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Productivity and Innovation at CFI annual meeting

November 9, 2009

With so much discussion from the Canadian Science Policy Conference, I haven’t really been keeping up with other goings-on in Canadian science policy news. I’ll survey some of these developments in the next few days.

CFI held its annual public meeting in Ottawa two weeks ago. The keynote address was by Charles Baillie, former CEO and chair of TD Bank and Chancellor Emeritus, Queen’s University. Mr. Baillie used his address to discuss productivity and innovation – the currently-dominant themes in science policy circles (a copy of his speech can be obtained by .pdf).

Baillie’s thesis is that Canada’s standard of living is sliding due to a reliance on the resource economy and a lack of productivity. He suggests four ways to improve our productivity:

  1. more high-end, skilled jobs like those at Research In Motion. He doesn’t suggest how we can achieve this;
  2. increased innovation through R&D. Despite our highly-attractive corporate tax structures, we lag in business R&D, suggesting our incentives aren’t working. Unfortunately, no solutions are proffered;
  3. if we are to recognize that government funding is part of the Canadian landscape, then we should, at the very least, tie the allocation of university research grants more closely to private sector partnerships and to projects with commercialization potential“. I love that “if”;
  4. Increased commitment to education. Baillie suggests that we need to increase early-childhood education, decrease high-school dropout rates, and make sure our immigrants speak better French and/or English.

You know, I’ve attended a lot of speeches and read a lot of articles about how to increase and improve productivity and innovation. They all do a bang-up job of outlining the problem, but generally do a terrible job of proposing anything like realistic solutions.

Why don’t we approach this problem more rationally, and perform an analysis to identify “best practices” in other countries that are succeeding in innovation and productivity? The admirable report from the Council of Canadian Academies focused pretty strictly on identifying and characterizing the problems in Canada, and the STIC report focused on how we were measuring up against other countries, but didn’t identify the policies that may have contributed to our poor showing. Why not draft a pro-active report that can identify actionable policy steps?

One Comment leave one →
  1. SpongeBob permalink
    November 10, 2009 12:37

    I agree with you Rob, but I think you are too polite. Apart from point 4, which is a no-brainer, the rest is baloney.
    How much is this guy paid to come up with this kind of thoughts? I am a working scientist, having to face on a regular basis reports from consultants who know less than me about the real life and the technological landscape. They are very good at identifying what is there, but have no clue about what could be, because they are shortsighted, have little or no imagination, and their only way to be creative is to rearrange buzzwords in meaningless sentences. If you look at most of the strategic plans, road maps, and other pricey reports produced in the recent past by these rainmakers – often times infatuated and glorified “global” accountant firms turned know-it-all gurus – you realize that most of the time the only prediction they made that became reality, is “the business and technology landscape will change”. Wow.
    The problem of Canada is that we rely too much on that kind of 10 Watts high-paid bozos to illuminate the bumpy road of change. In fact, it is pretty scary that the CFI brings them in to help, while the CFI itself is more and more questioned about its real effectiveness.
    We will have to think outside of the box, be imaginative. There is a price to pay, both in terms of investments and acceptation of change, for everyone, politicians, policy makers, scientists.
    If you look at countries that do well in terms of innovation, they have one thing in common, they poured in high amounts of money. Other countries, like the UK, France, Canada, try to maximize the return on investment by designing questionable strategies.
    We have to find ways to improve our productivity, through innovation, while maintaining democracy and some kind of social security. These last two points are not trivial, as many countries doing well on the innovation front do not perform as well in these areas, and the sirens chanting the beauty of deregulation and global competitiveness think in terms of the next quarter and care little, or not at all, about environmental and social issues.

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