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The supercluster initiative: an opportunity to reinforce innovation ecosystems


It is a well-known fact that, for some time, Canada has been performing below expectations when it comes to turning its excellent science and technology into innovation. This is worrisome because we also know there is a positive relationship between scientific research, technological innovation and economic growth. The Innovation Superclusters Initiative, put forward by the federal government in 2017, is the centrepiece of its plan to reverse Canada’s deteriorating innovation performance, accelerate the adoption by Canadian firms of several key transformative technologies and foster a strong entrepreneurial or start-up culture. Under this initiative, Ottawa is investing $950 million over five years to support five superclusters involving small, medium-sized and large companies, academic institutions and not-for-profit organizations from across the country. But how will we know if the program has achieved its objectives? In this study, Catherine Beaudry and Laurence Solar-Pelletier argue that the superclusters are in fact innovation ecosystems; and that is the lens through which their performance should be monitored and assessed. More broadly, they view the superclusters initiative as somewhat of a Canadian experiment, providing all stakeholders with a unique opportunity to identify the factors that facilitate the emergence and success of innovation ecosystems, and allowing policy-makers to better design and fine-tune innovation policies and programs. According to the authors, the use of the term “innovation ecosystem” has become quite common among academics, practitioners and policy-makers, but the concept is still not well defined. They make the case that, to fully understand why and how innovation ecosystems can help boost Canada’s innovation capacity, one must first understand the theoretical foundations on which they are built. These range from industrial clusters and knowledge networks to collaboration and open innovation. The literature they survey strongly hints at the potential benefits of innovation superclusters. However, their true economic impact has yet to be measured. After reviewing several of the key performance indicators to be used by the government to track the progress of the superclusters, Beaudry and Solar-Pelletier conclude that these consist mainly of generic indicators, which broadly cover the main goals of the initiative but overemphasize basic metrics such as the number of participating companies and organizations as well as new products, processes and jobs created. As they point out, although such indicators may be relatively easy to quantify, they are at best proxies for innovation and its impact. They overlook key elements that matter a lot in understanding innovation outcomes, such as the nature of the links and relationships among ecosystem constituents, the innovative capacity of the people involved, and the extent of knowledge transfer and technology adoption taking place. Since the initiative was launched, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada has been consulting with experts and working with members of the five superclusters to develop a more detailed and precise set of performance indicators. Beaudry and Solar-Pelletier urge all stakeholders to continue to work together to design and test new indicators that are better adapted to the reality of innovation ecosystems. This would enable them to truly measure the impact and potential of these ecosystems and to adapt innovation practices and policies accordingly. The authors are currently working on developing such metrics as part of a five-year research project conducted by the Partnership for the Organisation of Innovation and New Technologies. Gaining a better understanding of supercluster dynamics will benefit all the players involved, including policy-makers. The degree of coordination and insight required to ensure the success of the superclusters, or to propose how to change tack in real time if need be, is unprecedented. So too is the task entailed in accurately measuring that success.


Beaudry, C., & Solar-Pelletier, L. (2020). The supercluster initiative: an opportunity to reinforce innovation ecosystems. IRPP Study No. 79. Montréal: Institute for Research on Public Policy

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