Conference Day: Day 1 – November 25th, 2015

Large-scale science facilities are important drivers for growing Canada’s future economy and fostering innovation in industry. These facilities present a challenge for traditional science policy/research because they require a large up-front capital commitment with significant ongoing operating costs as compared to University-based individual researchers. This structure can unfortunately lend itself to a view that large facilities are inwardly-focused, instead of focusing on the national research program and increasing Canada’s science capital and culture.

However, these large facilities/infrastructure are dynamic, supporting a broad cross section of academic, government, and industrial users from many different disciplines. They include the Canadian Light Source, TRIUMF, Compute Canada and SNOLAB to name a few. This panel will discuss how the public engagement and sharing from large science facilities might differ from that of an individual researcher – and whether large science facilities have a greater obligation in influencing the Canadian scientific landscape.

From the training of highly qualified personnel to the engagement of the private sector through unique research capabilities to the transfer of laboratory-developed technology to Canadian businesses, these facilities stimulate growth at both the local and national levels but also are a major component in shaping the scientific landscape and developing a strong culture within our citizens.

Takeaways and recommendations: 

  • Big science is a long-term game, with research solutions leading to technological advancement, industry engagement and economic impact
  • Big science facilities encourage international collaboration and leverage benefits for Canadian and foreign participants alike
  • Advanced research computing is essential to collaboration and must be constantly upgraded
  • Significant investment is needed to scale the benefits of big science facilities from individual researchers to society at large
  • Canada is a small country and must identify niches where it can excel and succeed
  • Issues faced by large science facilities can’t be addressed by a bottom-up, proposal-driven funding model. It’s time for Canada to take a second look at how these facilities are supported.

Big science facilities driving international collaboration

Session Report: 

Big science facilities driving international collaboration

PanelAre We Jupiters in the Celestial Field of Science?
Organized by SNOLAB
CSPC 2015: November 25, 2015

Moderator: Timothy Meyer, Chief Operating Officer, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory; PanelistsJohnathan Bagger, Director, TRIUMF; Robert Lamb, Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Light Source; Dugan O’Neil, Chief Science Officer, Compute Canada; Nigel Smith, Director, SNOLAB

The policy issue:

Canada’s big science facilities, despite their cost to build and operate, are critical to international collaboration, scientific advancement and long-term social and economic benefit. Four of Canada’s major science facilities – TRIUMF, SNO LAB, the Canadian Light Source and Compute Canada – are significant contributors to the rapidly growing global knowledge base and the interchange of science between research communities and beyond. Their expertise facilitates new avenues of exploration, the training of new researchers and support for cutting-edge industry sectors.

The size and scale of major science facilities is key to their influence and impact, facilitated by astute project management and dialogue between facilities.

“The whole idea is to deliver compelling science. That’s really the driver of everything we’re trying to achieve. The way you do that is to develop unique tools and infrastructure. There’s an element of size and scale here that is not usually accessible to universities themselves but when you collaborate you can develop large infrastructures that can springboard the science forward,” said Smith. “It’s also the ability to connect to a broader research community internally within Canada and externally. All of these facilities have many external connections which allow Canada and lever the investments and deliver compelling science outputs.”

Smith said each of the four facilities represented by the panel are working on world-class niche science projects, from wheat and agriculture and medical isotope production at the Canadian Light Source to isotope research and production for physics and medicine at TRIUMF’s ARIEL (Advanced Rare IsotopE Laboratory)—its flagship superconducting electron accelerator.

The options:

People are the primary vehicle for transferring research knowledge into practice, making training a critical component for future researchers and engineers. The four big science facilities represented on the panel engage more than 9,000 graduate students and host 15,000 users a year from about 40 countries. Lamb says the circulation of that huge brain trust is integral to Canada’s participation and collaboration with researchers worldwide, as well as the communities in which they are located.

