How colleges and universities can get innovation wrong (and how they can get it right) | So Good News


As Canada begins to understand and navigate the global post-pandemic landscape, our country’s ability to innovate will be a critical success factor in its recovery. The pandemic has made great strides in innovation. This forward momentum will allow Canada to build a resilient and resilient post-COVID economy.

This is where colleges and universities play an important role as they increasingly step into key roles in innovation and entrepreneurship. Universities in particular are key drivers of innovation, as we saw during the pandemic when scientists played a key role in vaccine development.

As important as postsecondary institutions are in the innovation space, we believe there are three main ways these institutions go wrong: being too technology-centric, not collaborative, complacent, and overemphasizing the role of problem-solving.

If postsecondary institutions want to continue to play a central role in innovation and entrepreneurship, they must change for the better.

Technology coverage, not technology center

Although innovation often involves technology, postsecondary institutions make the mistake of overstating it. Post-secondary educational institutions should approach innovation from a technological perspective.inclusive from a technical point of view,centralized point of view.

Technology centricity refers to an overemphasis on technology-related innovations and startups, such as software or application design. Technological inclusivity encourages institutions to consider technological innovation and startups as one of many ventures rather than the end goal of innovation.

A man holding a robot hand and talking to a woman wearing a hijab in front of a laptop screen
Innovation is not only about technology, but also about other types of innovation, such as social innovation.

A technology focus distracts from the broader contributions that innovation can make. Innovation is not just about creating new algorithms, tools, or inventions, but includes emancipatory social innovation that aims to identify and address social inequalities with goals such as prosperity for all.

For example, local residents have turned to social entrepreneurship to improve their lives and those in their communities. For local innovators, profit-making should be a channel for improving social or community outcomes.

Postsecondary institutions can improve their approach to innovation by adding or expanding supports and resources for non-technical enterprises.

Interdisciplinary cooperation

The diversity of disciplines within faculties and departments makes post-secondary institutions uniquely positioned to bring interdisciplinary lenses to social issues. However, many institutions are structured in ways that are antithetical to interdisciplinary collaboration, resulting in policies and procedures that often lead to organizational silos.

These silos extend to innovation and entrepreneurship spaces and programs on campuses. While innovation centers have become standard settings in postsecondary institutions, organizational silos and resources often lead to highly politicized or competitive dynamics that can confuse new innovators and entrepreneurs who may not know which centers to work with.

Developing collaborations with government, industry and community partners such as non-profit organizations is critical. Postsecondary institutions are uniquely positioned to serve as this critical network connector.

Postsecondary institutions should encourage and enable collaboration between multiple innovation and entrepreneurial centers and resources. One way this happens is through an umbrella organization structure that directs students and other stakeholders to the most appropriate center or resource.

In addition to solving the problem

Just as the design and structuring of innovation centers often prioritizes existing silos, innovation itself focuses too much on solving problems. Postsecondary institutions are sometimes mistakenly viewed as a solution to the innovation gap rather than a partner and supporter of a robust innovation ecosystem.

Innovation is not only about solving societal problems, but also about better understanding these underlying problems and their target audience. A key component of understanding problems, especially complex ones, is integrating different perspectives.

For example, addressing the vulnerability of the food system revealed at the beginning of the pandemic requires collaboration and coordination between multiple perspectives: policy makers, nutrition experts, social welfare programs, the agricultural sector, the supply chain network. , NGOs and restaurants.

Remembering the end

Although well-intentioned, innovations can be designed based on bias, leading to limited effects or, worse, unintended negative effects and further social, economic, political or psychological marginalization.

For example, innovators may assume that the purpose of entrepreneurship is to make a profit rather than to create value by combining knowledge and talent with community needs.

Hands of a diverse group of people putting together a puzzle on a desk
To solve critical problems, innovation must be done in collaboration with community partners and end users.

Regardless of the type of innovation or its purpose, co-designing innovation with end-users is where universities and other post-secondary institutions stand to make a significant contribution. Here we use the term “end user” to describe the individuals and communities that social innovation aims to serve.

Postsecondary institutions play a role by connecting the ideas and talent that drive innovation, but only through meaningful engagement with end users will the fires of innovation truly ignite. To solve critical problems, innovation must be done in collaboration with community partners and end users.

Institutions must engage in human-centered design, or ways of thinking, to ensure that innovative solutions are appropriate, acceptable, and impactful for the communities they are intended to serve.

Innovation is the future

Canada’s post-secondary institutions form a broad and diverse network of trend-setting and trend-breaking research and innovation. This is reflected in the billions of dollars the higher education sector spends on research and development and the millions of dollars the federal government invests in innovation.

While postsecondary institutions are poised to be at the forefront of pressing global challenges, including climate change, they must recognize that innovation is not a one-time goal, but a continuous education system.

Part of continuous learning is being able to adapt effectively to situations that arise. Current supply chain problems are not caused by system obsolescence, but by the fact that we have not adapted to deal with changing global system complexity. Innovation will always be a work in progress and the sector can always be improved for the benefit of all.


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