Canada’s First Innovation Barometer

The Rideau Hall Foundation’s Canada’s Culture of Innovation Index, conducted in partnership with Edelman, is an original survey of how Canadians approach and value innovation in all spheres of our society. iStock photo


Successful organizations work hard at creating an internal culture of innovation; to drive sales, stay ahead of the competition, provide better service. Societies, too, need to create cultures of innovation to promote prosperity, foster inclusion, and ensure the ongoing value of institutions. To that end, the Rideau Hall Foundation has partnered with Edelman Canada to launch Canada’s Culture of Innovation Index. 


Barbara Gibbon 

Canadian innovators have made enormous contributions to our country and to the world. Canada’s innovation performance—of our business sector, our health care sector, our higher education institutions, among many others—has been studied and dissected for many years. We have indices of innovation and we can benchmark our innovation performance against any Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development country. But we have not had a way to systematically measure our national culture of innovation. That is, a way to answer the question, “How pervasive is innovation as a core value and important activity in our everyday lives?”

At the Rideau Hall Foundation (RHF), we believe that our common culture regarding innovation is fundamental to supporting our future prosperity and success as a country. Our culture, as expressed in our beliefs, our values, our actions, and our institutions. With this in mind, we set out to measure Canada’s national culture of innovation, to start a discussion on how we, as a nation, can build on our cultural strengths towards innovation, and have an open dialogue about addressing our weaknesses. 

The RHF is not alone in this concern. Our work found that Canadians believe that a strong culture of innovation is crucially important; that Canada has unique cultural attributes that can strengthen innovation across our society; but that we have some remarkable cognitive dissonances to deal with in order to get to there.

Canada’s Culture of Innovation Index project is an original survey of how we, as Canadians, approach and value innovation in all spheres of our society. The Index, derived from the survey results, provides guideposts as to how we can all be participants in an innovation-supporting culture. The first thing we found out by combing the literature on national culture and innovation was that there is not a lot of literature specific to this topic. The existing academic work is fascinating, but in its very early stages. 

The second thing we found out through consultation is that there is a lot of interest in this question, and a lot of discussion all around the edges of ‘national culture of innovation’—we were not starting from zero. So, with the help of Edelman Canada, specifically the team connected to the Trust Barometer, RHF surveyed a representative group of Canadians in ten provinces, enquiring about their values and beliefs surrounding six top variables of culture and innovation drawn from the existing literature: diversity, collaboration, risk tolerance, creativity, curiosity, and openness to technology.

We also checked these values and beliefs against actions, because culture is not only what you think, it is what you do.  Then, we created an index for keeping track of how Canada is doing in each of these dimensions. 

This is our inaugural year. We hope that this work creates a framework that allows us to understand how Canada is doing over time from a culture of innovation perspective, and gives us a way to discuss what we must do in the future.

The baseline index score for Canada is 71. That will be our somewhat arbitrary benchmark for ourselves, and this is what we will look at to determine how we perform over time. As we work with others to refine this research, we hope that people concerned about innovation in other countries will join us, and we can benchmark Canada against other societies.

The results of the first Culture of Innovation Index reveal that respondents believe that Canada is blessed with some important strengths—particularly in diversity and collaboration—and some surprising weaknesses, in openness to technology and curiosity. Canadians value innovation and a culture that embraces innovation. They see innovation as an engine for the common good, with the top-ranked answers for how innovation creates ‘good’ in our society tracking closely with what Canadians typically value: healthier people (43 percent), a growing economy (42 percent), and a cleaner environment (37 percent). Moreover, in an open-ended question about what could be done to make Canada more innovative, promoting a culture of innovation was third most-popular suggestion, ahead of reducing bureaucracy—with only funding and investing in innovation being more commonly cited. So, Canadians themselves think that our culture with regard to innovation matters. 