“It’s like an exclusive club where everyone can join. You have to engage people at every level including those outside who want to know why you’d invest in such a facility,” said Lamb. “These national facilities have international networks and they connect into the national facilities … The best way to retain talent is when (students and researchers) get to a certain point they should leave. Then they create their own networks and it’s those networks that make these big science facilities happen.”

Like all fundamental research, science at big science facilities can generate unexpected, disruptive technologies that have a profound impact on the economy and society at large. Bagger said a key role of laboratory directors is to ensure that the intense creativity at these facilities also benefits Canadians. The unique equipment and instrumentation should be developed in Canada—instead of bought off the shelf—with opportunities to spinout those innovations into the commercial realm.

Bagger says there at least four examples of this transfer of knowledge, starting with the development of TRIUMF’s first cyclotron which was contracted to EBCO Industries Ltd. The Vancouver-based companies turned the expertise gained in building the cyclotron into a spin-off company – Advanced Cyclotron System Inc – which is now one of the world’s biggest builders of medical cyclotrons. A similar outcome arose from TRIUMF’s collaboration with PAVAC Industries Inc., which is a now global leader in hybrid electron beam products and services.

“Real Made-in-Canada technology came from partnering with a national lab,” said Bagger. “Put large concentrations of infrastructure in place and use them to attract talented people to solve technological problems … That’s how the World Wide Web came out of CERN.”

Big science facilities are also a potent generator of multidisciplinary, cross-sectoral research which is increasingly defining many fields of study, including the social sciences and humanities. The ability to access the advanced research computing represented by Compute Canada is essential for fostering such research, said O’Neil. Of the 2,700 faculty members who use Compute Canada services, the largest group is comprised of engineers, computer scientists and mathematicians. But there are also hundreds of users from medicine, biology and bioinformatics, as well as physicists, chemists and environmental chemist, and social scientists.

“At Compute Canada, we have expert staff who know how to support all disciplines and take knowledge from one discipline and apply it to others,” said O’Neil. “People in the digital humanities are using sequence alignment technologies that originate in bioinformatics to do text studies … Large science facilities are a fertile ground for people from different areas that come together to solve different problems with similar tools.”

Canada’s big science facilities are successful despite a less than optimal funding environment. Bagger said that, unlike the United States and other advanced nations, Canada lacks a cohesive funding structure that addresses these facilities holistically.

“We need to look at the connection between capital funding and operations because sometimes it seems a little chancy,” said Bagger. “You build these facilities and then put a mortgage on them for 20 or 30 years and this has to be fully understood.”

Conference Day: Day 1 – November 25th, 2015

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a global health threat. Recent studies indicate that drug resistant microbes could cause the deaths of 10 million people a year and cost the global economy $60 trillion to $100 trillion by 2050 indicated Jim O’Neill, a former Goldman Sachs economist. The need to find solutions is a national priority. Canada, through its federal action plan, is taking steps to prevent, limit, and control the emergence and spread of AMR, with a focus on surveillance, stewardship, and innovation.

The World Health Organization stated antimicrobial resistance has become one of the most serious global health threats of modern times and urges governments to improve surveillance and research and that policy makers enable change by promoting appropriate use of antibiotics, increasing awareness, and rewarding innovation.

Based on the above, policy options will be explored on how Canada can be a leader in pathogen surveillance utilizing genomic analysis, furthering the use of genomic databases to assess the emergence and spread of AMR, and innovative genomic tools to diagnose and treat microbial infection quickly and efficiently.

This workshop is part of Genome Canada’s GPS series “Where Genomics, Public Policy and Society Meet.” The session will facilitate a dialogue between researchers, policy-makers and industry interested in GE3LS (Genomics and its Ethical, Economic, Environmental, Legal, and Social aspects). A draft policy brief on antimicrobial resistance reviewing the context, issues of concern relevant to Canadians as well as innovative genomic solutions and policy options to help manage this global health threat will be presented. Furthermore, invited commentators from academia, government and industry will discuss the policy options examined in this brief.

