October 1, 2013, the Council of Canadian Academies released something they called a ‘new report’ but was effectively a summary of seven of their previous reports. They called the ‘new’ report, Paradox Lost: Explaining Canada’s Research Strength and Innovation Weakness. Here’s more about it from the media advisory),
A new report, entitled Paradox Lost: Explaining Canada’s Research Strength and Innovation Weakness, was released today by the Council of Canadian Academies at a breakfast event with the Economic Club of Canada.
Paradox Lost: Explaining Canada’s Research Strength and Innovation Weakness draws upon the insights reported in seven expert assessments conducted by the Council since 2006. Each assessment examined various aspects of Canada’s performance in science and technology, and innovation. Paradox Lost examines the complex ways in which research leads to innovation, and the factors that motivate Canadian business strategy. It also identifies four megatrends that will pose challenges for Canadian businesses in the years to come.
“The Council was pleased to initiate this review of its work,” said Elizabeth Dowdeswell, President and CEO of the Council of Canadian Academies. “We hope Paradox Lost will provide valuable insight for policy- and decision-makers across Canada.”
The report was led by a three-member expert advisory group composed of Marcel Côté, Founding Partner of SECOR Inc.; Bob Fessenden, Fellow of the Institute for Public Economics; and Peter Nicholson, former President of the Council of Canadian Academies.
First off, that breakfast cost $89/seat (if memory serves and it does because that’s a high price for breakfast and a review/summary of seven previously published reports). Here are the seven reports/assessments the committee of three (Côté, Fessenden, and Nicholson) was summarizing,
- The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2006
- Innovation and Business Strategy: Why Canada Falls Short
- Catalyzing Canada’s Digital Economy
- Informing Research Choices: Indicators and Judgment
- The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012
- Innovation Impacts: Measurements and Assessment
- The State of Industrial R&D in Canada
The report about women, science, and academe was not included in Paradox Lost: Explaining Canada’s Research Strength and Innovation Weakness (link to webpage hosting assessment and other documents). Are women going to be part of this brave, new innovative world? I realize it would have been a stretch but surely the report’s inclusion in the review would have been worthwhile.
As for the report itself, all 34 pp. of the PDF, I was expecting more given the literary allusion.Before I launch into this further, it should be said that I applaud the ambition in the titling. I appreciate literary references as I view them as an attempt to ground them in the culture which extends beyond policy wonks. While this one didn’t work for me, I hope the Council of Canadian Academies will try again with future assessments.
As for how this attempt failed, who thought it would be a good idea to reference Paradise Lost, John Milton’s epic (written in 10 volumes), 17th century, English poem concerning humanity’s fall from grace as signified by banishment from the Garden of Eden? It’s not only a literary reference, it’s a biblical reference and an old testament one at that. To sum it up, this reference alludes to Judeo-Christian religious traditions, comes from an English literary tradition, and concerns banishment from an idyllic place, due to a woman’s failure of character or inherent sinfulness, depending on your reading of that story. The reference/wordplay in the title seems a bit tone deaf.
Leaving the literary/biblical aspects of the title aside, ‘Paradox Lost’ doesn’t make sense since one might be able to ‘resolve’ a paradox but one generally doesn’t ‘lose’ one. Interestingly the authors seems to concur as they use the verb ‘resolve’,in their Executive Summary (from p. 6 of the report PDF)
The Council of Canadian Academies (the Council) has, since 2006, completed seven expert panel assessments analyzing in great depth Canada’s performance in science and technology (S&T) and innovation. This document synthesizes the main findings of that work, from which two main conclusions emerge:
•Canadian academic research, overall, is strong and well regarded internationally.
•Canadian business innovation, by contrast, is weak by international standards, and this is the primary cause of Canada’s poor productivity growth.
The conclusions are linked by a paradox. Why has Canada’s research excellence not translated into more business innovation? The paradox is resolved once it is recognized that (i) most innovation does not work according to a “linear” model in which academic research yields a pipeline filled with ideas that, following some research and development (R&D), are commercialized by business; and (ii) business strategy in Canada is powerfully influenced by many factors besides those that motivate innovation. [emphasis mine] These factors include Canada’s comparative advantage in a remarkably integrated North American economy, the state of domestic competition, the profitability of existing business models, and the particular Canadian attitude to business risk that has been shaped by the foregoing conditions.
There is a second paradox. How has Canada’s economy sustained relative prosperity despite weak innovation and correspondingly feeble productivity growth? The answer is that Canadian firms have been as innovative as they have needed to be. Until the early 2000s, their competitiveness was supported by an ample labour supply and a favourable exchange rate, which made productivity growth less urgent. Since then, the boom in commodity prices has supported Canadian incomes in the aggregate. But a high-wage country like Canada cannot sustain its prosperity indefinitely without healthy productivity growth and its necessary prerequisite — an aggressively innovative business sector.
There’s nothing new in the report but the authors did highlight a few ideas in their conclusions as per the Executive Summary (from p. 8 of the report PDF),
• Policy-makers and commentators need to acknowledge that the business innovation problem in Canada has a pedigree as old as the country itself.
• Canadian business has not become more innovative because it has been able to prosper without needing to do so.
• Now, business will have to embrace innovation-focused business strategies to compete and survive.
• This creates the conditions where public policies to support business innovation can be more effective than in the past because innovation policy objectives and business motivation will finally be aligned.
I’m with the authors on the first two conclusions but as the for the third one (the fourth follows on the third), I’m not convinced that Canadian business feels obliged to make any changes. It’s survived quite handily till now and given the evidence from the OECD Science, Technology and Industry 2013 Scorecard (my Oct.30, 2013 posting offers more detail), Canadian businesses have been diminishing investment in R&D over the last decade and it seems unlikely that there will be any changes in the near future regardless of government programmes. Businesses in Canada have some of the best tax incentives for R&D amongst OECD countries; we’re second to France only in terms of lavish taxpayer support. Other than lip service, is there any indication that Canadian business motivation “… will finally be aligned” with government policy objectives?
One might say (and I will) the the last conclusion was foregone given the committee of ‘three wise men’ (let’s stick with the biblical allusions even it is one from the new testament), include a politician/economist who founded a management consulting firm, an academic/bureaucrat, and a career bureaucrat.
I give you
- Marcel Côté economist and politician as he’s described in this Wikipedia essay where he’s also described as a founding partner of Secor, a strategic management consulting firm;
- Bob Fessenden, fellow of the Institute for Public Economies (University of Alberta, former Deputy Minister in four different Government of Alberta departments: Economic Development; Sustainable Resource Development; Innovation and Science; and Advanced Education and Technology, plus somewhere along the way, he was staff member at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Foresty; and
- Peter Nicholson, inaugural president of the Council of Canadian Academies from February 2006 through December 2009, he was Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy in the Office of the Prime Minister of Canada from 2003 to 2006, prior to which he was Special Advisor to the Secretary-general of the OECD. The biography also mentions some experience in the fields of banking and telecommunications.
Is it any wonder that these three might conclude that public policies could now be more effective? After all, it would confirm their life’s work.