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Human Potential in the Age of Exponential Tech

ICE08: The Network Effect – Models of Social Collaboration


This Panel is set to discuss how relationships between business and research can bring Canadian content to forefront of the global industry by leveraging cultural and economic capital and creating frameworks for future growth. In particular, this discussion will look at models for collaboration and innovation that align public and private value across geography and platforms.

Whew. That was quite a mouthful, but I got it right off of the schedule. 😉 I should also note that the Carlu (somewhere I’ve never been before) is quite swanky, and the room I’m in as a fountain in the middle of it. It’s awesome. Plus, soothing water noises always a plus.

This panel features Sara Diamond (President of OCAD), Sean Van Koughnett (Founder and Director of Velo City, University of Waterloo) and Ross Wallace (Director of Strategic Partnerships at MaRS)

It’s moderated by Terri Williams (Manager, Nordicity Group)

Brief Panelist Intro

Sara Diamond: President of OCAD, Sarah came to OCAD from the Banff center where she created the Banff New Media Institute. She is also an artist, new media designer & curator.

Ross Wallace: Executive Editor of Corporate Knights, works at MaRS.
Sean Van K: Founder of Velocity, a resident incubator which is set to launch next fall. He also leads the media and mobility project.

Terri Williams: The bulk of her experience has been in the UK, so she doesn’t think the focus should be solely focused on Canada. She was the head of strategy at BBC. She was involved with the BBC Creative Archive (to release content into the public domain and allow public to change it and modify it.) She also worked with the BBC’s R&D department.

Sara Diamond: OCAD

  • The History of the Banff New Media Institute
    • Emerged during blissful days of the rise of the technology sector.
    • It was to bring together through a series of different experience, peopel who were involved in scientific researchers, interactive content providers and artists in order to engage in an “experience design experiment.”
    • Participatory action research or participatory Design.
    • It was to bridge the gaps of perspectives between companies who looked at the world in fundamentally different ways.
    • We changed the way we understood the research proposition. The idea of scientists working in a lab, far removed from everyone else is a method of the past.
  • The Mobile Experiment
    • PORTAGE: users will be able to navigate from Grange Park downt o John Street through a GPS and wi-fi enabled system. To turn the area into a live theater, and way for small companies to benefit from the research by engaging in it.
    • Some companies who are (or will be) involved: Palm, Nokia, InterAcess, Toronto Hydro Telecom, DeCode Entertainment.
  • Lessons Learned
    • You really have to be clear about expectations. When working across different structures/institutions/disciplines you really need goals that will cross the cultures and bring you all together.
    • Goals should be specific to each partner involved in the project.
    • You need to constantly talk about what you’re talking about. Define terms very clearly.
    • Engagement in physical space is very important. Use the methods of participatory design (Charettes, conferences, meetings, etc) this will create something tangible.

Terri asks: OCAD has received a nice amount of money from the government, how might you be using some of this moeny to carry this ethos through the program in developing partnerships?

Sara Answers: Government provided 2 million dollars each year to bring digital media forward in a significant way. On top of that, the MInistry of Research & Innovation gave us 9 million dollars to build a facility that will be both a research and academic facility. OCAD is really partnership driven. Innovation is on the edge, and we need to facilitate ways to incorporate that into the university environment. We have a vision to being home for small companies in the digital world.

Ross Wallace: MaRS

  • The MaRS Project: History, Genesis & Evolution
    • MaRS is a vertical science park and incubator.
    • Eight years old
    • Public-Private partnership: it was a project that emerged from private sector leaders concerned about the returns on investments Canada was making in the technlogical sectors.
      • Some of the best technologies and people were ending up in places like Tokyo and San Jose in order to get funded.
      • If we as a country were going to prosper, maybe we could be the smartest, instead of the biggest.
      • Commercialization was something that we, as a society, were not very good at
  • Lessons Learned:
    • Get Everyone Together. We wanted to put everyone who was involved in commercialization under one roof.
    • Let the Public in. Then the Public approached and decided they wanted to be a part of this, which provided a more collaborative and inclusive method.
    • Provide a Neutral Place. Having a neutral place where all these people can meet, is an essential component in facilitating collaboration. Our success is dependent on the success of our partners.
    • The Power of Branding: MaRS is a unique name and a cool logo, made people take notice of how we position ourselves internationally.
    • Location, Location, Location. If Toronto has a chance to become a global presence, how do we think as an instituion can imprint Toronto, Ontario on the global map as a center for innovation.

Sean Van Koughnett: VeloCity

  • The Program:
    • We focus on innovation, no MBA, but a master of business entrepreneurship & technology.
    • RIM is in our backyard, we’re very focused on tech and innovation.
    • I saw a gap between the talent in our student base and organizations. The stuff they were doing weren’t related to any courses they were taking. They were doing it outside of their academic load.
    • How do we focus that energy and passion?
    • Expressions of Concern: getting a bunch of people focusing on all these cool projects, they won’t pay attention to courses and they’ll flunk out. (LOL)
      • Sean’s Response: these are smart creative people that are well rounded and have an established track record proving they can handle it.
    • Getting funding to build a huge innovation center in Stradford, working with OCAD to develop the campus and bridging out into the artistic areas. It’s about building a community with a diverse set of individuals who have a wide range of skills.

Terri asks: About measurement, with something like the Velocity Project, it must have been hard to make the case for this campus. How did you talk about measurements?

Sean Answers: We dealt with some really open minded people who didn’t ask for deliverables right up front but bought into a the intuitive idea that if we brought all these different, smart people together then good things would happen.

Terri talks Themes:

  • Physical vs. Virtual: what’s important in terms of creating relationships?
  • The informal vs. Formal: specific government initiatives who are driving innovation through a really formal outlet vs. getting people out for a friendly drink and chat.
  • Large vs. Small companies: what are the various benefits in these partnerships, and who owns the IP?
  • Research vs. Implementation


  • How do you encourage partnerships if people can’t meet in person?
    • Sara: I believe you need to get people physically together. There is a role for collaborative technologies, but getting people in the same room. If you look at research around collaborative research, shows that people being side by side in a lab is as important as any of the formal writing of papers. You can use technology to support this, but eventually you have to get people together again, and again, and again. There is also an importance to the neutrality of the gathering space, which gives all participants a sense of ownership.
    • Ross: It’s interesting how technology can get you to tune it or tune out.
    • Sean: You talk about informal spaces, one of the benefits of Velocity where people are going to be living together 24/7. That kind of collaboration can’t be replicated in a lot of other places.
  • How do you manage language in a virtual space when dealing with international partnerships?
    • Sara: Translation technologies and humans who understand cross language/culture barriers. One of the exciting thing of international partnerships is the ability to use technology to bridge cultures as well as language. And finding technology to explain culture differences to each other.
    • Ross: If you can’t do simultaneous translation, then the question becomes how can we use video to be able read facial expressions and pauses which can be significant especially when stumbling over a lexicon. So you have to go to visual in some way

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