Takeaways and recommendations: 

  • Surveillance requires open access to data and sharing data across sectors, provinces and countries
  • Shift priorities of Canadian Food Inspection Agency from industry promotion to surveillance (from “farm to fork”)
  • Reform how farmers and people use antibiotics to ensure sustainable use
  • Train more experts in bioinformatics who understand and can use genomics data
  • Focus on AMR policies that emphasize harm reduction, health promotion and resilience
  • Coordinate policies nationally and globally to combat AMR
  • Identify proven models and expand them to other provinces and territories

Experts call for coordinated approach to combat superbugs

Session Report: 

Experts call for coordinated approach to combat superbugs

Panel: Beating Superbugs: Innovative Genomics and Policies to Tackle AMR

Organized by Genome Canada

CSPC 2015: November 25, 2015

ModeratorDr. Natalie Brender, National Director, Genomics in Society, Genome Canada; PanelistsDr. Rainer Engelhardt, Former Assistant Deputy Minister/Chief Science Officer, Public Health Agency of Canada; Bonnie Henry, Deputy Provincial Health Officer, Province of British Columbia; Dr. Stephen Hoffman, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa; Dr. Gerry Wright, Director of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research, McMaster University; Dr. Craig Stephen, Executive Director, Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative

The policy issue:

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a global health threat fueled by overuse of antibiotics by humans and in agriculture for livestock health and growth promotion. Englehardt referred to 2014 review on AMR prepared for the U.K. government that modelled the impact of this post-antibiotic era. It predicts that drug resistant microbes could cause the deaths of 10 million people a year and cost the global economy $60 trillion to $100 trillion by 2050.

“Even right now, the cost of antimicrobial resistance in hospitals in North America is roughly $11 billion. It’s a complex problem … that requires a ‘one health’ approach,” said Englehardt.

In May, the World Health Assembly endorsed a global action plan to tackle AMR. Canada is also taking steps to prevent, limit, and control the emergence and spread of AMR through its recently released Federal Action Plan on AMR and Use, which focuses on three primary policy drivers: surveillance, enhanced stewardship and innovation.

However, one of the biggest challenges remains a lack of coordination and collective action among many sectors and actors—globally, nationally, provincially and municipally—including human and veterinary medicine, agriculture, finance, environment, and consumers. “These actors don’t easily work together,” said Englehardt.

Despite the enormity of the threat and the pressure by international organizations such as the World Health Organizations and the G7 to act, AMR is still not a top-line priority in Canada’s health systems or livestock systems where antibiotics continue to be over-used.

The options:

Canada has 13 health systems (national, provincial and territorial) that are not linked, nor are they integrated with animal health and environmental issues. The result, said Henry, is a piecemeal system with competing policy priorities and inconsistencies in how antimicrobials are used across the country among physicians and other prescribers like dentists and naturopaths.

“We have the pieces of a pan-Canadian coordinated approach but we need build that into a coherent approach that builds on a federal framework,” said Henry.

Where effective models have been identified (e.g. the “Do Bugs Need Drugs?” community program in British Columbia), Henry said they should be adapted and expanded to other provinces and territories “with funding, leadership and human expertise”.

The panel agreed surveillance is key, but there are challenges. They include a lack of funding, a paucity of bioinformatics experts who can analyze the results from genomics tests, and a need for bedside tests that can accelerate diagnosis, treatment and big-picture surveillance.

The data also need to be freely accessible and shared across sectors, government departments and countries. Another issue is stable funding for data collection. Wright said this has been an ongoing issue with the Comprehensive Antibiotic Resistance Database housed at McMaster.

On the stewardship front, Wright said the focus should be on prescribing “the right drugs for the right bugs. That means changing practice in clinical settings and changing how farmers and people use antibiotics”.

CSPC delegates heard how innovations in basic science and genomics are needed to solve the AMR crisis, possibly through the development of antibiotic adjuvants, anti-virulence therapies, vaccines and probiotics and prebiotics to strengthen human and animal immune systems and modulate the microbiome. But one of the big challenges is that few drug companies are interested in developing new antibiotics: the issues are regulatory (how to conduct effective clinical trials for drug resistant pathogens), economic (how to ensure return on investment) and scientific (the pathway to new drugs is not obvious).

