull, fostering public+private research and development partnerships (P3RD) in support of resilient regional economies.

Definition of supercluster: noun; astronomy: a cluster of galaxies which themselves occur as clusters.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The future of work and the Canadian difference

Here is a great piece by Dave McKay and how We must do more now to prepare young people for the future of work. Several key points stand out for a future resiliency in the economy as it relates to skills and competencies: "Jobs will remain; they'll just require different skills."

I like the differentiation between technical and human skills and the assertion that "People who work well with technology and work well with people – that can be the Canadian difference." Standing up work integrated learning has long been a topic of public education policy makers. It's a good thought as we look toward the new year.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The #PivotEconomy: Capacity and Contribution for Intentional Innovation

A short while ago I wrote about Public+Private Partnerships for R&D, or P3RD, and how these are key to creating resilient regional economies. I’ve been thinking a lot about Capacity and Contribution in Science and Technology and Innovation, having had a couple of recent opportunities to speak with audiences about this at two conferences, the CARA Ontario event a few weeks ago and today at the Conference Board of Canada’s Summit on Post Secondary Education.

My premise is that increasing the capacity of Canada to innovate is predicated on realizing the value of public investment in science and technology and private investment in research and development. Often missing from this discussion is how to empower people to participate in the innovation economy. Understanding this requires us to unpack who does what to produce the research that in turn produces innovation. A review of the public and private actors that conduct these activities and how these activities are structured will reveal gaps in how we prepare people to innovate.

I have put together a Capacity and Contribution logic model for understanding the performer and funder of research, the type of research (as per the Frascati Manual) and the use of TRLs to enable a view to how the activities of R&D lead to outputs, and which outcomes each sector/actor seeks (Figure 1). This is one model for enacting what I call an Intentional Innovation; I have written about this previously as essential for enacting a full spectrum innovation.

Figure 1: Capacity and Contribution: A Logic Model for the relationship between research and innovation actors, activities, outputs and outcomes 

Figure 2 shows the typical path for invention by performer. In the higher education sector inventions will generally get to about TRL 3; the same is true for government research. While some commercialization does occur, on average this is difficult for a variety of reasons which I will unpack in a later column. The private sector will typically pick something up when it has been derisked (a point made very well by Marianna Mazzucato in The Entrepreneurial State).
What is lacking is a focus on the full spectrum of performers that addresses the full range of activities, often leading to the “valley of death” in the idea to invoice continuum (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Capacity and Contribution: Performer and "Valley of Death" in commercialization 

In Figure 3 we see a model whereby P3RD is enacted. Public and private sector actors participate in activities designed to address this valley. This model helps to commercialize public science investments where appropriate, and to foster partnerships to support both market push (invention from lab to markets) and market pull (where industry accesses support from the public sector. This is, in my estimation, the supercluster model.

Figure 3: A collaborative Capacity and Contribution model 
Some issues to account for in this model, to be examined and explored later:
  • Collaboration Affinity/Intensity: Public+Public; Public+Private (P3RD)
  • Regulatory Environment/Framework
  • Data segregation by Filed/SubField; Geography; Institution 
  • Alignment of S&T and IR&D
  • Not a linear process
  • Funder vs Performer
  • Push vs Pull translation models
  • Industry-Academic porosity and aggregate performance
  • Social and Economic Outcomes
  • Time lines differ by discipline (c.f. engineering vis-à-vis arts and humanities)
  • Projects and Programs of research
  • How and with what supports does a project move from stage to stage
  • Dispensation of Intellectual Property

