Under the direction of professor Catherine Beaudry at Polytechnique Montréal, the 4POINT0 multidisciplinary team is developing new innovation measurement tools using a natural-language big-data analytics infrastructure unique in Canada.
How can an organization’s degree of innovation be accurately measured? How do we ensure that public funds spent to support innovation produce the promised benefits? How can taxpayers be persuaded that it makes sense to provide incentives for multinationals to set up shop in Canada?
To answer these kinds of questions and provide decision-makers with new tools for designing practices and policies in science, technology and innovation, the Partnership for the Organization of Innovation and New Technologies (4POINT0), headed by Professor Catherine Beaudry, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Creation, Development and Commercialization of Innovation (Innovation Chair) at Polytechnique Montréal, recently launched a project to develop new innovation indicators. Among other things, it is hoped that this project will help resolve Canada’s paradoxical situation when it comes to innovation.
As stated in the recent report “Competing in a Global Innovation Economy: The Current State of R&D in Canada” by the Expert Panel on the State of Science and Technology and Industrial Research and Development in Canada of the Council of Canadian Academics, Canada is a remarkably strong performer when it comes to research output and impact, its population is the best educated among OECD countries, and it has a deep pool of research talent and expertise.
Since 2001, however, the country has steadily declined in the international rankings measuring R&D expenditures (33rd out of 40 countries) and innovation, and has posted below-average productivity growth. The effects of that decline are weakened competitiveness, productivity and prosperity.
Tools that can gauge the impact of Canadian innovation models are critically needed
To encourage innovation, Canada has for many years supported the development of innovation ecosystems—that is, collaborative platforms bringing together universities with public- and private-sector players. The Canadian “superclusters” announced earlier this year, benefiting from $950 million in government money and with private investments expected to match that, are part of this trend.
That said, there is a critical need for tools with the capability of assessing the true impacts on innovation of such ecosystems. Tools are also needed to measure the effects of government support for private organizations, as taxpayers demand justifications for such investments. It is difficult to use current indicators—say, total sums spent on R&D, or the number of patents awarded to a company—to evaluate such investments’ impact on the capacity of the country, or that of individual organizations, to perform, compete and innovate.
Using big data to paint a clearer portrait of innovation
“Innovation encompasses multiple dimensions — development and commercialization of new products, process improvements, use of state-of-the-art technology, companies’ organizational methods, and more — that are difficult to measure,” Catherine Beaudry, a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Industrial Engineering at Polytechnique, notes. “But companies and public policy-makers must often make decisions based on indicators that are accessible, but incomplete, such as R&D spending, patents, tax credits for R&D, number of jobs, and so on. Some of those indicators aren’t updated on a regular basis, and consequently they fail to provide a precise, real-time picture of innovation and wealth creation.”
The novel innovation measurement tools being developed by 4POINT0 should help reverse that trend, helping decision-makers design science, technology and innovation practices and policies better suited to today’s realities.
By making possible real-time or quasi-real-time decision-making adapted to the realities of Canadian innovation ecosystems, where inter-organization collaboration is the norm, these new indicators will provide assurances that industry practices and public policies are indeed maximizing innovation.
“They will provide the means to properly manage innovation ecosystems and set up the most effective possible innovation support mechanisms, thus removing obstacles to transforming inventions resulting from research into commercial success, and consequently wealth creation,” Professor Beaudry believes.
4POINT0 has been granted $2.5 million in funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), plus $500,000 from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund and the Government of Quebec for development at Polytechnique of an infrastructure for text mining and big-data analytics unlike any other in Canada.
“Thanks to the work of the hundreds of researchers being recognized today, Canadians can gain a better understanding of the world we live in. It is my honour to support these talented researchers and help them push the boundaries of knowledge, which will mean a better environment, better health, a better society and a better economy for all Canadians,” says the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities.
“SSHRC-funded scholars and researchers can provide guidance on important societal changes,” point out Ted Hewitt, President of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. “Through these projects, SSHRC is helping to develop talent and to connect Canadian and international researchers and partners across disciplines and sectors to support world-class research that provides critical insights on the challenges of today and tomorrow.”
