Innovation’s crucial human dimensions: Find out more at the People, Place and Possibility Conference organized by the Federation and University of Toronto

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Peter Severinson, Policy Analyst, Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences

This summer Canadians across the country have been hard at work trying to figure out innovation. What is it? Why don’t we have enough of it? How do we get more of it? And how do we ensure that it helps support an inclusive society? The conversation was kicked off in June, when Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, The Honourable Navdeep Bains, launched a federal consultation called “Canada’s Innovation Agenda.”

The Federation has been an active part of this process.

  • We recently submitted a brief called “Making inclusive innovation a reality” that describes how Canada’s humanities and social sciences (HSS) community contributes to Canadian innovation and how those efforts can be strengthened.
  • We will be exploring how innovation can affect community design and affect social change at our upcoming annual conference. A keynote lecture by Zahra Ebrahim , Co-director of Doblin Canada, will explore the approaches  in an urban context and the role  for post-secondary institutions and scholars in the HSS. An in-depth workshop will follow featuring David Wolfe, Co-Director, of the University of Toronto’s Innovation Policy Lab to further explore avenues for engagement and critically assess the federal government’s new Innovation Agenda.

The Federation’s overall message to the Government consultations is that the HSS community plays a crucial role in supporting Canadian innovation, especially in an era of rapidly changing social and economic realities, but it will need greater support to meet its full potential. The Federation has made three main recommendations.

1. Build creativity, knowledge and skills for innovation through experiential learning

Students enrolled in HSS post-secondary programs will be vital to supporting Canadian innovation, as they represent about half the total post-secondary student population. To ensure that they have the opportunities they need to fully develop their skills and begin contributing outside the academy early, the Federation recommends that the Government of Canada expand their access to experiential learning opportunities, including co-ops, internships and other placements in the private, public and civil society sectors. Specifically, the Federation recommends that they be explicitly included in the federal government’s Post-Secondary Industry Partnership and Cooperative Placement Initiative.

2. Spur new ideas and critical perspectives through fundamental research into human thought, behaviour and experiences

Canada’s innovation system will increasingly need new ideas and knowledge in HSS fields such as design, psychology, ethics, political science and gender studies to support inclusive growth in an increasingly service- and knowledge-oriented economy. Increased funding for the fundamental research that supports HSS should be a central component of Canada’s inclusive innovation plan.

3. Strengthen connections and knowledge flow among HSS researchers and partners

Leaders in governments, civil society, academia and business all have important roles to play to help Canada find innovative solutions to pressing complex social challenges. However, as the Innovation Agenda consultations have revealed, there isn’t enough support available to facilitate these connections. The Federation recommends significant federal support for expanding and creating diverse collaborative platforms to connect research with users across society. There are several ongoing programs at Canadian universities that can either be scaled up or be used as models for new programs. Additionally, when a new Chief Science Officer is announced, this office should play an important role in bringing together evidence from all research areas to inform the public policy process.

The future of innovation

Creating a prosperous, sustainable and inclusive society will increasingly require insight and knowledge about how people think, behave and interact. As we work to design a new Canadian innovation agenda, it will be critical to recognize — and strengthen — the contributions made by the HSS research community. We hope you will join us at our Annual Conference in Toronto November 9 to discuss these issues in more depth!



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