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.

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