Building new models for innovation and R&D requires effective collaboration

Building new models for innovation and R&D requires effective collaboration

Dr. Stan Shapson is Vice-President Research and Innovation at York University. 

I recently gave a talk at a conference hosted by IP Osgoode and the Hennick Centre for Business and Law, which centred on the development of strong public/private sector collaborations in an emerging new paradigm for innovation.  With the challenge of a changing external context for research in Canada —both a shifting economic and social cultural environment— a new view of innovation is taking hold and a recognition of the value of collaborations across the spectrum of research is emerging. 

I shared a number of examples of recent economic reports, finding that effective collaboration as a part of R&D strategies will provide for significant gains in competitive advantage in innovation and productivity growth for Canadian businesses.  But while more and more business leaders are recognizing the potential benefits of research collaboration– universities must take up this challenge as well.  It will be critical for universities to build a more comprehensive and sustainable approach to strengthening research opportunities with external partners.  While it is important that universities develop the skills, talent, and creative and innovative capacity to enhance productivity in the new global economy, building new models to meet these challenges will require collaboration and teamwork at all levels and across all value chains. 

I also highlighted the increasing recognition and resulting government investments towards enhanced R&D collaborations. However, these increased investments have had difficulty in producing effective public and private sector linkages, resulting in a significant innovation gap — remaining a fundamental challenge for the government.  The difficulty is that the availability and distribution of research funds are being increasingly tied to science and technology strategic priority areas. However, so much of what drives social change and fuels the modern economy is also derived from social sciences and humanities (SS&H) disciplines.  Companies in these sectors (e.g. communications, design, management, law etc.) have complex challenges and those that derive their primary knowledge inputs from the social science and humanities disciplines account for about $700B (58%) of GDP output, and yet a significant proportion of the research dollars are going to science and technology (S&T) companies that support about $431B (42%) of GDP outputs.  Therefore, if Canada is going to remain competitive in the new knowledge economy we must heighten collaborative research and development across a broader suite of research areas.

I also described York’s innovation and partnership strategy, taking a broader focus, contributing not only our S&T research but also leveraging the work of our SS&H scholars. York has established significant and sustainable community and regional innovation programs with partners in York Region. The Region is the 6th largest municipality in Canada, with a population of 1.2M and growing.  It also serves as the centre-point of Canada’s leading technology corridor, poised to contribute as a significant innovation and commercialization hub given its strong base of IT/software and medical devices/biotechnology companies.  It is home to nearly 50% of the medical device technology companies in Canada.   In order to capitalize on this, York is currently working actively towards the formation of a unique consortium, establishing a Convergence Centre for the development of next generation medical device technologies in Markham.  York has also been working with a variety of regional partners on the social innovation side, ranging from the United Way of York Region, regional hospitals, and regional school boards.  In order to be able to grow and foster new and varied collaborations, a new unique innovation facility that York is developing as part of the convergence centre “Innovation York”.  It will have the capability of both mobilizing social innovation research as well as S&T innovation and commercialization. This infrastructure will actively promote research opportunities that build on the research strengths across the university, address the needs of our partners and support the incubation of the most promising innovative ideas. 

The key to fostering ultimate research success, whether in the public or private sector, science & technology or the social sciences & humanities is a shared philosophy and belief in the value of true collaboration and its power to open new areas of opportunity and innovation.