Talking about Social Innovation / En parlant d’innovation sociale

by David Phipps, RIR (York)

Knowledge mobilization is a process that enables social innovation (outcomes) but social innovation remains a persistent gap in Canada’s innovation agenda.  Recent conversations in Ottawa and Montreal suggest that there’s a new voice that is speaking to Canada’s innovation agenda.

La mobilisation des connaissances est un processus qui rend possible l’innovation sociale (extrants), mais l’innovation sociale constitue toujours une faiblesse dans l’agenda du Canada en matière d’innovation. De récents échanges ayant eu lieu à Ottawa et Montréal laisse entrevoir qu’un nouveau courant influence l’agenda canadien en matière d’innovation.

May and November. These are busy travel months because the academic calendar has breathing room in November (after the tri-council grants rush and before Christmas) and May (after exams and before summer holidays). May and November are conference months and ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche (RIR) was spreading the gospel of knowledge mobilization and social innovation.

This year we weren’t alone.

The Canadian Science Policy Conference is a national conversation among researchers, innovation policy makers and industry seeking to enhance the application of Canadian science to innovation policy.  Traditionally the thinking ground for science and innovation policy (i.e. hard science that works with industry to benefit the economy), CSPC was in Ottawa this year and featured a panel on knowledge mobilization and a panel on social innovation. Two days later and two hours down the road Innovation 2011 was held in Montreal. The traditionally university-industry conference invited a panel on social media for innovation and a panel on people centered innovation – focusing on people, their needs and their behaviours as drivers of innovation.

That’s nice but so what? RIR was at Innovation 2010 and were part of a knowledge mobilization workshop at CSPC 2010.

What was different this year is it wasn’t just RIR beating this drum.  RIR (York) was pleased to be joined by the Canadian Water Network, United Nations University, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Knowledge Network for Applied Education and Research, Ontario Centres of Excellence, Social Innovation Generation, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Canadian Federation of Humanities and Social Sciences. We were part of the program not just a satellite workshop.

Researchers, funders, government agencies and intermediary organizations were speaking to traditional university-industry, innovation and economy audiences – and they listened. Whether it was standing room only in Ottawa, 42 conversations in 12 hours at the RIR booth or +60 people in Montreal there is a growing appetite for this new conversation.

As my background is technology transfer, Innovation 2011 (which is the annual conference for ACCT Canada which was AUTM Canada) is like homecoming for me.  In 2005 I mentioned social sciences to the AUTM crowd and someone laughed at me (“We can’t make money off THAT”). In 2006 we received our first tri-council grant and someone sat next to me and said “so what is it you’re doing?”.  In 2008-2009 we focused our outreach efforts on the Canadian Association of University Research Administrators. At the ACCT Canada directors forum in 2010 knowledge mobilization was part of the “hot topics” And in 2011 the conversation is about knowledge mobilization and social innovation and includes, but is not led by, RIR.

There is now a voice in the Canadian innovation conversation.  It’s still a quiet voice but like all things social, word gets around.

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