Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Intentional Innovation

Much ink has been spilt in Canada regarding our lacklustre innovation capacity as a puzzling counterpart to our international excellence in basic research. I won't be retrying these arguments. Rather, I want to point out an excellent article on the need for intentional innovation and the absolute necessity of updating our approach to how we integrate research and industrial innovation ecosystems. 

In Canada needs a new approach to science, research to stay competitive, Robert Asselin does an excellent job of articulating the need for "The modern application of science and technology is the new frontier of economic competitiveness." This statement will alienate some who might prioritize the approach to publicly funded research outlined by Vannevar Bush in Science: The Endless Frontier, in which public funding was exchanged for autonomy to pursue basic research. Applied research and experimental development were thought to emerge naturally from market-facing actors who would create value from the fruits of basic research as they realized a vague downstream potential. That was good when this was first articulated in the 1945. But as Asselin points out "The arms-length science model we adopted after the Second World War does not provide an adequate framework for today’s economic paradigm."

As Asselin says, "the road to innovation is long and hard," and it requires us to think and act in new ways. This means being intentional about creating and protecting intellectual property (IP), and helping to foster collaboration across the public and private sectors. Below I've put a logic model that outlines such an approach, reposted from earlier

And we have successfully piloted this model in Toronto as part of an orchestrated COVID-19 response where the 8 colleges and universities in Toronto worked together to support City of Toronto research priorities. eCampusOntario is supporting all of our 53 members to bring this model to fruition across the province. 

Watch this space for more, but in the meantime, read this article. And while you are at it, check out this one From Dan Breznitz and Daniel Trefler.


A logic model that articulates the connections between research performers, type of research, and anticipated outcomes
An Integrated Model for Intentional Innovation: From Idea to Impact


Tuesday, September 20, 2022

On marketing and micro-credentials

I had the great pleasure of being a guest on the Marketing News Canada podcast with marketing and  podcast expert Darian Kovacs from Jelly Academy. We talked about

  • How the rise of micro-credentials is similar to streaming music 
  • The importance of micro-credentials in upgrading and upskilling one's career, and how it serves as a form of continuing education 
  • The demand for both a combination of technical and soft skills
It was a great discussion about the importance of micro-credentials and the role of collaboration and innovation in post-secondary education. 

And in an esprit de l'escalier I am really interested in discussing and learning more about the role of marketing and education more broadly, particularly as it relates to partnerships that support collaborative innovation, upskilling outcomes and work integrated learning. 

My thanks to Darian and Jelly Academy for the opportunity to join the discussion. 

logo for Marketing News Canada
Logo of Marketing News Canada





Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Local Innovation; Global Impact

Today at the Collision Conference I was pleased to join David West, Mayor of Richmond Hill, Ana Serrano, President of OCAD University, and Walid Mowaswes, CEO of PharmaGuide at the launch of the City of Richmond Hill Centre for Local Innovation and Collaboration (CLIC). CLIC is an innovative approach to supporting local businesses by matching business needs with the design expertise at OCADU. eCampusOntario has been working with our member higher education institutions to support research partnerships using a model pioneered with the City of Toronto in 2020 and 2021. A key difference with CLIC is in the support of businesses through the Small Business Enterprise Centre in Richmond Hill. 

The model here is simple: figure out the innovation needs of companies through a simple diagnostic and match them to the expertise in one of Ontario's leading higher education institutions, in this case OCADU. 

Through CLIC businesses access funding opportunities, tailored solutions, and a network of businesses and organizations to support their short-term, mid-term and long-term needs.

I had a great conversation with Walid about his experience in CLIC. He made the great point that engaging students as interns was a real value add for his business, as it helped expose him to new thinking, in this case about the power and value of user experience design. And this is important - the stats are a bit old now but the Design Value Index some time ago showed that design-focused companies outperformed the S&P 500 by 228%. This is significant. 

With the proven success of the first CLIC cohort, we are ready to scale and expand this model across Ontario. We will continue to support Richmond Hill companies through CLIC to tap into the expertise of OCAD U’s students and faculty, as well as Ontario’s network of higher education institutions.

CLIC is an excellent example of how higher education institutions like OCADU can help businesses to thrive. And by giving students the opportunity to work with businesses we are future proofing Canada”s capacity for innovation. That’s worth celebrating. 