As such, there’s a need for countries to step up to fill the gap. “How do we treat antibiotics as global resources that all countries put money into developing?” Wright asked.

Stephen described AMR as a “wicked” public health problem because of its chronic policy and system failures and biological complexities. He suggested that not enough focus or funding has been put on the link between the livestock industry’s use antibiotics as growth promoters and human AMR. “We don’t have veterinary public health offices in most provinces or at the federal level so we can’t break AMR into these sub-systems.”

To ensure a level playing ground among livestock producers, Hoffman said an international agreement is needed that establishes global rules, and thus a level competitive field, for antibiotic use.

Hoffman concluded by supporting the idea of a Manhattan-type project (modelled on the US military’s project in the 1940s to produce a nuclear weapon) that focuses not just on developing new antibiotics, diagnostics and genomics science, but for determining the best approach to global governance of AMR.

“We can’t just tackle the biological and clinical manifestations of this problem we also have to tackle a more difficult political economy of inaction,” she said. “We need a science of global strategy for achieving collective action.”


Federal Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance and Use in Canada;

Antimicrobial Resistance and Use in Canada: A Federal Framework for Action;

Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, chaired by Jim O’Neill, United Kingdom 2014;

An international legal framework to address antimicrobial resistance; Editorial, Bulletin of the World Health Organization;

Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance, World Health Assembly, May 2015;

Conference Day: Day 1 – November 25th, 2015

We are told that digital literacy is a critical set of skills and attitudes that will be necessary for today’s youth to succeed and participate in the 21st century. In order to contribute to initiatives like open science, offerings of large data-sets, and participatory policy-making, all individuals, particularly youth, will benefit from that foundational knowledge. But Canada’s policy frameworks in support of learning computer science and engineering, not to mention access to connectivity and equipment, is at best uneven and at worst non-existent. This session will examine computer science and engineering learning initiatives from the Canada and the UK in order to better inform a coordinated approach to effectively move the dial on the digital literacy and innovation capacity of Canadians entering the workforce, an area that has been identified as a key part of Canada’s renewed Federal Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy.

Takeaways and recommendations: 

  • Create a federal digital literacy strategy
  • Ensure provinces design a curriculum informed by a digital strategy
  • Be inclusive – equal opportunities for girls, indigenous youth and youth in poor communities
  • Provide professional training for new curriculum
  • Create opportunities for youth to learn how to innovate using digital skills

Why Canada needs a national digital literacy strategy

Session Report: 

Why Canada needs a national digital literacy strategy

Panel: Digital Literacy: What is Going to Make the Real Difference?

Organized by Actua

CSPC 2015: November 25, 2015

ModeratorAaron Brindle, Communications Manager, Google Canada; PanelistsMiles Berry, Principal lecturer for Computing Education, University of Roehampton; Jennifer Flanagan, CEO, Actua; Karen Gill, Director of the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Branch, Ontario Ministry of Education; Steven Woods, Senior Engineering Director, Google Canada

The policy issue:

Educational curricula across Canada are not adequately providing youth with the digital literacy skills they need to drive innovation.

“There is a lot at stake,” said Brindle. “What’s more important to the health of a country than providing them with the skills they need to participate in the economy of the future.”

Basic literacy in computer coding and language has become an essential skill for virtually all sectors of the economy, delegates heard.

“The opportunities to apply technologies in different domains, different areas of interests, different applications of interest to humanity has never been more broadly available,” said Woods. “The gap lies in learning how to apply (these) to your particular interest.”

Panelists and delegates raised several challenges, including access to hardware, teacher readiness, general misconceptions around aptitudes and approaches to digital literacy, and ensuring a policy strategy that includes women, aboriginals, and vulnerable youth. As Flanagan pointed out, Canada is lagging compared to other OECD countries.

