Innovating our policies along with our practices

Richard Hawkins speaking on innovation policy at the Tech Futures Summit.

An interesting conversation was happening today at the Alberta Innovates Technology Futures Summit. Richard Hawkins, University of Calgary Professor and Canada Research Chair in Science, Technology and Innovation Policy, presented on how to determine whether or not innovation policies are working.

He talked about how one of the challenges faced by government-sponsored innovation programs is to demonstrate impact from public investment, especially in the short to medium term. Unfortunately, that is not always enough time to collect conclusive data or tangible results.

According to Hawkins, the solution to this un-complementary fit is to re-calibrate performance expectations and broaden our measurements. These days, we should be looking at program impacts on multiple and different parts of the innovation system, including the social and economic sectors.

Also, developing more technology should be a means, not an end, he said. “There is no shortage of technology, but there is a shortage of innovation,” Hawkins said. Policies that focus on simply producing technology rather than deploying it are missing the point.

So, shifting our perspective from technology as the innovation to technology as the conduit (or “platform”, to give a pointed nod to CANARIE’s Network-Enabled Platforms Program as an example), we see that innovation and the resulting impacts are then driven by who uses the technology, what they use it for, and how that changes what they were doing before.

As innovation is built around change and disruption, it makes sense that our policies and policy-building approaches should evolve in response. Measuring short-term impacts will always be a challenge, but if we change what we’re looking at and where we’re looking for it, that can help uncover new measures of success.

What are your thoughts? Do current metrics accurately measure innovation impacts? If not, how should policies change? Please leave your comments below.

About cyberainc
Cybera is a not-for-profit organization that works to spur and support innovation, for the economic benefit of Alberta, through the use of cyberinfrastructure. Cybera has offices in Calgary and Edmonton and collaborates with public and private sector partners to accelerate research and product development that meets the needs of today’s society. Through its access to computing infrastructure and cyberinfrastructure expertise, Cybera enables academic, industry, and government groups to innovate in priority areas, including health, energy, the environment, and emerging technologies. Cybera also operates CyberaNet, a high-speed, high-bandwidth advanced network in Alberta, and provides project management to WestGrid, a consortium that provides advanced computing resources in support of research across Canada. For more information, visit

3 Responses to Innovating our policies along with our practices

  1. cyberainc says:

    As followup, here’s a post-event video from the Tech Futures Summit that captures feedback from Alberta researchers and industry reps about how they are facing challenges in bringing their technology and innovations from the lab to market.

  2. roman photo says:

    I watched the video, huge !

  3. Well, if you want to see how the “policy-making process” is changing, the best place I’ve found is the European Commission. The main message there at the moment is “be inclusive” (only in English of course). Let’s face it, “government” as we know it today is more about funding a lobby group than getting the best ideas funded. It’s more like playing a competitive game of poker, where you have to have a bank in order to buy in, than a friendly game of scrabble.

    We live in a globalized world where only the education & government industries have yet to “get with it”. Policy follows practice. and not vice versa? Heresy!

    I can’t agree that “.. innovation is built around change and disruption”. Innovation is just a social response to the introduction of new technology. It seems no one in education and government has noticed that “the web” is world wide. Duh!

    Gee, I better hop on a plane, stay at an expensive hotel and deliver a a paper to the converted, again. Now what should I say? Oh yes. There’s no money for research. Damned governments.

    Try googling ‘platforms for awareness ec’.

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