Monday, April 4, 2022

Micro-Credentials are having their Napster Moment

Image of a mixtape with handwritten label: Skills, competencies and Things I've learned


Micro-Credentials are having their Napster Moment

Micro-credentials offer important ways to give educational options to people – those that are reskilling or upskilling, or learning about a new topic of interest. 

Moving forward through the rearview mirror

Micro-credentials are disrupting traditional forms of education. 

Micro-credentials are not necessarily new. 

What is new is how micro-credentials are part of a wider cultural movement toward more granular forms of disaggregation as applied to learning.

Lessons on disruption from the music industry

In the early days of the internet, Napster emerged as a pirating website that incentivized a more atomic model of music consumption. Where you previously had to buy an album if you liked a song on it, post-Napster you could access individual songs. This disrupted the music industry significantly as it called into question many aspects of control over who has the right to say how music is consumed. Music was collected and released on albums, though the 45” single is perhaps the micro-credential version of traditional music. Regardless, initial monetization of this model by the music industry included Digital Rights Management (DRM), which failed. 

Then came iTunes and the ability to buy a song for $.99, followed by other streaming services – Rdio, Pandora, Spotify et al.  The disaggregation of the macro music monopoly was complete. 

The future of music was micro. Fast forward to now, and most music is streamed.

Meso: The mixtape as metaphor

The middle, mediating ground here is the mixtape. Music lovers would take songs from various albums and curate these into personalized collections. Napster built on the curatorial context of the mixtape, and presaged streaming, which is a mixtape at scale, enabled by digital technology. 

Micro-credentials, as part of a history of education, help people demonstrate their learning history but more importantly refer to the skills and competencies they have acquired. Micro-credentials can be bundled into larger curated credential/competency demonstrations. In this case, a learner’s digital credential wallet or passport is like a mixtape. The validation of their skills is this mixtape being played and heard.

Macro: Impacts on skills and education

Micro-credentials are to traditional forms of education what streaming is to music now. This is change, and it is disruption, but it is centred on the learner. 

This moment of micro-credentials means it is time to make space for new forms of learning that are agile and flexible.






Les micro-crédits ont leur moment Napster

Les microcrédits présentent des options éducatives significatives pour les personnes qui se recyclent, qui se perfectionnent ou qui cherchent à se renseigner sur un sujet d'intérêt. 

Les micro-crédits bouleversent les formes traditionnelles d'éducation.

Les micro-crédits ne sont pas nécessairement nouveaux.

Ce qui est nouveau, c'est la façon dont les microcrédits participent à un mouvement culturel plus large, vers des formes de désagrégation utilitaires appliquées à l'apprentissage.

Les leçons de l'industrie de la musique en matière de perturbation

Au tout début d'Internet, Napster est apparu comme un site de piratage qui a encouragé un modèle de consommation musicale plus ciblé. Alors qu'auparavant il fallait acheter un album si on aimait une chanson, avec Napster on pouvait accéder aux seules chansons souhaitées. 

Cette évolution a considérablement perturbé l'industrie musicale, car elle a remis en question de nombreux aspects du contrôle de la consommation musicale. 

À l’époque, la musique était réunie et publiée sur des albums, malgré que le 45 tours pouvait en être considéré comme la version microcréditée. Quoi qu'il en soit, la monétisation initiale de ce modèle par l'industrie de la musique intégrait la gestion des droits numériques (DRM), une approche qui a échouée. 

Puis iTunes et la possibilité d'acheter une chanson pour 0,99 $ sont arrivés, suivis par d'autres services de streaming - Rdio, Pandora, Spotify et autres. La désagrégation du macro-monopole de la musique était terminée. 

L'avenir de la musique se profilait à travers l’offre ciblée des pièces voulues. Aujourd'hui, on constate que la majorité de la musique est ruisselée précisément et sur demande.

Méso : la liste d’écoute comme métaphore

Les listes d’écoute se sont rapidement imposées comme solution intermédiaire. Les amateurs de musique prenaient des chansons de différents albums et les conservaient dans des collections personnalisées. Napster s'est appuyé sur le contexte de conservation de la liste d’écoute et a conçu l’idée du streaming, le ruissellement qui est une liste d’écoute à grande échelle rendue possible par le numérique. 

Les microcrédits appartiennent maintenant à l'histoire de l'éducation. Ils aident les gens à démontrer leur parcours d'apprentissage, mais surtout à référer aux aptitudes et aux compétences qu'ils ont acquises. Les microcrédits peuvent être regroupés dans des démonstrations plus larges de crédits et de compétences. Dans ce cas, le portefolio ou le passeport numérique d'un apprenant est comme une liste d’écoute. La validation des compétences d’un individu consiste à faire la lecture de cette liste d’écoute particulière, faite de crédits et de compétences.

