Advancing Ontario’s research and innovation agenda
Note: Through the research she conducted for her PhD dissertation, Nicola Hepburn made some key discoveries about innovation in Ontario. This is the third post in a four-part series that she wrote based on her findings. For further information, read the first post, second post and third post.
The creation of Ontario’s Ministry of Research and Innovation (MRI) in 2005 signalled that the provincial government had prioritized an agenda of research and innovation.
MRI’s mandate sought to:
- develop an integrated innovation strategy and guide its delivery;
- invest in policies and programs to deliver on the innovation strategy; and
- foster a culture of innovation and showcase Ontario’s culture nationally and internationally.
Overall, this agenda represented a commitment to build an economy where innovation is a driver of regional economic growth.
In conducting research for my PhD dissertation, I interviewed academic and industry leaders in Ontario. On the whole, they agreed that the creation of MRI as a stand-alone ministry was a welcome structural change that heralded a new focus on—and investment in—research and innovation.
Since 2005, many economic and political developments have significantly impacted this agenda. These events have included a global recession, the election of a minority provincial government, the merger of MRI with the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, and, more recently, the reinstatement of MRI as a stand-alone ministry. Nevertheless, my interviewees asserted that although Ontario has entered an era of fiscal constraint and uncertainty, policy inertia is not a viable option. To them, a resolute effort to establish a creative and coherent innovation policy is critical if Ontario is to truly realize its economic goals.
To achieve a robust research and innovation ecosystem, I think a number of advancements are imperative.
- Consistent research and innovation policy must be deployed across all ministries, agencies and publicly sponsored institutions that have innovation in their mandate. Policy direction must be communicated clearly by the government.
- Partnerships between the provincial government, agencies, post-secondary education institutions, research organizations and industry must be strengthened. This will help nurture breakthrough ideas and boost the commercialization of research in a broad range of disciplines.
- More effective regulatory and incentive measures are required to encourage business activity in research and innovation.
- The provincial government must continue to provide long-term funding to the post-secondary institutions that attract top talent and train young Ontarians in conducting research that generates economic and social value.
- Research and innovation partners must drive inquiry and intensify commercialization efforts not only in areas such as information and communications technology and life sciences, but also in “traditional” industries such as agriculture and food processing.
- The government must continue building the province’s commercialization network, the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs.
Appropriate evaluative measures must be established to continually monitor Ontario’s research and innovation progress.
Nicola Hepburn is a PhD candidate in the Political Science Department at the University of Toronto. Her dissertation will explore the Ontario government’s efforts to develop policy intended to leverage the province’s research and innovation capacity and contribute to regional economic growth between 2003 and 2011. See more…