While youth are quick to use new technologies, most remain amateur users of information and communications technology. A 2015 report from Media Smarts points the finger at the considerable differences between provinces and territories in terms of digital literacy policies and implementation programs and schedules. Education falls under provincial and territorial jurisdiction but the report says a national digital literacy and digital citizen strategy are needed to establish common parameters and guidelines for Canadian teachers and students.

“There is a misconception that people who use computers a lot are digitally literate,” said Flanagan. Her organization’s experience in working with 250,000 youth across Canada has shown that students aren’t learning the computer science skills they need.

Berry said the educator’s role is to help students to transition “from users of technology, to makers of technology, or at least technological artifacts.” But, he added the solutions will have to target more than only youth. Teachers and parents have a huge influence on how young people engage with computers.

“It’s so unusual for a teacher to be expected to teach something they themselves never learned,” said Berry. “Professional development is a big thing.”

Another challenge is the persistent stigma around girls entering STEM fields, or the misconception they’re not as capable as boys at spatial learning, explained Flanagan.

A 2014 Google study found that encouragement and exposure are key indicators for whether or not young women decide to pursue a computer science degree. “The number one factor in a girl not going into a STEM education direction is her mother,” Woods said about the study, “and the second is her teacher.”

“This is not about not having women being computer scientists in the future, which is critically important,” said Flanagan. “This is about girls being left behind every single career in the future because these are skills that are not just going to lead them down one path, it is across the board.”

The options:

In the UK, a new curriculum builds the foundations of digital literacy from an unplugged, play-based approach that has children problem-solving using basic computer language.

By ages 8-11, Berry said they are grasping the basics of computer networks, and by 11-14 they are learning to problem solve by building simple programs, using Boolean logic, binary and simple operations. The curriculum considers how a child learns to solve problems, make predictions, test ideas and change strategies.

Echoing the findings of the Media Smarts report, Flanagan said a federal strategy for digital literacy is important because “very few provinces have computer science content as part of the curriculum.” There has been progress in Manitoba, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, with commitments to teach computer science at the elementary level, but other provinces are behind. The panel also agreed that policies would need to target all youth, with a focus on girls, indigenous youth and youth in poor communities.

Gill noted that the Ontario curriculum has made recent changes that mirror efforts in the UK in developing the foundation of critical thinking in pre-elementary schools. While there is no computer curriculum in the elementary system, Gill said there is a focus on inquiry-based learning and problem solving. Computer science courses begin in Grade 10.

To ensure teachers are able to deliver this new curriculum, Gill said 20% of the funding in Canada’s Technology and Learning Fund – $150M over three years – supports professional development of teachers.

Berry agreed that one of the challenges in the UK was teacher readiness. “I think the key message is about being inclusive,” with mentioning parents, young people, teachers, industry and academics.

When asked by Brindle if Ontario’s curriculum changes are enough Gill said the plan must remain open to new evidence: “curriculum is a living beast that not only has to evolve to keep pace with the times but to think 20 years out.”

In terms of digital literacy’s effect on Canada’s innovation potential, Woods said “we need to have our children believe that they can accomplish great things in many areas, but a core part of that is learning how to apply computers to those problems.”

Relevant documents:

Mapping Digital Literacy Policy and Practice in the Canadian Education Landscape, Media Smarts 2015;

Women Who Choose Computer Science— What Really Matters, 2014, Google;

Conference Day: Day 1 – November 25th, 2015

A first of its kind in Canada, this inaugural symposium aims to discuss the topic of diaspora scientists and their potential to strengthen international science and technology collaboration.

The symposium seeks to mobilize the untapped resources of diaspora communities to strengthen Canada’s global connections in science, innovation and trade.

