Canada’s innovation scorecard

What gets measured gets done.

A few years ago, in a post called “Building a digital economy dashboard,” I cited a Peter Drucker principle: “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Scorecards or operating dashboards are basic, yet important management tools.

The Canadian Government is focused on an innovation agenda, as I noted last month in “Building an innovation economy.” Massive levels of expenditures, frequently called “investments” in the government press releases, are being made in schools and businesses across the country.

How do we measure the effectiveness of this spending? The CRTC’s Basic Service Objective decision describes some of these measurements: what percentage of the population has access to high speed broadband connections? How many have access to an unlimited data plan?

The CRTC’s regulatory policy opened with the statement “This decision sets out the actions the Commission is taking to help meet the needs of Canadians so that they can participate in the digital economy and society.” But what was notably missing was any action to increase basic adoption among vulnerable low-income Canadians, or low-income households with school children.

the Government of Canada is currently examining these affordability issues in the context of its Innovation Agenda. As the Government of Canada has stated, everyone has a role to play. In the Innovation Agenda, ISED indicated that Canada must do more to give rural communities and low-income Canadians affordable high-speed Internet access services so that they can participate fully in the digital and global economy for a better quality of life. As stated in the Commission’s submission to the Innovation Agenda, the Commission supports concerted efforts from a variety of stakeholders as essential to making progress in this area and encourages other stakeholders to follow suit.

The issue of broadband adoption by low-income Canadians figures more prominently in the CRTC’s submission to the Government of Canada’s Innovation Agenda consultation in the form of a letter dated December 21 from the CRTC Chair to ISED Minister Bains. The day before that letter was released, the CRTC gave approval to Bell’s acquisition of MTS broadcast distribution undertakings. Two months later, ISED granted approval to the Bell, MTS transaction. As I noted last week, the CRTC and ISED missed the opportunity to have a low-income broadband solution developed for Bell and MTS territories.

Recall that during the hearing that led to the Basic Service Objective determination, CRTC Chair JP Blais interrupted the proceeding and said “Every day that goes by without a more robust Canadian broadband strategy means a Canadian who is socially and economically vulnerable continues to be profoundly disadvantaged.”

What gets measured gets done. Having a broadband strategy simply isn’t enough; we’re long overdue for setting an objective for universal adoption by low-income households with school-aged children. It isn’t enough for broadband to be available; every household with kids needs to be online.

My “Building an innovation economy” post referred to the Global Competitiveness Index from the World Economic Forum (WEF) [pdf, 12.2MB], where Canada’s ranking dropped in the past year from 13th to 15th place. An objective might be to improve Canada’s standing in certain international indices, but that should be a result of achieving independent objectives.

How should Canadians measure our innovation agenda? How do we define and measure success? How do we know that we are heading in the right direction?

The 2017 Canadian Telecom Summit [June 5-7, Toronto] will look at “Competition, Investment and Innovation: Driving Canada’s Digital Future.” Early Bird savings for conference registrations are in effect until the end of February. Register now to save.

[Update: February 22, 2017] ICTC has announced an initiative to develop a national measure for digital innovation. In the next couple of months, ICTC will be producing white papers and consulting on the specific parameters that go into building this national digital innovation indicator, guided by four key factors: Innovative Climate Index, Innovative Capacity Index; Innovation Outcomes/impact Index; Innovation Confidence Index.

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