Conference Board leaders' panel aims to add market focus to Canada's S&T Strategy

Guest Contributor
June 5, 2008

Report due this fall

A high level panel examining Canada's potential for competitive advantage in new and emerging areas will report this fall on ways in which the country can enhance its ability to build innovative capacity through increased commerce. The Leaders' Panel on Innovation-Based Commerce — assembled by the Conference Board of Canada (CBoC) — has released a briefing document to demonstrate its progress to date. It also unveiled its selection criteria for determining where Canada can best focus its collective energies and improve its innovation performance which currently ranks 14th among 17 comparative countries.

The Panel extends work initiated by the CBoC's Leaders' Roundtable on Commercialization, which released a key report in 2006 containing a suite of recommendations aimed at promoting a strong culture of commerce in Canada (R$, May 16/06).

The latest Panel is populated with representatives from more than 30 organizations backing the initiative, including many federal and provincial research organizations, government departments, universities and high-tech firms. Their advice will be forwarded to Board staff who are responsible for crafting the final report, which is expected to contain a set of analyses and recommendations. The report will be released when the Panel holds its final meeting in Ottawa October 22-23.

"This panel focuses more on commercialization or the market aspect rather than the S&T aspect," says Gilles Rhéaume, CBoC's VP public policy and Panel chair. "We're looking at new and emerging technologies that may offer tremendous product opportunities through a whole new set of industries."

To determine which new areas Canada should consider, CBoC developed five selection criteria. Each technology area was assessed according to their economic and social drivers, global markets, commercial capacity, S&T capability, leadership and commitment.

"The panel will present key areas for moving forward and achieving global positioning," says Rhéaume. "Some countries are well advanced in areas where we can't compete but some other areas are new … And if we have the fiscal system to support this to happen, we will attract Canadian and foreign investment into these areas. We also need anchor tenants through major company presences. These are the companies that smaller companies can feed from. Also, innovation often comes from smaller companies and are part of the overall industrial ecosystem."

"Identifying areas of focus ... has to be based on the guidance of industry leaders, giving priority to business and market considerations ... It will take a much higher level of commitment to take Canadian innovation to global leadership levels" — Leaders' Panel on Innovation-Based Commerce

The Panel's emphasis on markets and commerce is seen as a necessary complement to the federal S&T Strategy, which was released last year and is now being implemented. The Strategy identified four areas where Canada can become globally competitive, but they are so broad as to be of limited value in the actual execution of an innovation strategy.

"The strategy's focus is so broad that the areas mean nothing. We want to be more specific and look beyond S&T," says Rhéaume. "Governments have a lot of power in making things happen if they have the will to do it. But if we focus only on S&T with no commercial capacity we're going to fail."

innovation council

The Panel's work parallels the Board's ongoing efforts to establish a Centre on Innovation to take a systematic view of Canada's innovation system(s) and implement a research work plan reflecting the interests of its members.

To make the Centre a reality, the CBoC brought in Guy Stanley as its director of technology and innovation (R$, January 21/08). The intent of the Centre is to help realize the Panel's recommendations and develop statistical tools to gauge progress.

The Centre aims to establish a research agenda for Canada's innovation systems that can be utilized by policy makers in all sectors.

"I've pretty much got the elephants in the room but it's still a dance," says Stanley of his progress to date. "Policy making has changed and policy makers need something they can use so we need to be useful ... The Centre is another piece of machinery and its end goal is to turn the country's innovation around because right now we're not doing this."


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