“Investing in a new generation of research talent is more important than ever before for Canada. The Canada Foundation for Innovation is making it possible for our brilliant researchers to remain in Canada, to build our economy, and to contribute to solving the problems of the world,” says Roseann O’Reilly Runte, President and CEO of the Canada Foundation for Innovation.
A never-before-seen infrastructure for natural-language processing of big data
To create its new indicators, 4POINT0 is using the enormous quantities of data produced daily by organizations and their environment. These so-called big data represent a mine of information with unprecedented and, so far, vastly under-exploited richness.
Hosted at Polytechnique, the 4POINT0 text mining and big-data analytics infrastructure will tap into rich quantitative analysis methods on a scale never before seen.
The information will be extracted from a combination of data obtained using quantitative methods (administrative data and large-scale surveys) as well as scaled-up qualitative methods (interviews, case studies, focus groups), plus textual information drawn from websites as well as traditional media. This information will allow 4POINT0 to develop, test and validate new innovation indicators for faster decision-making.
Some of the innovation ecosystems to be studied by 4POINT0 are emergent (artificial intelligence, sustainable mobility) on the way to being operational (advanced materials, precision health and medicine). Others are in more mature industries where players are seeking renewal through technological advances, such as developments in artificial intelligence (aerospace, Industry 4.0).
“We know, for example, that in one 12-hour flight, an aircraft’s systems gather more data than Facebook does in one day,” Professor Beaudry says. “If we can extract the relevant information from that mass of data and provide it to maintenance companies, this would create new business opportunities in aerospace.”
The innovation superclusters set up by the federal government will also benefit from 4POINT0’s work. For example, the SCALE.AI supercluster, which is building smart supply chains using artificial intelligence and robotics, will be able to collaborate on 4POINT0’s work to improve its ecosystem’s performance using targeted indicators that are on the cutting edge of big-data analytics.
An interdisciplinary, multisectoral partnership approach
4POINT0 brings together more than 40 researchers — among them architects, economists, engineers, sociologists, and urban planners — from Polytechnique, universities across Canada, various levels of government in Canada, and several international institutions, including GeorgiaTech, École des Ponts ParisTech, and universities in Manchester, Strasbourg and Turin.
4POINT0 also boasts 35 active partnerships in various sectors including aerospace (AéroMontréal, CRIAQ/CARIC, CAE, IODS, Thales Canada), research and innovation (CEFRIO, TKM Canada), social science (CIRANO), energy (Hydro-Québec), project management (PMI-Montréal), and advanced materials (Prima Québec).
“One of the great strengths of 4POINT0, without a doubt, is the fact that it brings engineers and specialists in the social sciences together on one team, ” says Philippe A. Tanguy, Chief Executive Officer of Polytechnique Montréal. “4POINT0 will provide the transfer offices tasked with commercializing technologies developed in universities with new tools to help speed the transition to successful innovation. Furthermore, the project will train a new generation of researchers with the skills to work as part of multidisciplinary teams, integrating new approaches to studying the innovation process, which in the long run will transform how we do research.”
“As a key player in the aerospace innovation ecosystem in Quebec for more than 15 years, CRIAQ is proud to collaborate on the 4POINT0 project, which aims, among things, to better understand innovation practices and collaboration processes in the integration of disruptive innovations,” declares Denis Faubert, CEO of CRIAQ. “The recommendations from this project will be of great interest to us and our members, and could pave the way for new partnership models on our projects.”
“We’re already observing how this unifying, cross-sectoral project is mobilizing innovators and world-class researchers across Canada. We are pleased to be part of this project, which will drive use of disruptive technologies to better understand and act on issues that are vital to an innovative, prosperous ecosystem,” points out Marc St-Hilaire, Vice-President, Technology and Innovation at CAE.
“These new innovation measurement tools, thanks to the involvement of multidisciplinary players, will enable us to adopt a more systemic and multidimensional approach to innovation,” adds Marie-Pierre Ippersiel, President and CEO of PRIMA QUÉBEC, an advanced materials research and innovation hub. “Because innovation rarely manifests itself in isolation, this expanded framework will help broaden and solidify our knowledge of Québec’s collaborative innovation ecosystem, and intelligently exploit the resulting indicators to support development of targeted public policies in the area of advanced materials.”