Public Policy Forum report calls for greater collaboration to stimulate innovation

Guest Contributor
March 17, 2011

Wider definition of innovation required

The Public Policy Forum (PPF) is making its first major foray into innovation policy with the release of a new report calling for leadership from the top and a wider definition of innovation. The independent forum also plans to build on its initial work — the report was two years in the making — with the creation of a virtual innovation lab to deepen collaboration and tackle innovation-related issues from their broadest perspective to specific initiatives.

Among its recommendations, the report — entitled Innovation Next: Leading Canada to Greater Productivity, Competitiveness and Resilience — calls for a first ministers' meeting within 12 months to propel innovation into the frontlines of government policy. The intent is to convene a meeting of the prime minister and provincial premiers to demonstrate the necessary leadership for engaging all players in the innovation system, which the PPF defines as encompassing "the various ways people improve how things are done, not only in the commercial realm, but across all sectors of the economy and society".

The goal of the meeting would be to build consensus on an innovation policy framework for Canada. It is not intended to solicit new government spending.

"Building both a culture and practice of innovation suggests that it takes action in the form of policy, strategy and collaboration which is really central," says PPF executive VP Paul Ledwell. "It's more than transactional collaboration but a much deeper collaboration that originates from a community perspective and becomes a national effort involving all sectors."

The report acknowledges that Canada has been inundated with decades of reports on innovation, augmented by the work of the Council of Canadian Academies. But it contends that most, if not all, have taken a narrow conceptual approach which has limited the ability of all players to participate. It points to nations like Singapore, Finland, Israel and South Korea where innovation has been championed nationally and asserts that Canada must take a similar path while recognizing the unique characteristics of the Canadian innovation environment.

To that end, it recommends a long-term effort to engage younger Canadians (K-12) in the pursuit of science, entrepreneurship and "intelligent risk-taking". Such a national initiative would require a far greater degree of collaboration that has been evident in the past, but Ledwell says that it could be achieved if the report's other recommendations are also implemented.

"There are successful efforts taking place right now like Let's Talk Science and Actua, which addresses hard-to-reach communities, but they require more collaboration," says Ledwell. "We need the input of practitioners and support from the public and private sectors. This is a longer-term goal."

new council for metrics

A closer term recommendation calls for the establishment of a Productivity and Innovation Council of Canada (PICC) as advocated by former Privy Council clerk Kevin Lynch. The PICC would undertake to develop a new set of indicators to measure productivity and innovation in Canada on a regional and sectoral basis. Conceived as an arm's length agency, the PICC would be relatively small in size and supported by a professional infrastructure to develop and analyze new metrics. The first ministers' conference would provide some focus on how such a body could be established.

"Current measures for productivity and innovation often don't capture the full information and measurement that we need," says Ledwell. "We need finer measurement and learn how to benchmark against ourselves and others. It needs a commitment from governments and other players although it will be arm's length from government."

The report's final recommendation calls for a new series of major Canadian innovation awards on par with the Nobel prizes. These awards would augment those already in existence and offer large cash prizes for innovative achievement in the natural sciences, life sciences and community development.

"We need to celebrate successes and convey those successes to young people as mentors and models. It will help to place innovation at the heart of what we're all about," says Ledwell. "There's the social element, the broader view of innovation. Innovation is many different things and it will become stronger as we connect innovators across sectors."

The report was based on nearly 20 events held throughout Canada from May/09 to Sept/10. Ledwell says the PPF will encourage the events' nearly 400 participants to move the recommendations forward within their own spheres of activity.

"We intend to carry this work forward and encourage further discussion of the themes and recommendations," he says. "With the virtual innovation lab, we also want to bring in an international perspective and go deeper into issues like venture capital and incubators. We want to work on social innovation and social enterprise and connect to it to business innovation."


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