Canada has fallen further behind on key innovation indicators as compared to other countries. In fact, the gap between Canada and the world’s top five innovation performers has widened. In the most recent World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Competitiveness Report (2014-15) Canada ranks 23rd of 140 countries in capacity for innovation, significantly below levels in the United States (3rd). Our country faces important challenges in terms of its competitive position in the field of innovation in recent years. While academic research is strong and internationally recognized, studies of Canada’s innovation performance in all industries consistently highlight a critical gap in the innovation continuum between scientific production and the entry of research outputs into the marketplace.
Nevertheless, Canada has maintained a solid knowledge and human capital foundation. Canada’s scientific production is highly competitive in global rankings and performs above the world average on research citation counts in all sectors.
An effective innovation agenda must then set medium and long-term national R&D priority areas that promote business participation. An innovative private sector is critical to translate Canada’s high-quality knowledge production into marketable products that bring productivity gains and deliver commercial solutions to various industries.
Basic (foundation/pure) research must also be considered as it is the fuel for innovation and commercial application. An innovation strategy that promotes medium and long-term priorities and supports greater interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral research initiatives therefore requires a balance between the funding of basic and applied research.
The public sector must to play a leading role in providing an enabling environment for innovation and performing R&D in areas of public good, such as basic research, where the private sector has less incentive to invest. As an example, leading European economies operate networks of government funded national laboratories focused on basic research priorities (i.e. Max Planck Society). The innovation agenda should place greater emphasis on the contribution of federal facilities in the innovation system as a whole.
Canada must also build its capacity to coordinate research priorities with various stakeholders (nationally, provincially, regionally, and internationally); priorities that take into account a variety of objectives and that advance a robust research agenda for the future. A stronger strategy to coordinate research priorities and strategies will reduce risk of duplication and produce efficiencies. This will result in a better return on investment of government support.
We also need to recognize the importance of knowledge transfer to research end-users and the dissemination of research to all stakeholders, including the public. To promote increased dissemination and adoption of research results:
- Dissemination should be part of the R&D cycle to allow for increased stakeholder engagement.
- A knowledge transfer and translation component should be a mandatory condition for conducting research with public funds.
- Efficient dissemination pathways for research demand consideration of timing requirements to meet the challenge of getting new research peer-reviewed and into end-users’ hands when it will be most effective and reflective of the market.
- Key actors in the research value chain should undertake mandatory training in dissemination and public communication – including knowledge transfer and translation (KTT). Scientific education curriculums should include this component as well.
- Researchers need better support from other stakeholders or specialized staff – knowledge translators or research-based communications professionals – to carry out comprehensive communication plans throughout the research.