The objectives of this symposium include:

  • Mobilizing and connecting existing diaspora scientific communities in Canada
  • Providing networking opportunities among diaspora scientists to share experiences, lessons, and best practices
  • Exploring the full potential of diaspora scientists
  • Forming a Canadian Network of Diaspora Scientists that includes a database of organizations and individuals who are active in this field

Takeaways and recommendations: 

  • Government is best positioned to be a collaborator/facilitator.
  • There is often difficulty determining who the appropriate government scientists/contacts are that the community should be reaching out to.
  • Identify the membership, institutional affiliations and specialists of existing diaspora science communities (DSCs)
  • There are no existing platforms where diaspora scientists can come together. (e.g. a database of DSCs in Canada and Canadian DSCs abroad)
  • Individual culture is important, but also infrastructure (e.g. funding frameworks)
  • Linking and leveraging the diaspora would be a good way to advance development objectives.
  • Work with Government of Canada to skill-up Canada’s foreign service in science diplomacy and management of international S&T issues.
  • Recommend to federal government that it expand Canada’s network of science counsellors and better connect with diaspora communities at home and abroad
  • Engage with more than just the usual suspects. Business councils have already established connections that could be leveraged.
  • There needs to be a strong value proposition when asking people to join any diaspora network.
  • There are large Canadian diasporas in places like Hong Kong as well as many Canadian scientific entrepreneurs in Boston and the SF Bay Area that can be tapped into.
  • Conduct further research on the current status of DSCs at home and abroad, existing programs that support DSCs and potential policy options.

Experts examine options for mobilizing diaspora scientists

Session Report: 

Experts examine options for mobilizing diaspora scientists

Symposium: Diaspora scientists: Canada’s untapped resource of global knowledge networks

November 25, 2015

ModeratorsRahim Rezaie, Research Associate, Centre for Global Engineering, University of Toronto; Valerie La Traverse, Deputy Director, Policy Research and Outreach, Global Affairs Canada

SpeakersFarid Bensebaa, Senior Research Officer / Adjunct Professor, National Research Council of Canada / York University; Elian Carsenant, President, NamSor Applied Onomastics; Jeongdong Choe, Ottawa chapter head, Association of Korean-Canadian Scientists and Engineers (AKCSE), Senior Technical Fellow, Techinsights; Daryl Copeland, Senior Fellow, Canadian Global Affairs Institute/University of Montreal’s Centre for International Studies and Research; Govinda Dahal, Senior Researcher, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa; Mehrdad Hariri, President and CEO, Canadian Science Policy Centre; Chris Mayaki, Director, Special Duties and Leads Programme, National Universities Commission, Nigeria; Sujata Ramachandran, Research Associate, Queen’s University, Southern African Research Centre; Girish Shah, Professor, Faculty of Medicine, Laval University; Ken Simiyu, Program Officer, Grand Challenges Canada; Halla Thorsteinsdottir, Director / Adjunct Professor, Small Globe Inc. and Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, University of Toronto; Margaret Walton-Roberts, Associate Dean, School of International Policy and Governance, Balsillie School of International Affairs

The policy issue:

Canada is one of the most diverse and pluralistic countries on the planet, but it needs better policies, national coordination and long-term funding to mobilize and connect new Canadians, particularly those involved in science, engineering, medicine and education. Compared to other countries, Canada also lags when it comes to engaging Canadian researchers working abroad.

The CSPC brought together more than a dozen experts to share their ideas and experiences with scientific diaspora communities (DSCs), which represent a significant untapped opportunity to strengthen Canada’s global connections in science, innovation and trade.

According to Copeland, the essential question is: “Can the collective knowledge, expertise, cultural understanding, and linguistic capacities of DSCs, or networks, be harnessed to produce win/win diplomatic and international policy outcomes for both home and host governments?”

The former diplomat stressed there are no military solutions to the world’s most urgent issues, such as global warming, ecosystem collapse, pandemic disease and public health. He described these as “wicked” issues that are cross-sectoral, unresolved, transnational and science-based.

Even on the issue of terrorism and other conflicts, he described the world’s traditional reliance on hard power, coercion and military responses as “old think”. “I think that science offers a better route to security because science offers the prospect of successfully addressing problems of underdevelopment – a major contributor to insecurity.”

