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.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Business Skills and the Aims of Education

With the start of the new school year comes more rumination on the importance of education and the concomitant discussion on the transactional versus the transformative aspects of educational investment.

On the transactional side we have discussions like this about the sheer mechanics of postsecondary educational investment. What interests me most about this piece - besides the very obvious statement that investment in postsecondary education will result in downstream return on investment - is the discussion about aptitude. The author talks about how STEM (Science, Technology Engineering and Math) "programs are job factories, but not everyone has the aptitude. I don't agree. Inclination is one thing; aptitude another. Anyone can learn the skills from these programs.

Equally important is the broader array of skills and competencies within the STEAM+D alary - adding Arts and Design to the mix results in the capacity for what I have called a "full spectrum innovation." And this points to the transformative capacity of education. Others have called this "learning to learn" or soft skills (though there is really nothing soft about them, other than the attempt to define them so that they can be easily digested by the public).

The Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity has a recent blog post discussing the diversity of skills needed for inclusive innovation, referencing the Highly Skilled Workforce Expert Panel and the value of experiential learning. OCAD University has the development of business skills as a key component of our new Academic Plan, with several initiatives underway to ensure these skills and competencies are taught, learned and practiced through experiential learning. These are the components of innovation literacy.  Stay tuned for updates.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Budget critics miss the point: The Future of Education is the Foundation for Innovation

This article is published in Re$earch Money and is reposted here with permission.

The most recent federal budget has garnered headlines more for what people say it did not do than for what it does. It has been branded as anodyne—a do-nothing budget, a place holder while we wait to see what our neighbours to the south will do. A recent Nanos poll reported in the 17 April 2017 Globe and Mail shows that “Canadians dislike [the] Liberal budget,” more for not tackling the deficit than for anything it does.

But these pundits have missed a crucial point: this budget is one of the more politically astute policy budgets in recent memory. This is because the budget puts in place some transformational changes that support a crucial platform for innovation: education.

The federal government provides funding for education through provincial transfer payments, but officially has no say in how education is managed. The federal government does provide research funding and this has a link to education. A key facet of providing research funding to universities and colleges is the training of what are called “Highly Qualified Personnel”; these are the students that work with professors on research. Students gain key skills and competencies via research participation, but this is not considered part of the education mandate—it’s an outcome of research activity. But students (and graduates more specifically) are important inputs to our national capacity to innovate.  Students participating in research gain key innovation literacy skills that make them valuable assets to any industry.

The Budget did have funding (carried forward from the 2016 Budget) in support of “super clusters” in key industrial sectors, including artificial intelligence. Despite these measures many have decried the lack of focus on innovation, which is seen as the key way to boost Canadian productivity and international competitiveness.

What the budget did do however was change some key instruments related to education, which will have direct and downstream impacts on our capacity to innovate as a country.  With a focus on Skills, Innovation and Middle Class Jobs the government has in fact enacted significant efforts to underpin the very platform for innovation. It is no accident that this is the first chapter in the Budget.

A focus on lifelong learning and retraining for new and emergent jobs and careers is a significant component of the Budget’s focus on skills. Changes to Employment Insurance and student loan eligibility marks a shift in thinking about the role of education and training in people’s lives. Where once education was seen as a stop prior to launching a career, it is now an ongoing episodic component of continual learning and adjustment as people pivot into new roles, jobs and careers over their lifetime. Expanding financial assistance to a wider demographic, including part-time and mature learners, coupled with enhancing Canadians’ access to educational supports for retraining and skills upgrading while still working, significantly modernizes these programs to bring them in line with the reality that career transitions happen while people are still working.

Another significant component of Budget 2017 is the allocation of $90 million over two years to support over 4,600 Indigenous students to access higher education. This, in addition to supports for Canadians with disabilities, will help many more people participate meaningfully in the economy.  New supports for work-integrated learning have the potential to help bridge the worlds of education and work.

The launch of a new organization to support skills development and measurement in Canada reflects the importance of preparing Canadians to meet future labour force needs. This is long overdue; many have decried the lack of good labour market information for career planning. A national approach to understanding the regional realities of the labour market—recognizing that the demand for skills and people can be met with educational supply—will help companies compete and people plan education and career paths.

With these elements the federal government has indicated its willingness to provoke some necessary changes in post secondary education. The result, one hopes, will be a stronger and more resilient society and economy.

Education is the platform for an innovative society. Innovation is the foundation for a robust economy. Education, like health, is provincially controlled, but of national importance. Canada has a federal minister for health. It is time for Canada to have a federal minister for education; we are the only OECD country without one. Having one will help stitch together the patchwork of programs that support citizen participation in the economy.