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The last decade at Statistics Canada’s Science, Innovation and Electronic Information Division

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by Fred Gault

The last decade of the Innovation Analysis Bulletin (IAB) tells the story of the evolution of the Science, Innovation and Electronic Information Division (SIEID) and its precursor, the Science and Technology Redesign Project. This evolution brings all the measurement and analysis activities together in an integrated approach to understanding technological and related organizational change. This includes measurement of research and development resources allocated to the formal generation of knowledge (research and development); the use and commercialization of intellectual property of universities, government laboratories and businesses; the activity of innovation; and the adoption and use of advanced manufacturing technologies, biotechnologies, information and communication technologies (ICTs), knowledge management practices, nanotechnologies, and emerging technologies.

Objectives and activities
About the author

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Objectives and activities

From activities to linkages and impacts

One of the first acts of the Science and Technology Redesign Project, which began in 1996, was to work closely with the Advisory Committee on Science and Technology Statistics to produce a systems-based framework for developing new statistics in a coherent manner. The systems approach was influenced by the earlier work of Herbert Simon and J. Forester; the importance of knowledge creation, transmission and use came from the work of Paul David and Dominique Foray. Clearly stated was the need to link to policy issues by formulating and testing hypotheses and using the formal language of the framework to pose the questions. The first issue of the IAB summarized a paper on this framework: Science and Technology Activities and Impacts: A Framework for a Statistical Information System.

The framework looked at actors (governments, businesses, educational institutions and others) engaged in well-measured activities, such as research and development (R&D) performance and technology use in industry, and in evolving activities, such as innovation and the commercialization of intellectual property. However, the framework emphasized measuring linkages between the actors in order to reveal the dynamics of the system. These linkages identified sources of information for firms’ innovation activity as well as how intellectual property was commercialized in universities—the subject of another article in the first IAB.

In the same issue, the paper, Knowledge Flows in Canada as Measured by Bibliometrics, was summarized. This was a bibliometric analysis of co-publication in Canada to reveal the knowledge flows between the actors and it demonstrated the utility of this kind of analysis for programme evaluation and research. The work also contributed to the creation of the Observatoire des Sciences et des Technologies1 in Montreal, an organization that is still serving the Canadian research community.

A Dynamic Analysis of the Flows of Canadian Science and Technology Graduates into the Labour Market, a paper on linkages that was also summarized in that first issue, analysed data from the National Graduates Survey to show the industries to which the 1990 bachelor’s degree cohort had moved by 1995.

From the beginning, the IAB provided information on technology use in Canada. Initially, this was limited to information and communication technologies (ICTs) and biotechnologies. The work expanded over the years to include surveys of technology use in manufacturing and pioneering work on the measurement of nanotechnologies, which is still evolving. One of the challenges of these lines of enquiry was finding the firms that used or developed the technologies. This was met by a short survey with a large sample, the Survey on Emerging Technologies, which identified firms to survey in greater depth about these technologies. This instrument has been successful and consideration is being given to applying the approach to finding other rare events in the economy.

The first issue of the IAB also reported on two papers on the use of computer communications services: Canadians Connected and Getting Connected or Staying Unplugged: The Growing Use of Computer Communications Services. These were the first of many reports on the Connectedness project that looked at the use of ICTs and their applications in Canada.

The framework emphasized the importance of the impacts of the activities and linkages, but this was recognized as a challenging undertaking that would require a combination of official statistics, case studies, analysis and expert opinion. Measuring impacts remains an objective for the program and more information is now available to support the analysis.

Involving the experts

The need for expert input into the development of indicators was recognized at the very beginning of the Science and Technology Redesign Project and a series of five workshops was organized for staff to learn about topics of immediate interest. The first workshop, held in 1997, explored geography looking at local and regional systems of innovation, which are important in a federal country like Canada. One of the unexpected outcomes of the workshop was the recognition that discussion of these issues among academics, practitioners and statisticians was important. The Innovation Systems Research Network (ISRN) came into being as a forum for discussion of regional innovation, with the help of the National Research Council (NRC), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). The ISRN transformed into a research consortium funded by the SSHRC and is now a leading force in the areas of economic geography and innovation.2

Three workshops on technologies and practices followed. The first, on ICTs, was held in 1999, when the new Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) definition of the ICT sector was being applied and there was a recognized need, for statistical purposes, to define electronic commerce. The subject of the second, held in 2000, was biotechnology and, again, there was a need at the OECD to define the activity for statistical purposes so that official statistics could be used to make international comparisons. The third, in 2001, built on an OECD forum held in Ottawa in 2000, and looked at knowledge management as a technology. The workshop contributed to an OECD project on knowledge management (OECD, 2003).

A recurring theme in the workshops—alliances, networks and partnerships as part of the innovation process—was the subject of the last workshop in the series. The authors and titles of all the papers from these workshops can be found in List of Papers Published by Kluwer Academic Publishers, in the Economics of Science, Technology and Innovation Series (2004), available in the SIEID Working Paper series.