“You can’t call in an airstrike on a warming planet. You can’t send out an expeditionary force to combat a carbon economy. Science diplomacy is an area where we’re really going to have to up our game radically if going to have a reasonable prospect of addressing these challenges which are immune to armed force,” said Copeland.

The policy options: Several countries have made great strides in identifying and supporting DSCs. Copeland described the United States as the “best practices leader” on this issue. In 2012, the U.S. government and main scientific bodies launched the Network of Diasporas in Engineering and Science (NODES), which supports science diaspora networks. The government also hosts an annual Global Diaspora Week, which in 2015 featured 90 events from 22 countries. No such equivalents exist in Canada.

What’s needed here, said Copeland, is “radically reformed diplomacy” with DSCs playing a critical role. “But that will require resources and investment. We are behind the eight ball.”

It will also require better data on the current state of scientific diasporas and the policies and funding mechanisms that support them. Little research has been done to identify Canadian scientists working abroad or foreign-born scientists working here and how these networks could contribute to diplomacy, development and international policy. Research to date suggests Canada’s has a sizeable DSC but few formal mechanisms to encourage collaboration with their home countries.

Big data tools like NamSor could help address this information gap. Launched by Carsenant, a data scientist based in Paris, this name recognition software can identify the linguistic or cultural origins of names in any alphabet or language. For example, it found that most cancer researchers from Poland and Slovenia are now working in the U.S., U.K. and Germany. NamSor uncovered the percentage of Chinese, Indian, Iranian, Moroccan and Italian scholars working at several Canadian universities. NamSor also showed that strong diaspora linkages improve an institution’s academic ranking and a scholar’s impact factor.

DSCs fuel international collaboration

International scientific collaboration, particularly interdisciplinary team-based research, is becoming more prevalent. Thorsteinsdottir noted that internationally co-authored papers grew from 14% of all publications in the Institute for Scientific Information index in 2000 to 18% in 2009 (Gazni et al, 2012).

DSCs are key players in these collaborations. A 2015 study by Scellato et al showed that both foreign-born scientists and scientists returning to their home countries from abroad are more likely to collaborate internationally. However, despite having the second largest scientific diaspora among 15 major economies, the study showed Canada ranking third from the bottom in terms of researchers’ collaboration with their home country.

Some DSCs in Canada are more active collaborators than others, notably the Chinese diaspora. Also research on Canada’s health biotechnology collaboration shows considerable collaboration involving scientists from Brazil, China and India. Thorsteinsdottir further highlighted that the International Research Chairs Initiative, supported jointly by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Canada Research Chairs Program, involves the scientific diaspora as principal investigators frequently, or in five out of nine supported projects.

In terms of policy options, Thorsteinsdottir said more research is needed. For example, should Canada set up programs that support research collaboration involving diaspora scientists or take a less targeted approach that funds international collaborations more broadly?

La Traverse said Canada should consider engagement strategies that bring these different communities together to create a pluralistic DSC network, rather than approaches that focus primarily on bilateral collaborations. “At the end of the day, we have to think about collaboration not just for collaboration’s sake. We want to ensure the collaborations lead to good research that leads to relevant knowledge or innovation.”

DSCs and developing countries

Grand Challenges Canada: Funded by the Government of Canada, GCC is dedicated to supporting “bold ideas with impact” in global health. It funds innovators from low and middle income countries and Canada and encourages scalable research, sustainability, economic impact and “integrated innovation” (scientific, technological, social and business).

Canadian applicants must have a developing country partner, which Simiyu said gives diaspora scientists an advantage. “They already have networks and are more likely to apply and be (funding) recipients,” he said.

Projects that pass the proof-of-concept stage receive larger grants to scale up the research results. The innovation is then handed off to the private sector as a revenue-generating enterprise or to domestic governments committed to continue the activity.

Simiyu said GCC is an effective mechanism for diaspora scientists to collaborate with researchers in their home country, noting that projects led by diaspora scientists are more likely to transition to phase two “because they are better able to establish linkages (with their home country) faster”.

