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.