Macro : Impacts sur les compétences et l'éducation

Les micro-crédits sont donc aux formes traditionnelles d'éducation ce que le streaming est à la musique aujourd'hui. Il s'agit d'une perturbation qui est centrée sur l'apprenant.

Cet avènement des micro-crédits constitue un moment particulier dans l’évolution de l’éducation, indiquant qu’est venu le temps de faire place à de nouvelles formes d'apprentissage, plus agiles et plus flexibles.


Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Some missing links in the discussion on innovation

Much digital ink has been spilt over the nascent Canadian version of the storied DARPA, including a good overview by Alex Usher today. Usher rightfully points out some dissonance in the focus on disruptive versus incremental innovation; this incidentally confuses the difference between invention (new to the world) and innovation (new to a market). He also questions the focus on product innovation over process innovation, but misses marketing and organizational innovation. But his point is sound: “simply adopting big-country solutions is unlikely to help us overcome them.” 

In thinking this through there are two key points that are missed here and elsewhere (see for example this piece in the Logic). The first is the importance of private+public partnerships for R&D, and the second is a focus on demand-driven innovation. I would add a third here, which is the turn (finally) in Canada to a focus on the entire spectrum of R&D, and here I mean TRLs 1-9. More on this below.

Private+public partnerships for R&D (what I’ve elsewhere called P3RD) are essential for ensuring intellectual property (IP) generated in our world leading public research universities gets to markets. These partnerships are also essential for helping businesses to perform R&D and to innovate more broadly. Not only do research partnerships with higher education institutions helps companies to conduct R&D they might not otherwise do, they also give students valuable work integrated learning opportunities. This results in innovation literacy: “the ability to think creatively, evaluate, and apply problem-solving skills to diverse and intangible issues within industrial problems and multidisciplinary contexts.

Demand-driven innovation is the opposite of what Canada has focused on in terms of Science and Technology policy. That is, we invest more per capita than most every other OECD country in publicly funded research, but we lag on business investment in research and commercialization. Read the CCA Report on Science and Technology – it is a comprehensive overview of the particular values, strengths and weaknesses of the Canadian research to innovation ecosystem. 

According to the Horizontal Review on business innovation and clean technology (2018) – which while 4 years old is still a good barometer of S&T policy – most business facing R&D support is for early stage effort (what the OECD Frascati Manual calls Basic Research). The Horizontal Review further outlines the following:

  • Only 78% of support is focused on traditional product and process innovation and formal R&D
  • Less than half of funding is directed to firms that are in a growth stage, and
  • Only 8% support goes towards productivity enhancing technology adoption.

A focus on technology only (product innovation) disadvantages inclusive innovation, especially in the world of intangibles, a point made very clear by Ontario’s Expert Panel on Intellectual Property

As Alex Usher points out, according to Mazzucato the private sector does not generally invest in early stage research. And the public sector is not historically motivated to carry forward commercialization, preferring to publish results rather than commercializing them (though this is changing).

Most academic research is basic research – very little is applied research and hardly any is experimental development. This continuum matters. A lot:

The continuum from basic and applied research through to experimental development constitutes the types of activities that make up the innovation carrying capacity of national economies: the ability to proactively create value from public investments in basic research by fostering private sector receptivity and engagement to the public S&T systems.

Only 20,000 – 2% - of Canadian companies file SR&ED claims, the most reliable indicator we have for firms that conduct R&D activities, which are essential for innovating products and services for global markets. This is down from 25,000 a half decade ago. This may be only .5% of companies overall, but it represents a 20% drop in SR&ED filers. SR&ED is also down from 4 billion to 3 billion annually. This is not a good indicator for Canadian innovation. We can take from this the stark reality that not enough companies do R&D, and those who may be unsure if they want to conduct R&D have little or no incentive to start.

And this gets me back to the point missed by Usher and others. The discussion around a Canadian DARPA is worthwhile as it gets us into the mindset of developing challenge-based research capabilities. It socializes the idea that private+public partnerships for R&D is a good thing (this is the key DARPA model, along with limited time and funding). It puts us into the mindset that demand-driven research and innovation challenges are the right thing to do – to orient the best and brightest capabilities we have in our higher education institutions to address key challenges, be these health, environmental, social, or economic. 

