Canada’s Moonshot: Solving grand challenges through transformational innovation

Insights + recommendations on how moonshot innovation policy can help solve our world’s most pressing collective challenges and strengthen our economy.
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Canada’s Moonshot: Solving grand challenges through transformational innovation
Thomas Goldsmith

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About This Report

Moonshot innovation policy is not a new idea —some of the earliest were the Manhattan Project and the original moonshot, the Apollo program—but they have received renewed policy and political attention in recent years, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic and the global race to produce and deploy vaccines.

Canadian innovation has a vital role to play in tackling our world’s most pressing challenges. Yet, despite producing world-leading research, our current innovation policy framework does not support the conditions needed to catalyze breakthrough inventions and bridge them through the transformational innovation process— commercialization, scale, widespread adoption and global export.

Canada’s Moonshot: Solving grand challenges through transformational innovation seeks to better understand how Canada can best use its innovation policy toolkit to intentionally direct, support, and fund innovation that solves the big challenges we face as a society, from COVID-19 to climate change, ​​and along the way, solidify our place in the global economy as a leader in innovation. 

Guided by the project’s expert advisory panel, and informed by insights from interviews with innovation actors, and international case studies, Canada’s Moonshot offers suggestions on how Canada can use a moonshot approach to innovation that is cognizant of the barriers and opportunities that come from our particular Canadian context.

Read this report to help you understand: 

  • How moonshot innovation policies can help solve our biggest most complex social + environmental challenges. 
  • How policy can address specific obstacles to successful moonshots in Canada.
  • Best practices + design principles for deploying moonshots, drawing from successful case studies around the world, including the US’s DARPA and Norway’s PILOT-E.
  • Policy recommendations that address key governance + operational considerations when seeking to select and launch moonshots in Canada.
  • How to take a more holistic approach to re-thinking Canada’s innovation policies by centering inclusion, equity, and reconciliation.

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Key insights + Policy Recommendations:

  • Moonshot innovation policies are inherently intentional—seeking to provide direction to innovate towards a specific purpose. 
  • There is often a disconnect between innovation inputs and demand side levers—moonshots are an opportunity to close that gap.
  • Build coalitions across jurisdictional, sectoral, and disciplinary boundaries. This can create the conditions necessary to deploy successful moonshots. 
  • There are deep and persistent inequities in the distribution of opportunities and benefits for innovation. Highlight the need for moonshot innovation policies that ensure inclusion and reconciliation are centred as key tenets of their design.
  • Progress often gets stuck in a congested landscape of innovation actors, funders, agencies and third-sector organizations frequently working in silos trying to solve a part of the problem. Moonshots can provide the pathways that smooth processes for innovation actors.
  • Moonshots require a new approach to metrics + measurements. Recognizing investment in innovation can take time to succeed and measuring impact is what matters most.