Canadians are proud of what they perceive as our society’s strengths in innovation: 34 percent volunteered “diversity” as the aspect of Canada’s identity that makes it uniquely innovative. Not only is this a very Canadian answer, it also tracks well with the business literature on the great value of diversity in improving decision making and other outcomes for a firm. Respondents also placed a high value on areas that are relevant to a thriving culture of innovation—being engaged with others is important, and all Canadians should be able to reap the benefits of innovation. 

There are, however, important demographic differences of opinion about who should really work to foster innovation. Nearly half of the Gen Z respondents—18 to 25 year olds—look to individuals to foster innovation in society, much more than previous generations. Women place more responsibility for innovation on government. Men are more likely to expect start-ups and entrepreneurs to lead the way. The survey also found that women were much less likely than men to be engaged with innovation. While 72 percent of women said it is important for people in local communities to try to solve problems, only 42 percent said they try to find new or unique ways of completing tasks, versus 52 percent of men. This result is both intriguing and alarming—we need to understand why this is, work to identify what factors might be driving this gap, and identify levers to close it. 

Breaking down business sectors, technology was considered the most innovative. What is surprising, though, is that only 55 percent of respondents saw it that way. Even the commonly assumed stars of the Canadian innovation landscape, telecommunications and energy, were not widely considered as innovation leaders.  

This data varied according to region. Technology was positively perceived in BC (59 percent) and Quebec (63 percent), while in Alberta energy (46 percent), and health care (30 percent) were more positively seen than in other provinces. Agriculture rated highest in Saskatchewan and Manitoba (41 percent) for being innovative. So, proximity probably affects awareness—but none of these results is particularly spectacular.

On the other dimensions of innovation culture, it seems we live with some pretty basic cognitive dissonance:

• While 70 percent of Canadians surveyed believe it is important to take risks, only 39 percent believe Canadians are open to actually doing so. 

• We believe that learning about Canadian innovations is fairly important, with 58 percent of Canadians saying it inspires them to try new ways to solve problems—but respondents could not recall having seen stories about innovators, suggesting that we are not as curious as we could be.

• And while 71 percent of us admitted to liking new technology, only 48 percent of us are willing to pay more to have it. 

This raises some interesting questions. Could there be a connection between the cultural resistance to investing in new technology, reported here at the personal level, and some of the country’s broader economic concerns regarding innovation, such as the relatively low rates of business investment in R&D? Does our dislike of the price of new technology actually change how much of it we consume and how comfortable we are with it? Does it shadow our opinions of innovators? Does it contribute to our lack of curiosity about innovation? These are interesting questions raised by the Index that we hope will encourage further discussion. 

What moves the needle? Further statistical analysis found that the following five items accounted for more than 50 percent of the total variability in the overall Index score per respondent:

1. It is important for people in their own communities to engage in local problem-solving efforts.

2. I often try to find new or unique ways of completing tasks.

3. I often question how to improve something.

4. It is important for new or different products or processes that make an impact to be within reach of every Canadian.

5. In the last month, I have seen news about Canadian innovators or innovations.

The top three alone account for nearly 40 percent of the overall variance explained. These may give us an idea of where to focus our collective efforts to move the needle on the culture of innovation, particularly on curiosity and creativity.

At the Rideau Hall Foundation, we believe this Index can be an important new tool for public and private sector leaders in this country, as we work to instill a culture of innovation in Canada. Admittedly, it may raise more questions than answers in this first year, but it provides a new set of data on an aspect of innovation that has not yet been well studied. 

At the same time, we believe the survey points to the importance of continuing the work we are doing to instill a culture of innovation in Canada through our efforts to connect, cultivate and celebrate innovators. Initiatives such as the Governor General’s Innovation Awards and Canadian Innovation Week celebrate our successes in Canadian innovation. Our new Pitch@Palace Canada program connects top Canadian innovators to a global network to support their entrepreneurial growth over the long term. These, combined with our free, bilingual teacher resources, Education for Innovation, and our innovation partnership platform, are powerful tools to help encourage Canadians to see themselves as key players, and to join us in working for a strong culture of innovation in Canada.  

Barbara Gibbon is Director, Innovation at the Rideau Hall Foundation (currently on an interchange from her position as Director General at Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada).