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A Hands-on Approach to Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy


Managers of both public and private enterprises are beginning to realize that informed policy and program management decisions require adequate information on both the economic and social factors affecting a project. But given time constraints, the problem becomes one of ensuring that specific economic or social schools of thought do not bias the information provided. The policy advisor has to be able to provide information on factors covering the spectrum of political views.

At the Centre for Policy Research on Science and Technology ( CPROST) we hope that we can foster this kind of professionalism in science, technology, and innovation (STI) and innovation studies in a way that will assist Canada and Canadians in making the successful economic and social decisions in the twenty-first century.

CPROST was established in 1988 as an independent, self-supporting institute within the Faculty of Applied Science at Simon Fraser University (SFU), and is one of the few academic centres in Canada specifically devoted to STI policy in Canada. CPROST brings together practitioners and scholars to study the interaction of advances in STI, their implementation in the marketplace, and their impacts on community and individual interests.

CPROST's mandate is to improve public policy and private decision-making processes by increasing public participation and promoting sound methodologies for the implementation of technological change. CPROST aims to promote an understanding of the relationship between public and private sectors as they stimulate, monitor, and control the process of technological innovation; and to enhance the effectiveness and global competitiveness of client organizations by creating and refining tools for the management of innovation. CPROST is also concerned with developing and retaining researchers skilled in advanced quantitative and quantitative research techniques.

What is science, technology, and innovation policy?

STI policy is the collective national understanding of how a nation's government should identify and develop its STI programs. As a subject of study and an area of professional expertise, STI is relatively unknown. This is not for lack of many attempts to place it on the political radar; rather, the federal government has been unable to form a national consensus on STI issues and policies. The result has been a laissez-faire approach to STI issues that has, over the past decades, severely damaged Canada's ability to establish its position in the global scientific community.

Under these circumstances why should we even study STI policy? Well, there are several good reasons why scientists and engineers should be involved in policy research. To begin with, we can assist in the formulation of STI policy at the federal level, in support of economic and social objectives. As academics, we can also provide advice to ministers and other senior officials; support, justify, and critique STI program expenditures; provide information on scientific activities for elected officials, journalists, and other stakeholders; and analyse the national system of innovation.

CPROST has six tenured and four adjunct faculty working on these issues at present, in collaboration with a number of associated researchers at other institutions. At any given time, the institute accommodates at least a dozen graduate and undergraduate students, approximately half of whom come from a science or engineering background. CPROST also hosts visiting scholars from a number of countries and currently occupies nine closed offices and four open offices, along with a multipurpose equipment and data storage area.

Currently, CPROST activities fall into the following major areas:

  • analysis of current and proposed government innovation policies and programs

  • studies into the factors affecting innovation in regional systems of innovation

  • studies on indicators of scientific, technological, and innovation performance

  • research into telecommunications policy as it affects disaster mitigation

  • studies on the effects of technologies and policies affecting the multimedia industry

  • an ongoing probe into the user "experience" of new media technologies

  • studies on the policies and implementation of the Scientific Research and Experimental Development tax credit program

Why would students want to study STI policy?

The STI field is narrow and both federal and provincial governments have been downsizing their policy-making activities over the past few years. But where there are "policy analyst" positions available, a postgraduate degree in some related discipline is generally a requisite, although not necessarily a Ph.D. An academic career, on the other hand, requires the usual doctorate and peer-reviewed publications.

CPROST graduates have generally found employment in areas directly related to their studies in government departments and agencies, not-for-profit think tanks, and consulting firms. The key element in starting their career has been the development of a number of skills that not only cover the academic subjects on which policy analysis is built, but also the "life skills" of preparing and presenting project proposals, communicating research findings, and providing clear and concise advice to senior managers who are not specialists in the field.

Although SFU does not offer a specific postgraduate degree in S&T policy studies, students from a wide variety of disciplines may follow a specific program at CPROST that gives both theory and practical training in S&T policy analysis. This requires the completion of a specific course of studies in the SFU School of Communication, which is part of the Faculty of Applied Science, and practical research and teaching activities showing that they have completed training in both the theory and practice of S&T policy analysis.

Students are always involved in the ongoing research work of the faculty. This work usually falls into two areas: basic research funded by research-granting councils and more applied policy studies funded by a wide variety of public and private agencies. Some examples of our ongoing projects include studies of:

  • The interaction between commercial technologies and the new, increased standards for drinking water;

  • The development of wireless Internet devices for use in hostile environments, such as those found during disaster mitigation activities;

  • Provision of support to the book editor for the journal Science and Public Policy;

  • Development of a proposal for a quantum-computation laboratory in Vancouver; and

  • A study on potential gender biases in innovation studies.

There is also a team of research assistants and postdoctoral fellows engaged in a novel form of technology road-mapping, focused on user experience.

At CPROST, we believe there is no substitute for "hands-on" learning. Someone who wishes to enter the world of policy analysis has to learn that no study is ever perfect and that there are always trade-offs among schedule, subject matter, and the depth to which a particular issue is researched. The faculty and graduate students at CPROST take pride in working in a multidisciplinary framework on economic and social problems that have an ongoing impact on Canadian society.

For more information, visit the CPROST Web site or e-mail the director of CPROST, Richard Smith, or the associate director, Adam Holbrook