To avoid falling behind in the competitive global market, Canada needs a dedicated policy centre to focus its brightest minds on fostering innovation.
In the lead up to the 3rd Canadian Science Policy Conference, The Mark is excited to present a series of articles examining the health of science and innovation in Canada.
Science has been the defining force in the development of modern societies as it provides an efficient way of understanding the world and of accelerating human progress. Advanced industrialized economies have become proficient in preparing their citizens to assimilate the progress of science and they have become prosperous as a direct consequence.
There have been huge shifts in the global landscape for science over the past twenty or thirty years. Specifically, there have been geographical shifts in the way science has advanced, with emerging economies, such as Brazil, India, Turkey, and China, becoming major sources of knowledge, capital and entrepreneurial drive. These economies are well along the path to becoming the leading innovative economies worldwide. To ensure Canada’s place in the world of 2030, it is imperative that Canada develop strong science-based partnerships with these economies.
At the same time that this transformation of the scientific landscape has unfolded, the role of business in advancing science has continued apace. Around the globe, business research is increasingly a major source of scientific as well as technological advancement. Science literacy, for example, is increasing and spreading throughout global society. How science is undertaken has also dramatically changed. Increasingly, more and more complex problems are being addressed by interdisciplinary efforts that cross national boundaries to make progress on issues of global significance, often using single, shared global facilities. Finally, modern communications networks now allow individuals to reach out, connect and self-organize to bring forward startling new advances – seemingly out of the vacuum.
Since every advance builds upon the ones that went before, scientific progress is itself accelerating.
All of this brings opportunities and challenges and underlines the importance of up-to-date and sophisticated science policy. Science policy seeks to manage the risks that science inevitably brings to societies. On the downside, for example, science policy addresses risks such as nuclear proliferation and under-the-radar private monetary systems funding science outside the control of governments. On the upside, science policy can address the risk that certain societies might become laggards in the race to fully utilize the fruits and benefits of science. As it is around the globe, science policy is therefore a cornerstone of Canada’s future that will shape its role and its image in the world.
At the same time, innovation and competition policy shape the ways that scientific knowledge and research is incorporated into the economic and social fabric of nations. Writing in Policy Options, Tom Jenkins, the CEO of Open Text , put it this way: “Competition is the fundamental motivation for innovation in a rational organization.” These three policy dimensions – science, innovation and competition – are interrelated. Canada must use the best policy options available if it is to remain competitive in science and innovation over the next decades. Global competition can no longer be ignored. Combined with the radical shifts in the way that science advances in the world, is it not time to think about new ways of advancing science policy itself?
In Canada we need new mechanisms to upgrade the foundations of our science policy. One core mechanism that could go an enormous way in the development of a hub for science policy. A Canadian Science Policy Centre would be dedicated to addressing the opportunities and challenges we are facing. Such a centre could respond to the shifts in the landscape for science and innovation and the imminent and radical increase in global competition. The centre would serve as a focal point for our fragmented science policy community, and as a forward-looking institution for inspiring and training the new generation of leaders in science policy. A new model would open an entirely novel and highly effective channel to allow Canadian policy-makers to engage the best and the brightest not only to think about these pressing issues, but to contribute to this important public service for Canada.
Photo courtesy of Reuters