Innovation for the nation

Friday, October 11, 2013


Christine McKenna Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences

The 2013-2014 season of Big Thinking kicked off on October 3rd with Dr. Richard Hawkins, Professor at the University of Calgary and Fellow of the Institute for Science Society and Policy (ISSP) at the University of Ottawa. While prorogation meant this month’s lecture couldn’t be held at the usual venue on Parliament Hill, the alternative location at HUB Ottawa – a collaborative working space designed to promote social innovation – provided an environment that nicely matched the theme of Hawkins’ address: “Whither innovation? Moving beyond the buzzword.”

Does Canada really understand what “innovation” means? According to Hawkins, our conventional wisdom surrounding the issue is based almost exclusively on supporting research and development in science and technology – but it’s not enough. Often the idea is to promote entrepreneurship and economic stimulation, and Hawkins suggests that our focus on S&T-based innovation leaves out other key areas of knowledge from which valuable ideas could emerge.

“The subjective areas and cultural elements of innovation must be considered,” says Hawkins, and in terms of Canada’s current efforts to formulate innovation-boosting policy, there is “something intangible” we’ve yet to sufficiently investigate. There is a disconnect between what we know about innovation and what we’re actually doing about it, and that’s why our progress has stagnated.

Part of the reason Hawkins says our dominant focus on S&T is not working is because the sciences “have become more granular” and it is harder to present research to policymakers in a way that is meaningful to them. He suggests we need to move beyond defining innovation simply as “more technology”, and consider how Canada’s research efforts can help lead to prosperity. “Innovation does not automatically create prosperity,” Hawkins points out. “For example, chemical weapons are a form of innovation.”

So what will it take for Canada to “move beyond the buzzword” and rethink our understanding of innovation? How can Canadian innovation policy become better at promoting developments with more meaningful outcomes than simply an increased supply of technology? Hawkins and several other leading academics have developed an innovation “Decalogue” proposing a ten-point framework to assess Canada’s current policies and help to develop new ones. The paper, entitled Canada's Future as an Innovative Society: A Decalogue of Policy Criteria, can be accessed online – and readers are welcome to endorse the final version.

A video recording of Hawkins’ lecture will also be available in the next few weeks on our Big Thinking page. This event was organized by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences in partnership with the Institute for Science Society and Policy (ISSP) at the University of Ottawa.

The next Big Thinking lecture will take place on November 21st on Parliament Hill with Ron Deibert, Director of the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, who will discuss cyber security. Registration will open in the coming weeks. 


Big Thinking


ResearchFederal policySocial innovationBig Thinking