Thursday, April 12, 2018

Council of Canadian Academies launches latest expert panel report: Competing in a Global Innovation Economy: The Current State of R&D in Canada.

This week saw the launch of the Council of Canadian Academies’ latest expert panel report, Competing in a Global Innovation Economy: The Current State of R&D in Canada. This report offers the most comprehensive view of the Canadian science and technology ecosystem, and its strengths in both capacity and contribution. Here is what the CCA summary says about the report:
Competing in a Global Innovation Economy: The Current State of R&D in Canada is the fourth report from the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) in a series documenting Canada’s S&T and R&D strengths and weaknesses. It assesses the latest evidence on Canada’s R&D and innovation performance, combining up-to-date data with expert insights and analyses, and benchmarking against the performance of other countries.
The expert panel had a wide remit, charged with considering the areas of excellence in basic research, applied research and experimental development, in both public and private sectors. Further we were asked to discuss how these inputs relate to our collective capacity or wealth creation – social, cultural and economic.

The data show that Canada has clear research strengths in several areas in terms of magnitude, impact, and growth: Clinical Medicine, Public Health and Health Services, Psychology and Cognitive Sciences, Philosophy and Theology, and Visual and Performing Arts. However, Canada now stands well behind the OECD average and is ranked 33rd out of 40 countries on an index of business R&D investment, intensity, and growth.

This is a worrying trend. More worrying is the fact that “Canada is now a net exporter of patents, and the outflow of patents is accelerating. In 2003, approximately 96% of the patents invented in Canada were owned in Canada. By 2014, that figure had dropped to 74%.”

Notwithstanding a lack of business investment in R&D, Canadian businesses do excel at fields, based on a composite indicator of magnitude, intensity, and growth, that includes:
  • Scientific research and development services
  • Computer systems design
  • Communications equipment manufacturing
  • Aerospace products and parts manufacturing
Overall, on the connections between R&D, Innovation & Wealth Creation the panel has this to say:
While Canada is a highly innovative country, with a robust research base and thriving communities of technology start-ups, significant barriers — such as a lack of managerial skills, the experience needed to scale-up companies, and a high rate of foreign acquisition of high-tech firms — often prevent the translation of innovation into wealth creation.
Dr Max Blouw, President and Vice-Chancellor Emeritus of Laurier University and Chair of the Expert Panel, and I were interviewed for Research Money article (paywall alert). When asked about the report and what was most significant to me, here is what I said:
“For the first time, there’s a strong linkage between the production of knowledge … and what the private sector does,” says Dr Robert Luke, VP Research and Innovation at OCAD Univ and member of the CCA expert panel. “It’s the most interesting aspect (of the report) – the connective tissue and propensity to leverage excellent knowledge in Canada.”
The idea of connective tissue is important, as we found there are strong and growing links between academic researchers and the private sector. While there are disparities in cultures (to be expected) that are exacerbated by different motivations (academics by tenure and promotion; read: publications; the private sector by sales), these are not insurmountable, and there are positive signals to build on with respect to enhancing the retention of IP in Canada and standing and scaling up global businesses here.

Fundamentally this is about ensuring the we can successfully de-risk long bets in research and capitalize on these downstream. Certainly not all paths from idea to invoice are linear nor simple, nor is every discovery immediately applicable into useful and usable contexts. But the report data show that we should all be asking what we get out of our investments in public science. Being excellent in research that fuels other countries’ economies is suboptimally oriented toward Canada increasing – let alone maintaining – our productivity.

The report is strong evidence for the efficacy of public+private R&D partnerships and the need to encourage these. Doing so across the entire spectrum of public and private sector actors will increase our collective capacity to make positive contributions to social, economic and cultural productivity.

Download the report here, and check out the CCA’s microsite that provides an excellent overview of the data.

The Council of Canadian Academies’ latest expert panel report:
Competing in a Global Innovation Economy: The Current State of R&D in Canada
As a member of this expert panel I can attest to the extremely high level of rigour that went into assembling it and performing the review and analysis of data. It was truly an honour and a privilege to be able to work not only with my colleagues on the expert panel, but also with the CCA staff, who brought to the task a dedication to excellence and exacting standards.

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