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Research Links - December 2009 - Fresh Eyes
Dr. Margaret Dalziel
Jing li de hama. This popular Chinese idiom, which translates literally into “frog in a well,” is used dismissively to describe those who hold a narrow or limited view of the world. Margaret Dalziel, just back from a year in China, will never be confused with this proverbial frog. Unlike the blinkered amphibian, the Telfer School professor is a firm believer in experiencing life from a variety of perspectives.
“You gain a much truer understanding of your own world by examining it through fresh eyes,” she says. “I’ve always been a strong believer in bringing this approach to my research.” Dr. Dalziel’s research specialty is innovation in Canada. To enhance her appreciation of this pressing issue, she spent the past year in Hangzhou, China as a visiting professor at Zhejiang University. This prestigious school is the academic home of Chen Jin, one of China’s foremost researchers in the field of innovation.
“I approached Dr. Chen because I was convinced that spending a year at his school would be the best possible learning experience for me,” she says. “Not only is Zhejiang University a top-flight school, but Hangzhou is also much less of an international setting than Hong Kong, Shanghai or Beijing. That meant I would have to immerse myself in local language, culture and business practices, which appealed to me greatly.”
Four-thousand innovation intermediaries
While in Hangzhou, Dr. Dalziel delved deeply into how China spurs innovation. Unlike Canada, which has one national research council and five provincial research councils that foster innovation in key disciplines, China has some 4,000 government research institutes. These and other innovation intermediaries bring together key innovators such as leading schools and high-technology businesses.
China also has some 50 science parks, the largest of which is Zhongguancunin Beijing, that includes some 13,000 high-technology enterprises and nearly 500,000 engineers, scientists and technicians. Co-location on this grand a scale may enhance collaboration. But Dr. Dalziel points out that placing numerous firms together in sites as large as the urban area of Ottawa is a much more practical option for the Chinese than Canadians.
“The Chinese government has no qualms about helping incubate fledgling businesses and industries,” she says. “The property-based approach evident in today’s science parks and business incubators reflects the legacy of the ‘danwei’ from previous generations—large work units that provided thousands of workers and their families with homes, schools, shops and healthcare services.”
Gauging their impact on business performance
But do these huge organizations improve business performance? And what constitutes a high-performing player in this unique environment? During her time in China, Dr. Dalziel developed a methodology to examine the performance of innovation intermediaries.
“Using the methodology, my team’s early research has found that firms see value in the Chinese approach to innovation and are able to realize their business goals through it,” she says. To refine these findings, Dr. Dalziel is seeking funding to expand her research much more widely throughout China, and to adapt and apply the methodology to a Canadian setting. At the same time, Dr. Dalziel is taking steps to help students emulate her success. One of the first things she did when she returned to Ottawa was begin the process of developing regular student exchanges between the Telfer School and Zhejiang University.
“I’m filled with admiration for the Chinese students I met,” she says. “I’m convinced we can all continue to learn a great deal together.”
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- Sandra Schillo and Diane Isabelle are the 2013 recipients of the Telfer-Sprott Research Fund
- Morad Benyoucef Receives a $75,000 Grant For His Research On Social Commerce
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