The series of five workshops were part of a learning plan of the team and a way of contributing to the international debate. In addition to these workshops, the division supported an Industry Canada conference to review the finding of the 1999 innovation survey. This gave rise to an edited collection of papers, Gault (2003), which still provides a baseline for innovation research in manufacturing in Canada. This was followed by a workshop on innovation and policy in 2003 which resulted in another edited volume, Earl and Gault (2006).

One of the questions of policy relevance about innovation—how much money was made when the new products went to market or new ways were found to get products to market—gave rise to two workshops on commercialization and their reports, Summary: Meeting on Commercialization Measurement, Indicators, Gaps and Frameworks, Ottawa and; Summary: Joint Statistics Canada–University of Windsor Workshop on Intellectual Property Commercialization, Windsor appear in the SIEID Working Paper Series.

The OECD Blue Sky II Forum: What Indicators for Science and Technology and Innovation Policies in the 21st Century? was held in Ottawa in September 2006. SIEID hosted this most recent workshop with the support of Industry Canada and the U.S. National Science Foundation. It attracted 250 people from 25 countries and featured about 50 papers (OECD, 2006). Selected papers were subsequently edited and, in some cases, combined and published (OECD, 2007) in order to support a broader public discussion, which is still ongoing.

International standards

Work on science, technology and innovation indicators does not take place in isolation. The first question raised by the users of the indicators is how they compare with those of other countries or regions. For the last 50 years, the OECD Working Party of National Experts on Science and Technology Indicators (NESTI) and its predecessors have set the standards for data collection and interpretation. NESTI is best known for the Frascati Manual (OECD, 2002), which is now in its sixth edition and deals with research and development. The Frascati Manual process has given rise to the Frascati family of manuals that provide guidance on a wide range of statistical measurement, including innovation, patents, human resources, and technological balance of payments, all listed in the current manual.

The NESTI approach was applied to the development of indicators for the information society with the establishment in 1997 of an ad hoc panel chaired by a vice-chair of NESTI. In 1999 the panel became the Working Group in Indicators for the Information Society (WPIIS) and now has at least as complex and policy-relevant an agenda as that of NESTI. WPIIS defined the ICT sector, for statistical purposes, and went on to define ICT products and electronic commerce. Its model surveys provide a means of probing what is done with the ICT infrastructure that has been established over the last decade. These surveys influence Statistics Canada’s Canadian Internet Use Survey (CIUS) and Survey of Electronic Commerce and Technology (SECT).

In 2000, when the need for internationally comparable biotechnology statistics from official sources was recognized, NESTI and the Working Party on Biotechnology (WPB) agreed to establish an ad hoc group on biotechnology statistics. While the task was not as straightforward as for ICTs, the group did produce definitions and gather statistics that are now used for international comparison. The group brought its initial tasks to an end in 2004 and worked virtually until NESTI brought it back into being to serve the growing needs of WPB.

In 2007, the Working Party on Nanotechnology was created to examine the policy implications of nanotechnologies. NESTI created an ad hoc group to undertake the very complex task of developing definitions for statistical purposes in consultation with other international organizations.

The ad hoc groups on biotechnology and nanotechnology are chaired by staff from SIEID, as is NESTI. WPIIS was chaired by a member of SIEID from 1997 to 2002 and since then has had a vice-chair from the division. This involvement of SIEID in the development of international standards is paralleled by its divisional learning plan and is reflected in its surveys.

One of the initiatives of both the OECD and SIEID in the area of knowledge management practices did not give rise to an ongoing statistical group or a manual, although it did result in an OECD survey and an edited book of papers from that work (OECD, 2003). It may have been that policy users of the statistics were ready for indicators related to ICTs, biotechnologies and nanotechnologies, but were not ready for indicators of human practices that in themselves are close to technologies. That did not mean that the work had no influence as it appears in the third edition of the Oslo Manual (OECD and Eurostat 2005) which extended the definition of innovation from new or significantly improved processes and products to include new industry structures or use of new practices and the development of new markets, or new approaches to existing markets. The WPIIS has also moved to look at electronic business practices. The work on knowledge management and related business practices has diffused across a number of communities of practice rather than becoming a separate focus with its own working group and manuals, but it is still there influencing international standards.


Learning is enhanced by transferring knowledge to others and by understanding and trying to solve their problems. SIEID has undertaken a number of knowledge transfer experiences over the years and has gained a lot from them. Staff has worked with Ethiopia, Hungary, South Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean on ICT indicators and more broadly with China, South Africa and Spain on indicator development. For example, in 2004, 27 Chinese colleagues working on science and technology indicators spent time in Ottawa working with SIEID staff and in Montreal with the UNESCO Institute of Statistics.

Outreach takes different forms. Researchers from outside the statistical office, under very strict conditions, are allowed to gain access to microdata from surveys in order to do analysis. Participants have come mainly from Canadian universities and government departments, but there have also been visitors from the Netherlands and Germany. As a result of the program, a community of researchers and policy analysts is able to work with data from innovation and technology use surveys and to test hypotheses that bear directly on policy issues. Findings have appeared in federal policy documents and have informed work in a number of OECD countries.

