The Ottawa-based Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA Alliance) is using social networks to launch a discussion about the country’s innovation gap and amass feedback from the general public as to how to address it.
Engaging the broad public will also mean that a multitude of facets regarding innovation will get covered in the dialogue, said Reid.
For instance, CATA Alliance started this discussion on LinkedIn Answers: Does Canada have a structural deficit in innovation?
Peter Nicholson, past president of Ottawa-based Council of Canadian Academies, is in favour of CATA Alliance’s social networking approach to building momentum around the innovation discussion. “One way to get that attention of the political decision-makers is to have a public movement and to make this a mainstream issue,” said Nicholson.
The topic of innovation for a long time has been excessively focused on research and development, rendering the public perception that innovation is “just people in lab coats with test tubes,” said Nicholson. Moreover, economic policy-makers, when speaking of innovation, tend to focus on productivity which isn’t a concept that gets a lot of public traction, he said.
Nicholson thinks people can identify with innovation if they understand it as an expression of the human and organizational creativity, like the innovation that led to rock and roll music, the assembly line or the shopping mall. “Those innovations probably have had bigger economic impact by virtually anything that has come out of the test tubes,” he said.
Once innovation is understood as creativity, then more specific issues can be examined like the motivators behind innovation such as competition and opportunity, said Nicholson.
Already there are changes occurring that will require businesses to be innovative, said Nicholson. The traditional reliance on the U.S. market is becoming increasingly vulnerable. Everyone is attracted to the emerging markets so individual businesses will have to stand out. Reliance on raw commodities like energy is meeting with environmental challenges. And, the demographics of the Canadian business is changing as the younger generation and new immigrants introduce a new set of attitudes that is more outward-looking and global.
But public policy can take things only so far because every sector has its own innovation challenges, said Nicholson. “There’s a lot that policy can do … but I think we have to be realistic and that there are limits,” he said.
Regarding public policy, Reid pointed out that the Minister of Industry Canada Tony Clement committed to tabling a “High-Tech Plan” that will outline a government-wide tack to promote business innovation, yet nothing has really materialized.
Industry Canada did not comment by press time.
CATA Alliance has already got valuable feedback through the social network discussions, said Reid. Thus far, it has learnt that it is not the right approach to use technical jargon to relay the importance of the innovation gap, as it had done before, nor had it done a good enough job of including all Canadians in the discussion.
Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau