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Budget 2018 delivers smart science policy

February 28, 2018
By: 
Robert Luke
Vice President, Research and Innovation
OCAD University

The federal government's Budget 2018 is an advance for the science, research and innovation communities. The overall approach to gender equity, diversity and decolonization is important and timely.

The government has clearly heard the call from the Fundamental Science Review to increase our investment in research. There is a strong focus on supporting interdisciplinary and international collaborative research, which is essential for not only uncovering new areas of knowledge, but for realizing the value of ideas as they are translated into application, products, services and other innovation. This underscores the importance of design disciplines as crucial to Canada's innovation carrying capacity.

And here's the big news: "Budget 2018 proposes an investment of nearly $4 billion in Canada’s research system to support the work of researchers and to provide them access to the state-of-the-art tools and facilities they need" (p 82).

This is smart policy. Linking investments in science and technology ($3.2B investment in "research" writ large) to national priorities and, importantly, diversity and decolonization, is imperative for inclusive innovation. It is also in line with other leading OECD countries that set national priorities and focus on the spectrum of research - from idea to invoice - in order to realize the benefits of public investment in the production of public knowledge.

The most important aspect of this budget for innovation policy is the section on Leveraging the Full Potential of Business-Academia Collaboration. Changes and investment here to NSERC and CIHR promise to make public+private partnerships for R&D (P3RD), and additional funding for colleges continues the growth of capacity in the college sector to perform an important innovation intermediary function that links skills development to product and service development. The special focus on the Technology Access Centres is important as these are exemplary organizations adept at enabling private sector innovation.

The focus on the spectrum of research - from Basic Research, Applied Research to Experimental Development - is picked up in the re-imagining of the National Research Council (NRC). New investments in the NRC are absolutely necessary and essential to enable the NRC to start to really expand a focus on translating the world leading ideas uncovered in Basic Research into real innovation in the world. Among the $1.1Bn in funding that provides important inputs to capacity, the NRC gets a DARPA-like entity "to fund its scientists to work with innovators from post-secondary institutions and businesses on multi-party research and development programs." This is long overdue.

But things get really interesting in the Innovation Canada – Accelerated Growth Service section and "the creation of four flagship platforms" to deliver business innovation programs. I have elsewhere outlined the importance of focusing on the full spectrum of research activities and the lack of investment in Experimental Development (see my Capacity and Contribution Logic Model). This is a significant development that promises to help get more ideas turned into invoices by helping manage the process of research through to experimental development through a simplification of business innovation programs (a result of the Horizontal Review that Budget 2017 called for).

The Women Entrepreneurship Strategy is welcome news. This will help us focus on those outputs of innovation that are not typically valued, as outlined in this excellent article from last week. This adds to "the Government’s coming reform to federal innovation programs [that] will include a universal goal to improve the participation of underrepresented groups, including women entrepreneurs, in the innovation economy." I also read with note the Intellectual Property Strategy. The launch of a Patent Collective is long overdue - all publicly-funded R&D performers should enter such a patent pool to mobilize stranded IP.

This is good science and innovation policy that provides new funding support for Basic Research, and support and services for Applied Research and Experimental Development, notably within the purview of public+private partnerships for R&D (P3RD). The diversity lens is essential and will result in a more inclusive Canada.

This is #smartsciencepolicy.