Individual Skills and Competencies

This collaborative Capacity and Contribution model means many people working together. This assumes a multiplicity of skills, competencies, performers and partners can be oriented toward a common goal. The multiple individual skills and competencies as operationalized within Technology Readiness Levels can be understood as having three dimensions at each TRL:
  • X Axis|Horizontal: Different disciplines; 
  • Y Axis|Vertical: Depth of skill or competency in a specific discipline;
  • Z Axis| Diagonal: personal communication style or competency (cognitive, affective, psychomotor) required and capacity of individual to deploy skills.
Each TRL requires a complementarity of depth of skills (from a PhD to a technician), which roughly corresponds to type of credential earned through tertiary education. A multidisciplinary approach is key to enacting a full spectrum innovation: the integration of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math and Design (STEAM+D) skills. Taken together, the horizontal and vertical aspects of each TRL creates a multiplier effect on the innovation capacity of firms and regions. See Figures 4 and 5 below.
Figure 4: Horizontal and Vertical Skills/Competencies Matrix for TRLs 
Figure 5: A model for TRL skills/competencies matrix
Key to exercising the potential for a full spectrum innovation capacity is ensuring that the entire workforce is equipped innovation literacy that understands this and puts complementary skills to work on common innovation issues. A multidisciplinary collaborative problem solving at each TRL enhances the ability of teams to work together, which has a corresponding effect on downstream innovation capacity. The Diagonal or Z axis represents the communicative competence of an individual to deploy the skills and competencies they possess, to learn additional ones, and to effectively participate in the management of innovation processes as it pertains to the particular TRL in which an individual is engaged.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

On science and diversity

There are many things to celebrate about Canada's commitment to both science and diversity of late. Canada recently appointed a scientist and astronaut, her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, as Governor General of Canada. And Dr Mona Nemer is Canada’s new Chief Science Advisor. Having women in these high profile roles sends an important and positive signal to Canada and the world regarding the value of gender diversity and science-based inquiry.

The importance of gender diversity is highlighted in the Statement by the Prime Minister on Global Entrepreneurship Week. And two articles in yesterday's Globe and Mail support the need to ensure more women are engaged in the technology industries, and that panels at conferences are inclusive.

The Governor General has received a lot of press for her recent remarks on the importance of science and policy, and has been unfairly subject to criticism for talking about the importance of science. One wonders if the editorial comments would have been different had a male delivered these remarks.

And this is an important point to underscore. Prime Minister Trudeau's famous remark "Because it is 2015" stands as a watershed marker in gender parity and diversity for the federal government cabinet. The Canada Research Chair program has specific diversity targets under the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan. It is worth noting that OCAD University is a leader in this area given our focus on diversity and equity as core to our Academic Plan; decolonization and diversity & equity are the first two principles of this plan.

We all have a responsibility to support and promote diversity and inclusion. Advancing this in accordance with a shift toward science-informed policy will help us foster inclusive social and economic development.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Learning a living in the pivot economy

Two articles of note in today's news should be required reading for anyone interested in education and its relationship to the economy. The first is an overview of experiential and work-integrated learning (WIL) programs, New co-op programs blur the lines between academics and industry, exposes a rift between what industry expects from graduates and what educational institutions provide. It is good to see the Siemens model active here in Canada portrayed as an exemplar. But the fears raised by academics about industry encroachment on curricula are not very credible and sound rather like libertarianism gone awry. Education has always been both transactional and transformational, and we do a disservice if we do not adequately prepare students for meaningful careers and participation in society. The rise of WIL programs offer the best of both worlds, and do in fact encourage industry to invest in skills training and education, something Canadian industry does not do to the rate of international comparators.

The second is a wake up call about The missing middle and what happens when low to mid-skilled people don't just lose jobs but these jobs disappear altogether. Reskilling is important, and the article outlines what is essentially a significant public issue as it pertains to education and what I'll call the pivot economy. We are in the midst of an economic pivot as we move into more automation, coupled with the results of years of off-shoring manufacturing and global integration of supply chains. It can be argued of course that economies pivot all the time. The difference now is the rate of change. But also integral here is an economic push in Canada to become more than simple drawers of water and hewers of wood, to move past simple resource extraction and to become "price setters, not price takers."

"The future of work consists of learning a living" said Marshall McLuhan. As we collectively grapple with the pivot economy we have the opportunity to build meaningful bridges from the present to the future via education. My sense is that it has always been thus; in North America we simply stopped thinking of continual skills and competency development over the lifespan sometime around the middle of the last century. That's a topic for further discussion.