Dr. Craig Kuziemsky
Associate Vice-President, Research, MacEwan University
Entrepreneur in Residence, MacEwan University School of Business
Tech sector innovation is all the rage, but social and economic innovation is just as impactful.
Technology takes up a great deal of space in the cultural conversation about innovation. Yet, notwithstanding incredible breakthroughs in the tech sector, at its core, innovation is the development of new ideas and thus covers a broader swath of human ingenuity than one might think.
“Innovation can be technology-inclusive, but it shouldn’t be technology-exclusive,” says Dr. Craig Kuziemsky, Associate Vice-President of Research at MacEwan University. “Peter Drucker, the famous management theorist, once said that innovation really needs to be looked at as a social or economic activity, not a technology-driven one.”
In other words, innovation is a spectrum that covers numerous disciplines and may or may not utilize technology. Among these disciplines are social and economic innovations spearheaded by Canadian universities, governments, communities, and individuals working collaboratively toward common goals.
Collaboration is key for innovation
“People have been innovating for millennia, from the way they plant crops and raise animals to Copernicus, Newton, and the amazing things we’ve seen in technology,” says Colin Christensen, Entrepreneur in Residence at the MacEwan University School of Business. “But take things like the Red Cross. Take how we look after and provide for people, such as trying to address key societal issues like homelessness and poverty, the environment, and equitable access to health services. These are complex problems that require social innovations to address them.”
Moving forward with any innovative idea, Dr. Kuziemsky and Christensen say, is largely a function of cooperation and teamwork between various stakeholders — namely universities and colleges, community partners, industry, and government. “At times, there’s a gap between the innovations we develop and our ability to get them meaningfully scaled up and integrated into society,” says Dr. Kuziemsky. “Innovation has to solve a problem that matters, but if it doesn’t integrate meaningfully into society to change lives, then it really doesn’t have a lot of use. That’s the biggest challenge.”
Universities develop talent and create knowledge via experiential learning, which happens in partnership with other stakeholders, but scaling up ideas requires an ecosystem — as does, Christensen says, effective design that makes a real impact on the world.
Designing intentionally for inclusive innovation
“You have to get out of the individual innovator’s head and talk to somebody. Talk to the person who has the problem and ask questions,” says Christensen. More broadly, he says, inclusivity in terms of team diversity is crucial in a design ecosystem. Diverse views are equally as important. “When you have a bunch of like-minded thinkers with the same background in a room, you cannot possibly come up with something brand new,” he says. “You need to be able to look at the problem differently or be made aware of different elements you might not know because of cultural or other contextual factors.” This is where post-secondary institutions must play a key role as the hubs that bring together faculty members and students, community partners, industry, and government. MacEwan’s Social Innovation Institute and MacEwan Venture Lab are two ways that MacEwan University serves as such a hub. kihêw waciston, MacEwan’s Indigenous centre, is an important source of engagement with Indigenous communities.
“We can’t be designing innovation for people. We have to design it with them,” says Dr. Kuziemsky.