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.

What is a culture of innovation?

In the process of drafting my PhD dissertation, I posed this question to members of Ontario’s research and innovation ecosystem. While some found the phrase overused or empty, many shared their experience in the innovation process.

Based on my interviews, I’ve arrived at the following definition.

  • A culture of innovation is an environment that supports creative thinking and advances efforts to extract economic and social value from knowledge, and, in doing so, generates new or improved products, services or processes.
  • healthy culture of innovation has a shared set of values and mutually reinforcing beliefs about the importance of innovation as well as an integrated pattern of behaviour that supports research and innovation.
  • thriving culture of innovation can leverage the existing strengths of a given research and innovation ecosystem.

Ontario’s culture of innovation

Ontario made notable strides toward developing a culture of innovation. Intermediary organizations like MaRS and the Ontario Centres of Excellence have emerged to provide local entrepreneurs with support to advance their innovative ideas and ventures.

Ontario’s research institutes, hospitals, colleges and universities ramped up efforts at partnering with intermediary organizations, local businesses and international firms to cultivate research in key areas. The province’s angel network and venture capital community engaged with industry partners and intermediary organizations to invest where early-stage funding was (and remains) critical.

The provincial government’s efforts at implementing a culture of innovation has been demonstrated in a range of strategies, including Ideas to Market Strategy, 2006; Strategic Plan, 2006; and Life Sciences Commercialization Strategy, 2010. It has established funding programs such as the Ontario Research Fund, Premier’s Awards and the Innovation Demonstration Fund. Institutional structures such as the Ontario Network of Excellence (ONE) were designed to promote these goals. (The ONE supports entrepreneurial activity, encourages collaboration between research and innovation partners, enhances regional competitiveness, increases productivity and fosters job creation.)

What’s missing in Ontario?

But here’s what’s missing in Ontario: the qualitative tools necessary to evaluate our success in actually establishing a culture of innovation. Without these measures, how will Ontario identify the full range of its shortcomings, learn from past mistakes and truly build on its strengths?

Where do we go from here?

Part 4 in this series concentrates on the advancements that I think are imperative for achieving a robust research and innovation ecosystem in this province.

Read the entire series:

Nicola Hepburn

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…