Ideas with Impact
UNB Faculty of Management

Understanding New Brunswick’s History of Innovation

Author: Faculty of Management

Posted on Oct 25, 2022

Category: Alumni , Faculty

Dr. David Foord, a professor with UNB’s faculty of management, has co-authored with UNB colleagues Dr. Gregory Kealey and Dr. John McLaughlin a chapter on New Brunswick’s science, technology and innovation policy in the recently published book Ideas, Institutions, and Interests: The Drivers of Canadian Provincial Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy. The chapter presents a history of New Brunswick science, technology and innovation policies from 1960 to the present and offers insight on how policies have shaped innovation in th province.

The authors argue that New Brunswick both diverges and converges to models of successful regional innovation systems. It diverges in its low ratio of R&D spending to gross domestic product and low percentage of corporate R&D expenditures. To be positive and consistent with successful models, capitalization practices and equity holdings of startups have changed from the old dominant model of family-owned businesses and there is more widespread experience of competition in international markets. New Brunswick’s commercial, government, non-profit and academic actors are less siloed. This marks a change from the 1980s when the province’s most innovative utility, NBTel had little or no involvement with local universities in science, technology and innovation projects. Some institutional elements of the system have been intentional, such as the federal and provincial innovation funds and foundations, university commercialization and innovation programs, incubators and accelerators. Others, such as the flow of skilled managers from NBTel to external software startups, were unforeseen. 

In terms of policy ideas, there is a longer period of continuity in federal policy in New Brunswick, back to the old experimental stations of the early twentieth century. The transition to the new model of out-sourcing and collaborative R&D with higher education institutions, ascendant in the province from the 1980s until funding began to decline in the early 2010s, now seems like a policy cul de sac. The use of broad-based R&D funding programs from 1980s to 2010s, supporting research in a wide-variety of fields, has narrowed to a few provincially designated growth areas, echoing the sectoral focus of the experimental stations. While some still use “innovation” to refer to linear and research-based models, the federal and provincial governments increasingly adopt the use “innovation” to mean introduction of new products and services and exploitation of new markets. 

An emerging policy challenge for New Brunswick is to effectively participate in new federal climate change initiatives. The current regional policy approaches stand in contrast to new public policy ideas to address the climate emergency. For instance, in the sociotechnical transition frameworks emanating from Europe and mobilization models discussed in Canada and the US, the state and its institutions have central roles in decarbonization. Either approach would mark a major departure for science, technology and innovation policy in New Brunswick, similar to changes in 1985 when federal and provincial policy makers were challenged to adapt to the advice flowing from the new endogenous growth theory. 

Ideas, Institutions, and Interests is published by the University of Toronto Press and edited by Peter W.B. Phillips from the University of Saskatchewan and David Castle from the University of Victoria.  

Foord joined the faculty of management in 2019 and teaches courses in entrepreneurship, managing innovation and strategic management. 

Learn more about Dr. David Foord’s research and teaching activities.

Learn more about UNB’s faculty of management.