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World-leading practices

OECD collaboration showcasing Memorial's public engagement and innovation

By Rebecca Cohoe

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Memorial University are sharing best practices in public engagement and innovation from Memorial with jurisdictions around the world.

OECD is is an international organization that works to build better policies to improve peoples’ lives through evidence-based policy decision-making.

According to Anne Rimmer, a policy analyst at OECD’s Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, cities and regions, in Paris, France, universities have an important role to play in the process.

“The teaching role of universities to support communities to have the skills they need to thrive jumps to mind immediately, but universities also have a responsibility in advancing research that is relevant to the region,” she said. “We also see universities play a role as a hub for bringing together stakeholders and developing community solutions to a whole wide range of problems.”

Sharing experiences

Memorial’s focus on public engagement and close connections to the people and organizations of Newfoundland and Labrador was the initial spark that led Ms. Rimmer and her colleagues to reach out to Memorial’s Office of Public Engagement last year.

The OECD was developing reports about best practices in entrepreneurship and innovation for various European nations, and were seeking global best practices in community-university collaboration to highlight as case studies.

“We knew right off the bat that we wanted to work with Memorial because of the long history the university has with public engagement,” Ms. Rimmer said. “The level of maturity of public engagement in Memorial isn’t something we see in a lot of other universities.”

Memorial and OECD developed and published a case study on Memorial’s Public Engagement Framework, which offered a blueprint for other universities interested in strengthening and institutionalizing their commitment to serving their regions.

A picture of the globe with grey and green v-shaped symbols and the letters OECD in gray against a white background.

Regional innovation study

In addition to the Public Engagement Framework, OECD was also interested in Memorial’s connection to Newfoundland and Labrador’s ocean innovation ecosystem, particularly the ways that the university developed its capacity around ocean-focused research, teaching and learning, and public engagement to meet the needs of the province.

“There is an opportunity to leverage the role of universities to promote transformational, knowledge-based, innovation.” — Dr. Rob Greenwood

As part of broader research on the role that universities play in regional innovation, OECD is leading a study of Memorial’s role within the provincial ocean innovation eco-system, supported by the Innovation Policy Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto, and with international experts and stakeholders from OECD’s Entrepreneurship Education Collaboration and Engagement Network. Memorial’s Leslie Harris Centre for Regional Policy and Development (the Harris Centre) is co-ordinating the work from Memorial.

“In the current higher education landscape, universities are expected not just to survive, but also help the rest of society thrive,” said Dr. Rob Greenwood, director of the Harris Centre and associate vice-president, public engagement and external relations, at Memorial. “In particular, as governments move to post-pandemic recovery, there is an opportunity to leverage the role of universities to promote transformational, knowledge-based, innovation.”

The initial work of the study is already underway and will include a number of phases, including information-gathering from regional stakeholders, including the City of St. John’s, federal and provincial governments, and industry and community organizations. There will also be a committee of Memorial stakeholders with connections to oceans, innovation and public engagement. The project has received funding through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Industry, Energy, and Technology.

“How can we reward and inspire people to collaborate?” — Anne Rimmer

In the meantime, Ms. Rimmer has some advice for universities and governments alike.

“Place matters!” she said. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and when collaborating with a region, universities need to reflect the specific strengths and needs of that region.”

She also says that reflecting the needs and priorities of regions can help increase motivation.

“I would recommend that everyone, both government and university, think about incentives. How can we reward and inspire people to collaborate?”

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