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Research and Development

The definition research and development (commonly referred to in industry literature as "R and D") varies from industry to industry. The one thing they share, however, is the desire to acquire knowledge outside of their current expertise. Organizations that conduct successful R and D integrate and absorb ideas, knowledge and technology.

The development aspect of the R and D process involves the application and adaptation of new knowledge to the creation of a product or process, applications, services, market research and data analysis. In the business world, research and development is a critical activity for keeping companies competitive in a fast-moving knowledge market.

Core sampleThe development of innovation requires a substantial commitment from an organization, and can be a very time-consuming venture. They must accept the risk that a project might fail, or generate unexpected or unintended results. Research removes some of the uncertainty in the innovation process, doubt about the technical elements of an innovation, as well as market reaction. Simply stated, R and D helps uncover what it will cost, how much time it will take, what resources will be needed to undertake development, and potential socio-economic impacts of an intended innovation.

R and D costs can vary widely, not just to hire staff and facilities, but also to support hardware needs and cover related expenditures. Large organizations are likely to spend more on their R and D efforts than smaller retailers or businesses with only a few specialized products. They also have more market influence, industry alliances, internal technical support and the ability to absorb unexpected costs. However, small companies can claim some advantages: they tend to be less bureaucratic, have lower development and operation costs and have more flexibility when the need arises to make organizational adjustments.

Collecting soil samplesSome corporations and organizations are devoted solely to R and D activities. For example, the Office of Energy Research and Development of Natural Resources Canada created a specific research initiative to study greenhouse gases. It provides assistance to provincial, territorial and federal institutions and outlines desired outcomes and objectives.

Likewise, University research laboratories conduct important general research, helping to generate a body of knowledge, which acts as a base for all forms of R and D, whether pure or applied. Technology parks and research centres also provide a focus for development efforts.

Within Canada, organizations that don't have the capacity for in-house R and D have a number of options at their disposal, including the use of private research and development firms, universities that provide services for a fee, testing laboratories and public and not-for-profit organizations. Visit our sections on Research Establishments and Innovation Policy through the quicklinks in the top, right-hand corner of this page for more information on R and D resources and organizations.

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