Another form of outreach is the case study and the testing of questionnaires by interviewing helpful respondents. Characteristics of Growth Firms, in the Working Paper Series, is an example of the findings of a case study. Every new SIEID questionnaire is tested before it is used and this is an opportunity for respondents to learn about the work of the division and to contribute to it.

SIEID staff present the division’s work to groups from all over Canada. This has led to financial support for increasing survey samples in some Canadian provinces. It has also led to a wider understanding of the use of science, technology and innovation indicators.

Publications of the division are a key element of outreach and SIEID’s principal vehicle is the IAB, which is read around the world, on average, by over 1,000 people each month. The Connectedness Series provides peer-reviewed papers on the information society and much of SIEID’s work appears in publications and working papers (see the references at the end of this article).

Where next?

The previous issue of the IAB, released in October 2007, covered many topics that are current policy preoccupations: collaboration in innovation; global supply chains; biotechnologies and nanotechnologies; R&D outsourcing and innovation; selling R&D services domestically and abroad; Internet benefits; and highly qualified personnel (HQP).

These topics were also highlighted in the OECD Blue Sky II Forum in 2006 (OECD, 2007) and they are shaping the work of SIEID, its learning activities, its international participation, and its knowledge sharing.

The common direction is developing better indicators of linkages (collaboration, funding, trade, and supply chain links) to add to existing indicators of activities (R&D performance, intellectual property management, innovation, commercialization, and HQP development and use) and better indicators of outcomes (such as revenue from new products introduced in the last three years, changes in employment levels, or new markets developed). This direction both defines and restricts the work program. While partners are welcomed for all projects, not all proposals from outside are accepted. For a project to be undertaken, it must contribute to the objectives of SIEID.

The difference between work on indicators now and 20 years ago is that markets have changed as emerging economies have become major players; business communications have changed with ICT diffusion; energy and food supplies are being strongly coupled by biofuel policies; food and health care delivery being transformed by biotechnology; and many other areas, including security, are being transformed by nanotechnologies. The ICT infrastructure is enabling supply chain and value chain management across company and geographical boundaries and, in most industrialized countries, all of the technologies just mentioned are contributing to monitoring and managing the therapeutic care of aging populations.

The challenge is to understand the dynamics of change and that means developing and using more indicators of linkage and of outcomes, and engaging in studies of impacts of science, technology and innovation activities. The rich collection of findings from the last decade, chronicled in the IAB, provides a base for this work in the next decade. As the last decade has shown, the most interesting activities cannot be predicted. However, a knowledgeable, intellectually agile, and a well-connected team, able to learn and produce internationally comparable official statistics, is fundamental to the support of evidence-based policy.

Canada is not alone in addressing these challenges. The OECD has embarked on an organization-wide project to develop its Innovation Strategy, inspired by the Jobs Strategy of the 1990s. The next two years will offer opportunities for growth in understanding and leadership.

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Bordt, Michael, Louise Earl and Fred Gault. 2005. "Summary: Meeting on Commercialization Measurement, Indicators, Gaps and Frameworks". Statistics Canada. SIEID Working Paper Series. Catalogue no. 88F0006XIE no. 007. Ottawa.

Earl, Louise. 2005. "Summary: Joint Statistics Canada–University of Windsor Workshop on Intellectual Property Commercialization, Windsor". Statistics Canada. SIEID Working Paper Series. Catalogue no. 88F0006XIE no. 006. Ottawa.

Earl, Louise and Fred Gault, eds. 2006. National Innovation, Indicators and Policy. Cheltenham. Edward Elgar.

Gault, Fred (ed.). 2003. Understanding Innovation in Canadian Industry. Queen’s University School of Policy Studies. Montréal and Kingston. McGill–Queen’s Press.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). 2007. Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators in a Changing World: Responding to Policy Needs. Paris.

OECD. 2006. Proceedings of the OECD Blue Sky II Forum (accessed February 15, 2008).

OECD. 2003. Measuring Knowledge Management in the Business Sector: First Steps. Paris.

OECD. 2002. Frascati Manual: Proposed Standard Practice for Surveys on Research and Experimental Development. Paris.

OECD and Eurostat. 2005. Guidelines for Collecting and Interpreting Innovation Data: Oslo Manual. Paris and Luxembourg.

Poirier, Carol. 2004. "List of Papers Published by Kluwer Academic Publishers, in the Economics of Science, Technology and Innovation Series". SIEID Working Paper Series. Catalogue no. 88F0006XIE, no. 016. Ottawa.

Statistics Canada. (n.d.). Science, Innovation and Electronic Information Division (SIEID) publications and working papers can be found on the Statistics Canada website, ../ Click “Publications” > “Free Internet Publications” > “Information and Communications Technology” or “Science and Technology.”

About the author

Fred Gault is Former Director of the Science, Innovation and Electronic Information Division (SIEID) at Statistics Canada. For more information about this article, please contact