Collaborative Innovation

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Canada’s Innovation Report Card

The Conference Board of Canada released new data on the nation’s innovation performance in May 2018. The results are troubling. The country earned a C grade and was ranked 12th overall in an assessment of 16 peers. Only Germany, France, and Ireland placed lower.

When provinces are assessed individually, Ontario and Quebec ranked higher than the Canadian average. With the exception of British Columbia – which placed between France and Ireland – the other provinces ranked lower than all of the peer countries.

The Conference Board defines innovation as extracting economic or social value from knowledge—creating, diffusing, and transforming ideas to produce new or improved products, services, and processes. The expected outcome is increased productivity and economic growth.

The report card is based on ten indicators representing innovation capacity (public R&D, researchers, scientific articles); innovation activity (entrepreneurial ambition, venture capital investment, business enterprise R&D, ICT investment); and results (patents, enterprise entry rate, labour productivity).

The Conference Board concludes: “Canada continues to exhibit the same weak performance that has caused so much concern in recent years. Whether new initiatives launched by provincial and federal governments will help to improve Canada’s innovation performance and potential remains to be seen.”

The Federal government is making bold new investments in innovation including the Canadian Smart City Challenge, the Innovation Superclusters Initiative, and Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS). The last two of these are aimed specifically at creating new innovation networks. We are being challenged collectively as a country to perform better in a highly-competitive and fast-changing world.

Challenges in Collaboration

Improvements in our ability to innovate will only be achieved systemically. Given the many millions of dollars being invested in all sectors, it is essential that these collaborations be effective. We need to find better ways to work together, and collaboration needs to deliver better results.

Collaborative innovation takes many forms, ranging from large innovation networks to smaller joint ventures, strategic alliances, and research partnerships. In recent years, social innovation initiatives have placed greater emphasis on stakeholder collaboration to create collective impact.

Depending on the scope and scale of these initiatives, many issues have to be addressed:

  • inclusion of multiple sectors (industry, government, academia, community, NGOs);
  • challenges of network size and coordination;
  • differences in participant size and influence;
  • diversity of disciplines and knowledge domains;
  • alignment of interests and expectations;
  • knowledge transfer across organizational boundaries;
  • equitable sharing of effort and rewards; and
  • the limited life of a collaboration, within which it is expected to achieve its goals.

Collaborative efforts are only effective when:

  • they are based on shared purpose;
  • there is a high degree of trust;
  • the strategic intention is clear to every member of the partnership;
  • there is alignment on expected outcomes;
  • every participant makes a valued contribution;
  • information and knowledge are shared; and
  • the network is able to learn.

Challenge-based collaborations have proven to be particularly effective, since they are problem based.

Integral Strategy Network

Publicly-funded collaborations require a governance model that is accountable to the taxpayer while at the same time being responsive to opportunities to create game-changing innovations through private or social sector investment and partnership. Innovations need to be relevant, and they need to be applied to create economic and social value. Government funding should act as seed capital to attract investment from a larger system.

Integral Strategy Network has experience working with multiple sectors to design collaborations for innovation that draw on individual capabilities while balancing different sector needs. The Integral Strategy methodology was created specifically to help organizations and systems improve their ability to innovate and cope with change. The approach has been purposefully designed to create effective multi-stakeholder partnerships. Examples are highlighted below.


ChallengeSector(s)Focus of the Collaboration
Land use planning and managementGovernment, industry, NGOsDesign of a new provincial organization to collect and disseminate knowledge on best practices in land use planning and management.
Environmental performanceIndustryDesign of a collaborative partnership of six major oil companies to develop and test innovations to reduce their environmental footprint.
Water management and policy developmentAcademiaDesign of a collaboration strategy and related performance metrics for a national research network.
Environmental innovationAcademia, government, industry, NGOsDesign of a university-based independent research network for oil sands environmental innovation.
Cancer researchGovernment, academiaDesign of new collaborations between researchers and clinicians for lung and prostate cancer research.
WellnessGovernmentDesign of a whole-of-government collaboration for population wellness, with more than a dozen ministries all making essential contributions.
DementiaGovernment, industry, community, NGOsDevelopment of a new collaborative network to provide better support for people with dementia, aligning the contributions of more than twenty organizations to increase their collective impact.
Science policyGovernment, academiaDesign of a collaborative model for the science enterprise, aligning objectives and creating a framework for policy development and targeted strategic investment.
Active transportationGovernment, community, NGOs, academiaDevelopment of a multi-sector, multi-stakeholder collaboration for active transportation in a region of more than 7 million people, to increase the number of children walking and biking to school.
Smart cityGovernment, industry, community, NGOs, academiaCreation of a cross-sector collaborative partnership to enhance a small city’s capacity for grassroots innovation and entrepreneurship; and to capitalize on opportunities created by enhanced community-wide access to high-speed internet communications.
Economic developmentGovernment, industry, communityCreation of a cross-sector collaborative partnership to attract a multi-million dollar industrial investment to a rural agricultural region.


While each of these initiatives addresses a different challenge, they have a number of characteristics in common. They are all strategically focused. They create new knowledge, solve problems, and catalyze innovation. They are deeply collaborative, orchestrating the diverse contributions of many stakeholders, generally across multiple sectors.

Through Integral Strategy Network’s Strategy Roadmap process, stakeholders work together to design a collaborative partnership and establish the conditions for the collaboration to be successful. By involving stakeholders deeply in the design process, this:

  • creates shared purpose;
  • increases the level of trust between the partners;
  • makes collective strategic intentions clear to everyone;
  • creates alignment on expected outcomes; and
  • capitalizes on the knowledge and expertise of every contributor.

The Roadmap guides action, providing a framework used to distribute accountability, coordinate stakeholder contributions, manage risk, and measure performance.

Integral Strategy Network provides additional tools and processes to establish an effective governance structure and orchestrate teamwork. Partnerships created using this approach are more agile and adaptive. They maintain a constant focus on outcomes and learn from experience – continually assessing whether their efforts are having the desired effect, and innovating and adjusting to improve results.

We live in a time when collaboration is needed to find solutions to complex challenges. Little can be achieved through the actions of any single stakeholder working alone. Innovation happens through the harmonized efforts of a whole system of stakeholders. The future will depend on partnering more effectively. Time is limited and the stakes are high.

Integral Strategy Network works with collaborative networks to increase their effectiveness in catalyzing innovation and creating collective impact.

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David Forrest

David is the founder of the Integral Strategy Network. He is a writer, futurist, strategist, and facilitator of systemic change.

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