COSIA: Lighting the way for innovation

COSIA: Lighting the way for innovation

The image of a lit light bulb suddenly appearing over a person’s head is an enduring and powerful image associated with innovation. However, being part of an innovation ecosystem through an organization like COSIA, I have to call into question a number of assumptions behind this caricature. The light bulb image gives the impression that innovation is instantaneous and happens by chance – it almost always isn’t and doesn’t. The light bulb implies great ideas come after only quiet contemplation – at best this is a simplification. The bulb may also imply to some that innovation is performed by individuals in isolation – that usually isn’t so.

In COSIA, oil sands companies don’t leave innovation to chance, they use a series of deliberate innovation processes and techniques to maximize their success. They clearly define desired outcomes through COSIA’s Aspirations and Challenges, they use a planning framework to identify innovation opportunity areas and gaps that if filled would help attain those outcomes. COSIA members use many different techniques to force “constructive collisions” between people from different organizations and regions that would likely not have interacted otherwise, and they use a sophisticated portfolio management system to ensure innovation investments are made deliberately to drive successful outcomes. These techniques make sure effort is put into the highest priorities and that new ways of thinking and new disciplines are combined with traditional thinking to develop new solutions.

To aid in this process, the COSIA companies are in the middle of updating their planning framework for the four COSIA Environmental Priority Areas. For this process, member company representatives come together to re-evaluate the following:

  • Do the opportunity areas, gaps and challenges still provide an accurate picture of priorities?
  • Are their project portfolios fit for purpose; do they have the correct mix of projects based on risk, impact, cost and time to implementation?

Once completed, the planning framework will again be shared with COSIA’s Associate Members at the annual Associate Member meeting in October. The 40 Associate Members will again this year be asked to comment on the framework with an aim to capitalize on their collective knowledge and experience so it is refined and improved. The finalized planning framework will drive COSIA’s project portfolio activity for the next 12 months and ensure that COSIA companies continue to deliver projects like those described in this issue of the Collaborator:

In this issue

  1. COSIA in Space: Investigate the use of satellite technology to measure greenhouse gas emissions from tailings ponds and mine faces.
  2. Regional Industry Caribou Collaboration: Work collaboratively at a regional scale on initiatives related to caribou.
  3. Dynamic Flocculation: Optimize the mixing effectiveness of flocculants added to fluid fine tailings for enhanced water release.
  4. Rifle Tubes: Retrofitting once through steam generators with rifle tube technology to facilitate better water distribution at higher steam qualities.

COSIA companies do not, and will not, be waiting for the next ‘light bulb’ moment to provide the inspiration for their continued work, rather they will continue to take a structured and methodical approach to innovation planning, explicitly articulating priorities and leveraging the capacity of third parties.


Dan Wicklum

Dr. Dan Wicklum, PhD. | Chief Executive 
Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance