LOUD and CLEAR from DENZIL DOYLE

Doyle%2C%20Denzil-120X185.jpg"All we have been able to do is build an R&D farm team for the U.S. We have to do better than that.”

S&T Strategy needs work
From SCAN's Print Edition

On May 17th, at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, the Prime Minister announced Canada’s new Science and Technology (S&T) strategy. Entitled “Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage,” it covers a broad range of issues and reflects a good understanding of most of them on the part of the people who prepared it. It is built around the following vision statement: “We will build a sustainable national competitive advantage based on science and technology and the skilled workers whose aspirations, ambitions, and talents bring innovations to life.”

In order to achieve this vision, the strategy calls for the creation of three S&T advantages for Canada:
a) An entrepreneurial advantage ─ Canada must translate knowledge into practical applications to improve our wealth, wellness, and well-being;
b) A knowledge advantage ─ Canada must build upon its research and engineering strengths, generate new ideas and innovations, and achieve excellence by global standards;
c) A people advantage ─ Canada must grow its base of knowledge workers by developing, attracting, and retaining the highly skilled people we need to thrive in the modern global economy.

The report does a good job of identifying the steps required to create those advantages, but as usual it won’t please everybody. The scientists and engineers who develop the technology will want to see more money allocated to funding R&D in our public laboratories and the technology transfer officers will want more to transfer it to the people who are supposed to be commercializing it. I was personally disappointed at the lack of emphasis on creating a financing industry that is capable of building an S&T-based industry. We have tried just about every trick under the sun in the past forty years to get the right money meeting up with the right business opportunities at the right stages of innovation but when you strip it all away, all we have been able to do is build an R&D farm team for the U.S. We have to do better than that.

The issue of the management of our government laboratories received some attention; it is one that should be of concern to the national capital region. On page fourteen of the executive summary is the following statement: “We will focus our activities in areas where government is best able to deliver results and consider alternative management arrangements for non-regulatory federal laboratories.”

There has been a state of uneasiness among the managers of such laboratories for some time. Many of them believe there will be a widespread movement to the universities or that they will be phased out altogether and their funding transferred to the private sector.

An option that should be considered for the management of such laboratories is the government-owned, contractor-operated (GOCO) model that is widely used in the U.S. About twenty years ago, Stuart Smith, former chairman of the Science Council of Canada, proposed a modified version in which the contractor would graft a technology commercialization shop onto a laboratory and share the proceeds with the laboratory. What intrigued me about it was that it would force the laboratory to think through what it wanted to achieve in the next five or ten years because it could not enter into a contract otherwise.

Unfortunately, the laboratory managers circled their wagons and quickly shot the idea down. But perhaps it is time to reconsider it. Publicly funded laboratories will always play a key role in any S&T strategy. It is important that we manage them properly.

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