The Myth of Swans and Ugly Ducklings

Maeve Binchy, the noted Irish novelist with a bent for portraying women as everyday heroines not so much looking for a hero, but quite capable of living without one once said

“There are no makeovers in my books. The ugly duckling does not become a beautiful swan. She becomes a confident duck able to take charge of her own life and problems.”
Source: http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/naturelibrary/images/ic/cr  edit/640x395/a/an/anatidae/anatidae_1.jpg

Source: http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/naturelibrary/images/ic/cr

edit/640x395/a/an/anatidae/anatidae_1.jpg

She might have noted the irony that SWAN (Scientific Women's Academic Network) is the acronym used by the British Equality Challenge Unit that recognises those who are working to implement practices that advance gender equality through more balanced representation and professional advancement.

Most women working in the STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine & Mathematics) fields will tell you that the single emerging swan remains a myth. Systemic barriers to women entering and most importantly remaining in many (not all) of these fields remain deeply entrenched despite decades of acknowledgement about the issue and many, often unsuccessful, policies and programmes intended to address it. Perhaps, rather than the myth of the an ugly duckling emerging into a swan, a flock of confident ducklings is what’s required from which gaggles of ducks can emerge whose roles are normalized, and accepted. Protective policies, and regional ecosystems that provide networks and mentors, and the resources for the ducks to develop resilience and produce many swans, are what’s needed.

Here in Cambridge (UK), DRiVE was alerted to the Athena SWAN network by Dr. Michael Wakelam, the Director of the Babraham Institute. Babraham was awarded an Athena SWAN award in 2015. Dr. Wakelam recognized that there was gender parity in their programs to the postdoctoral level, but beyond that the numbers of women applying for and securing junior faculty positions was limited. The institute has committed to broad policies and practices to address this imbalance. From standardizing job applications and recruitment questions to providing cover for postdocs taking maternity leave. While policy and women-friendly cultures are important in the graduate programs, the pool of applicants is determined by the success of recruitment into undergraduate STEMM programs. In 2014, women made up only 27% and 24% of the students in engineering and math, unchanged from 2011. Their acceptance into computer science was an abysmal 16%, though admittedly this was up from the 2.9% just three years earlier.

Clearly, the pace of protective mechanisms to ensure that women in STEMM have the support of a critical mass that’s required to start producing swans, must pick up. STEMM careers are increasingly abundant. Cambridge, in an effort to mitigate any post-Brexit human resource short falls in the popular software development and business analyst positions, might look to gender equity in their STEMM programs as a solid insurance policy.

The Cambridge [Health Innovation] Phenomenon

Regional innovation ecosystems...

encompass a set of interdependent factors working together that allow innovation (and its corollary entrepreneurial activity) to occur in a sustained way in a region. These ecosystems, much the same as their ecological equivalents, follow a lifecycle model of development. This week DRiVE team members Josephine McMurray and Katherina Kuschel are in Cambridge, in the UK, gathering data in preparation for a global survey that will attempt to build a model to explain innovation ecosystem development in the health and ageing sectors. 

A narrow street in Cambridge

A narrow street in Cambridge

Cambridge, situated in the eastern region of the United Kingdom in Cambridgeshire, was considered something of a rural backwater in the 50’s but grew a manufacturing base as firms left the increasingly congested London in search of a cheaper and non-unionised labour base. In 2017, it is known as one of Europe’s fasting growing entrepreneurial ecosystems. You can’t help but notice, as you drive into the city, the horizon is dotted with construction cranes. With what is reported to be some of the fastest rising real estate prices in the UK, many note high demand for residential property but also waiting lists for commercial real estate, science parks and incubators. And despite having one of the highest rates of cycling in the country, road congestion and lack of parking now slows movement around the city.  Cambridge’s success in attracting industry and driving start-ups and small business growth, is now challenging the very geography that has contributed to its success.

So other than its location, what other ‘push’ factors have driven the innovation agenda? One needn’t look far beyond the ubiquitous presence of the renowned Cambridge University which ranks in the top three universities in the world for Nobel Laureates. Established in 1208, the university has been the research engine behind what is known as the Cambridge Phenomenon that refers to the large and growing number of high technology firms that have been established in and around the town since the early 1980’s. Our data gathering is offering a rare look inside a mature innovation ecosystem that has a rich, and lengthy history of novel research and award-winning discoveries in technology, the biologic, life and health sciences.

Babraham Research Campus   

Babraham Research Campus

 

Our visit to the famed Babraham Institute and Research Park and meetings with both Derek Jones and Michael Wakelam reflects Cambridge University’s approach of allowing ‘100 flowers to blossom’. There the federation of colleges supports independence of thought for the faculties as well as their faculty members. A virtuous cycle of hiring the best, allowing them to succeed, then using their reputation to hire quality faculty, students and post docs, has driven the innovation agenda.