The good news is that there are many working in this space. Check out OCI and Mitacs, who fund excellent programs that engage colleges and universities in all forms of research. Check out the good work happening at Communitech and their focus on “True North - solving Canadian problems with Canadian Innovation.” And check out how eCampusOntario is helping our 50 member institutions create research partnerships through a unique demand-driven innovation platform piloted with the City of Toronto

Working together we can mobilize the latent R&D capacity in our higher education institutions to increase the numbers of firms doing R&D with explicit reach out to those firms currently not innovating. Together we can aid the economic recovery and growth with Ontario-made innovation. Research partnerships have broad application and net benefits to our social and economic prosperity, supporting:

  • Commercial Innovation via industry-sponsored R&D and commercialization of University research 
  • Career opportunities for post-secondary graduates by providing relevant work experience and building their professional networks
  • IP and Innovation Literacy by integrating student experiential learning and issuing micro-credentials for project work with partners 
  • Employment and economic development by enhancing overall effectiveness of adjacent R&D for programs by providing a common entry point for Ontario businesses.

CARPA or no, the discussion around demand-driven innovation and research partnerships is right-headed. Not only that, but these are essential for competing in the global innovation economy. 


Post-Script: The Continuum of Research

I’ve written many times about this and why it matters. Developing the capacity and contribution for the span of R&D – from basic to applied research through to experimental development – is key to enacting intentional innovation. 


An excellent graphic from the CCA Report Competing in a Global Innovation Economy that describes the links between R&D, Innovation and Wealth Creation. 


Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Innovation and Intellectual Property Rights

Over the break I read Innovation in Real Places by @dbreznitz - great overview on the need for local adaptations on innovation policy (more to come on this including how eCampusOntario is helping our sector to support private+public research and development partnerships).

But I wanted to point out the bit below on the need for regions to #BeSmarter on #intellectualproperty and #intellectualpropertyrights. This is exactly why we are supporting a call for proposals to develop an advanced curriculum course focused on intellectual property (IP) to support the implementation of the Government of Ontario’s Intellectual Property Action Plan. Read more here.

The Advanced IP Curriculum program will ensure that the Ontario innovation "community members are highly IPR-educated" and will be "the savviest IPR strategists."

Download the Advanced IP Curriculum Call for Proposals and register for the technical briefing on the program - being held January 11, 2022  -12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. ET.

Let's work together to build on Ontario's world-leading research excellence and flourishing entrepreneurial ecosystem. Together we can ensure Ontario's innovators can #BeSmarter on #intellectualpropertyrights. Our future prosperity depends on this. 



quotation from Dan Breznitz's Innovation in Real Places book on the importance of regions to educate people on intellectual property rights


Friday, September 17, 2021

Enabling Innovation from Idea to Impact

Here is an excellent article on innovation by Dan Breznitz and Daniel Trefler (paywall alert). In it, they correctly state the clear difference between invention and innovation. Canada is good at the former but lags at the latter. Where Canada lags is in what I've earlier called the transit of Intellectual Property (IP) - how to we manage the process to go from idea to invoice. This is about enabling innovation through public+private R&D partnerships. It is about being intentional about supporting the development of ideas through applied research and experimental development, two key areas of research, the latter of which is very often is overlooked.

The Ontario IP Action Plan is putting place needed resources to help disambiguate the distinction between invention and innovation, and to ensure that we have an economy of IP and innovation literate population skilled in all aspects of the continuum of R&D. This is a core plank in the system.

I have elsewhere outlined some work on Capacity and Contribution for Intentional Innovation, where we articulate the connections and the continuum from idea to invoice. A logic model depicting how we might start to think about how partners can enable intentional innovation is below. This is one way to start thinking about how we can scaffold research performers in the public and private sectors to play to their strengths and support inventions to achieve impact.

Here is an example of this in action, using the eCampuOntario platform mission model to put in place engagement models, and support partnerships for transformative effect:

Last year we piloted a model with the City of Toronto that connected City research needs with Toronto area colleges and universities. We worked with our research funding partners at Mitacs, OCI, NRC-IRAP, Magnet and SOSCIP to fast track the process. This successful model for municipal innovation is now a permanent feature of the City, as announced by Mayor Tory last November. The success of this was entirely because of the joint effort of a dedicated group of professionals who came together to make this happen.

And we're not done yet. Watch this space for more to come on platforms that enable innovation, from idea to impact


Research-Innovation: Capacity & Contribution Logic Model