Thursday, March 23, 2017

From research to skills: On Canada's innovation carrying capacity

Yesterday's budget was notable for its singular focus on addressing innovation in Canada. Pundits are postulating the pros and cons and winners and losers, but we should see this budget as a positive step forward on many fronts: indigenous education, gender inclusivity, and a broad reimagining of educational supports from Employment Insurance through to more flexible student loans that more ably reflect the realities in which we work and live.

The Federal Government has a fine line to walk when it comes to education, given this is a provincial purview, but the measures outlined in the budget will go a long way to ensuring Canada can be competitive in the international market for social and economic prosperity. I will repeat that Canada needs a national minister of education - we are the only OECD country without one. This would go a long way to ensuring that a national skills strategy is a viable input to a national innovation strategy.

In these tumultuous and kinetic times (to borrow an apt phrase from Angela Carter) it behooves us to foster ways to structure education and research in ways that meet both the transactional and transformational needs of society. From long bets in artificial intelligence (the results of which are emerging from decades-long investment in basic science research) though to application of knowledge into new products and services, resilient regional economies require us to think through the issues and challenges of the day and to imagine futures and bring these to life.

OCAD University's new Academic Plan has this pivot at its core, building on the 141 years of excellence in art and design. We are fostering innovation literacy in our graduates through experiential learning and research experiences for undergraduate and graduate students. Working through our industry and community partners our students gain valuable insights while creating new knowledge and applications. Disciplinary Porosity; Language, Digital and Business Competencies; Criticality; Creativity - all of these are hallmarks of what makes OCAD U education unique, and how it makes possible the imagined futures the country needs for success.

Ensuring regions and individuals can pivot through retraining through such design thinking helps build the innovation carrying capacity of the country. This is dependent on ensuring we articulate our roles in promoting science, research and education into meaningful participation for all. This is inclusive innovation.


  1. Robert, I was really struck by the alignment of the hallmarks of the OCAD education and the factors we think are essential for successful project managers! Not sure how many of your students would want to enter our world, but maybe there is some opportunity for a cross discipline reboot for problem solving and innovation?

    1. This is a good point John, and a great idea. Our artists and designers have a high tolerance for ambiguity, a necessary part of project management! Let's connect on seeing what we can make possible.