Now we turn our attention to questions such as, what spillovers from this world-class research and innovative discoveries have on the local population with respect to health and ageing? If the reason for investing millions of public and private funding into research in this region is the improvement of the health and quality of life of its residents, how is that working out? And if not yet, how long does it take for these outcomes to be achieved? We’ll keep you posted.

Understanding the relationship between women’s entrepreneurship and regional innovation ecosystems!

An international team of researchers (Canada, Germany, Chile and the U.K.), including Drs Josephine McMurray, Katherina Kuschel, Heidi Sveistrup and Judith Sixsmith from the AGE-WELL NCE, have just completed an application to SSHRC for the Connection Grant. If successful, the Women Entrepreneurs, innovation and Regional Ecosystem Development (WEiRED) collaborative project will bring together international experts with an interest in women in entrepreneurship, health and age tech, and regional innovation ecosystems. The project has its genesis in the AGE-WELL DRiVE project led by Dr. McMurray and Dr. Sveistrup, and will address the critical gap between our theoretical and empirical understanding of systemic barriers to women’s participation in innovation and entrepreneurial activities.

Symposium and workshop planned for the summer

The grant will sponsor an event entitled “From Exception to Rule: The Role of Regional Innovation Ecosystems in the Development of Women Entrepreneurs” that has received inter-continental institutional support. If funded by SSHRC, WEiRED will conduct a two day symposium from June 15-16, 2017 in Waterloo, Ontario. Day 1 will focus on international perspectives concerning the role of regional innovation ecosystems in the opportunity-driven entrepreneurial activities of women, and Day 2 will address the question “Why in female-dominated sectors such as health and aging, is the entrepreneurial gender gap so evident?”  

Who is part of the organizing team?

Drs Josephine McMurray (Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada), Katherina Kuschel (Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada), Kerstin Ettl (Siegen University, Germany), Vesna Mandakovic Universidad del Desarrollo, Chile), Judith Sixsmith (University of Northampton, U.K.), and Heidi Sveistrup (University of Ottawa, Canada) are the symposium organizers. As leaders in related disciplines (regional innovation ecosystems, women and entrepreneurship) these researchers have developed an impressive network of external partners from other universities and research institutes, government, industry, non-governmental organizations and civil society. Their facilitation of this symposium will play a vital role in not only enhancing research collaborations, but also in furthering the international discourse on women entrepreneurs and regional innovation ecosystems. A post-symposium workshop on June 17th will bring together partners interested in pursuing new areas of research identified at the symposium.

And in the meantime...

WEiRED has prepared a scoping review for the 2017 DIANA Conference (USA), a conceptual paper for the Conference of Economic, Technological, and Societal Impacts of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems (Germany), and a PDW proposal on women techpreneurs for the 2017 Academy of Management Conference (USA).


If you are interested, please follow our WEiRED project updates here, or drop us a line at kkuschel@wlu.ca

EngAGEtechKW: A workshop on understanding older adults' experiences of technology adoption in the Kitchener-Waterloo Region

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On Wednesday November 9th 2016, two groups of researchers from AGE-WELL partnered with Communitech, to host a workshop that brought together older adults, their caregivers, and other stakeholders working in this area, with those who are developing innovations for health and aging. 

This event took place at the Tannery at Communitech, which for those of you who don`t know about Communitech, check out their website- they are an industry-led innovation centre that supports, fosters and celebrates a community of about 1,000 tech companies.

As an HQP in WP7 with a passion for engaging older adults in health and aging innovation I was excited to partner with WP1 to bring their hands-on and interactive workshop to the Kitchener-Waterloo (KW) region to provide an opportunity for older adults to interact closely with technologies currently in development, providing developers with valuable feedback on its usability and older adults an opportunity to have their say.

From WP7, researchers and students from Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo, and from WP 1, representatives from Ontario Shores Center for Mental Health Sciences partnered to achieve the following 6 workshop objectives:

1) Understand how older adults make decisions regarding technology acquisition and use;

2) Identify the obstacles or barriers to adoption of technologies by older people;

3) Work collaboratively with a variety of stakeholders;

4) Develop an understanding of Waterloo Wellington region’s innovation ecosystem from the perspective of a variety of stakeholders, and how it fosters the development of technologies that support health and aging;

5) Contribute to the creation of a model to guide active collaboration with older adults and their caregivers in regional innovation ecosystems; and

6) Provide an opportunity for a variety of stakeholders to comment on policy and regulatory issues relevant to new technologies and innovation to support health and aging.

