Montreal — It has already been two and a half years since Ottawa announced the launch of the Innovation Superclusters Initiative, the centrepiece of its plan to reverse Canada’s deteriorating innovation performance and accelerate Canadian firms’ adoption of key transformative technologies. Is the plan working? How will we know?
In a new study from the Institute for Research on Public Policy, scholars Catherine Beaudry and Laurence Solar-Pelletier conclude that the potential benefits of the superclusters are huge but the key to their success will be to ensure they fully leverage their strengths as innovation ecosystems.
The federal government is currently investing $950 million over five years to support five superclusters, each of which has its own focus: digital technologies (British Columbia), protein industries (the Prairies), next generation manufacturing (Ontario), supply chains powered by artificial intelligence (Quebec) and ocean technologies (the Atlantic).
“We view the Superclusters Initiative as a Canadian experiment. These mega-partnerships of businesses, academic institutions and not-for-profits from across the country provide a unique opportunity to identify the factors that contribute most to the success of innovation ecosystems. This will allow all stakeholders to adjust their practices accordingly, including policy-makers who, as a result, will be able to better design and fine-tune innovation policies and regulations to meet their objectives,” the authors reported.
In order for this to happen, however, the government and the superclusters need to develop more sophisticated indicators that truly measure the potential and impact of these ecosystems. According to the authors, the performance indicators currently proposed tend to overemphasize basic metrics such as the number of participating organizations, new products and processes developed and jobs created.
Such indicators are easy to measure and to understand but they overlook elements that are key in understanding the innovation process and its outcomes, such as the quality of linkages among ecosystem constituents, the innovative capacity of the people involved and the extent of knowledge transfer and technology adoption taking place.
Some of this work is already underway. Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada has been consulting with experts to develop more useful measurements. Halfway through the program’s five-year timeline, Beaudry and Solar-Pelletier urge all supercluster stakeholders to work together to design and test new indicators better adapted to the reality of these ecosystems.
“The degree of coordination and insight required to ensure the success of the superclusters, or to propose how to change tack in real time if need be, is unprecedented. So too is the task entailed in accurately measuring that success.”
The Superclusters Initiative: An Opportunity to Reinforce Innovation Ecosystems, by Catherine Beaudry and Laurence Solar-Pelletier, can be downloaded from the Institute’s website (irpp.org).
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