We were delighted by the overwhelming community response to bring older adults, caregivers, researchers, decision- makers, folks working in the health and aging sectors, and the tech community together! As we in the AW network know, a key part of the AGE-WELL mission is to involve those folks who we are working to innovate for. The projects coming together for this workshop are great examples of this engagement.

In WP 7, PRITECH aims to understand the regulatory and policy environment for aging technologies and innovation by collaborating with policy makers and those working in industry to better understand this environment. In the DRiVE project we are working to understand the regional environment or ecosystem that is needed to support the innovation process by collaborating with the stakeholders who are important in these communities.

In WP 1 they are working to understand the role of older adults in technology design, development, and commercialization by involving older adults in their work.

As much as this workshop was a research activity, we were also able to have some fun! During the lunch hour, our Communitech partners arranged a tour and put together a selfie booth- complete with silly hats and a giant plush giraffe- for participants to enjoy.

Preliminary review of the evaluations have been positive, with one participant commenting:

“I was intimidated before I arrived given that I don't consider myself a techie.  However, I didn't even think of that especially when I started listening to others with the products they tried and just trying "gadgets".  I confess to being a gadget junkie - can't afford to buy a lot of them but love getting to learn to use them.  …  I look forward to more of these types of sessions and am spreading the word among my friends and acquaintances.” (Older adult workshop participant).

As we wrapped up the day, a participant asked “how can we keep in touch and maintain the connections we have made today” … to me, this was the best feedback we could have asked for. My vision is for older adults and their caregivers to be meaningfully engaged in innovation ecosystems for health and aging. There is so much potential in the KW region to open the door to the possibilities and market development that comes from a growing segment of people over the age of 65 who are willing and eager to adopt new technologies that will help them live better lives more independently. We see this event as beginning a relationship between stakeholders in the KW region and are excited to keep the momentum going as the ecosystem develops!

As a start to keeping the connections made between folks, we have created a community space on our website for folks to post pictures, comments, links, etc. related to the workshop and follow up opportunities. Please visit this space here to help keep the momentum going:

https://www.drive-health-ecosystems.com/community-health-innovation-ecosystems/

A final note of thanks to the researchers, students, and of course participant support from both within the AW WPs involved and beyond.

DRiVE-ing our project’s objectives and outputs to stakeholders: Highlights from our team’s participation to the AGE-WELL 2016 Annual General Meeting

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Collaboration, co-production, commercialization – These key themes stood out to us over many of the presentations we heard and conversations we heard at the AGE-WELL annual meeting.  We also heard about the challenges we have in Canada to translate knowledge from research into commercially viable products and processes to ultimately reach our collective AGE WELL goal of helping older Canadians maintain their independence, health and quality of life. The inspiring conversations and networking continued through our time at the Canadian Association on Gerontology’s (CAG) conference.

For those of us on the The DRiVE team, who are passionate about resolving this struggle and understand these key themes, we were energized by the discussions in Montreal at both the AGE-WELL 2016 annual general meeting, October 18th-20th and the CAG annual conference from October 20th-22nd 2016.

We were happy to be able to share our work from our first year including presentations including:

  1. Creating a Theory of Action for regional health innovation ecosystems which we believe will have an important impact on our AGE-WELL network through;

  2. HQP Heather McNeil’s ECOTECH PhD thesis on engaging older adults in Regional Health Innovation Ecosystems;

  3. Our work with CC2 on emerging Canadian innovation health and aging hubs;

  4. Our inventory and map to support our international survey looking for the factors that helped build and sustain ecosystems or innovation entities; and

  5. Results from one of our case studies- Innovation Boulevard in Surrey British Columbia.

We are especially excited by the interactions we had at the Demo and Drinks event where we were grateful to gather feedback on our work and learn of a couple of new international innovation entities in health and aging innovation. A big thank you to our team member Crystal Gill Herrera, Master’s student, for doing a wonderful job staffing our demo.

Two of the other highlights for us also involved our HQP!

  • Our soon to be joining the team PDF- Katherina Kutchel, PhD- joined us at the conference. It was wonderful to meet with her face to face and engage in productive planning and team building.

  • Congratulations to Heather McNeil, PhD student and research associate on the DRiVE team, who received the 2016 Schlegel-University of Waterloo Research Institute for Aging Scholarship by the Canadian Association for Gerontology http://cagacg.ca/awards/schlegel-ria/

We look forward to continuing the collaboration with stakeholders both within and beyond the AGE-WELL and CAG networks. As a start to this continued collaboration, please visit our interactive international innovation in health and aging entity Map.