India: Developing countries are looking for more ways to exploit the potential of their scientific diasporas. Research led by Walton-Roberts has examined diaspora-led investments in skills development and training in India’s healthcare sector. She found that the government’s development and education priorities don’t always align with a physician’s personal or career motivations. For example, many returning doctors set up private practices, “which contributes to ongoing privatization … it’s not necessarily helping the poorest in the country”.

Canada’s Indian DSC has a strong history of collaboration with their home country in arts, literature and social sciences, noted Shah. More opportunities are opening up in medicine (e.g. diabetes) and engineering (e.g. Clean Ganga projects, bridges, clean drinking water, solar technology), but funding is needed. “Many researchers don’t even bother looking because there’s no enough funding available,” he said.

One promising model is the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, the only binational institute supporting higher education collaboration between India and Canada. Founded in 1968, the institute has grown from three to 90 members, including 36 Canadian cities and 54 Indian cities. Building on this success, Shah encouraged DSCs to exchange ideas and suggest programs and policies that would promote more scientific exchanges.

South Africa: A study of the South African SDC in Canada, led by Ramachandran, found that first-generation immigrants, particularly those who came to Canada during apartheid (pre-1990), were highly engaged in fundraising or education-based activities that benefited their home country. As examples, she pointed to University of British Columbia geneticist Dr. Michael Hayden who donated $500,000 from a health research prize to a charity that trains aspiring doctors and researchers, particularly those from Africa. Another South African native, Dr. Neil Turok, championed a fundraising effort to launch the African Institute for Mathematical Science and its Next Einstein Initiative.

But Ramachandran found that connection with an ancestral country wanes with each subsequent generation. “With the post-1990 arrivals being far less involved in such projects, the long-term prospects of such engagement and replaceability to sustain the momentum of existing initiatives or groups remains a fundamental challenge for this particular diaspora,” she said.

The story was similar for Indian researchers working in Canada. Shah noted that first generation diaspora scientists are the most interested in collaborating with India, but are the least equipped in the beginning to capitalize on this advantage. As with South Africans, that interest begins to drop off with second generation diaspora.

Nepal: Dahal highlighted several DSC initiatives and groups that are promoting skills development and connecting institutions in Canada and Nepal. They include the Canada Foundation for Nepal (CFFN), the Open University Nepal Initiative (OUNI), Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA) and the Nepal Science Foundation Trust (NSFT).

For example, a 2014 workshop supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research brought together Nepali diaspora scientists from Canada and institutions from Nepal to share scientific knowledge and catalyze activities related to nutrition and public health.

CFFN has applied for an IDRC grant in the area of food security, in collaboration with Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, International Union for Conservation of Nature (Kathmandu), and Kathmandu University. The proposal brings together more than 50 scientists from Canada, the U.S., U.K., Australia, Switzerland and Nepal.

CFFN has applied for an IDRC grant in the area of food security, in collaboration with Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, International Union for Conservation of Nature (Kathmandu), Kathmandu University and other NGOs. In 2015 working with International Union for Conservation of Nature, Nepal Country Office (IUCN Nepal), CFFN published a book “Sustainable Livelihood Systems in Nepal: Principals, Practices and Prospects”. This book brings together more than 50 scientists from Canada, the U.S., U.K., Australia, Switzerland and Nepal.

While there have been successes, Dahal suggested “suitable policies” are needed to better exploit the untapped potential of DSCs.

South Korea: The Korean DSC in Canada is relatively small, about 2%, but Choe said there are significant opportunities for bilateral collaboration, particularly following the 2014 Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement and a 2015 agreement to establish a formal framework for science, technology and innovation collaboration between Canada and South Korea.

Choe said those opportunities include interchanges with other diaspora communities and joint conferences with other associations (e.g. aerospace and semi-conductor). One successful model he identified is the Association of Korean Canadian Scientists and Engineers. Established in 1986, the AKCSE promotes bilateral collaboration in areas such as aerospace, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering and natural resources. Nearly 2500 members, including over 1000 students have joined provincial chapters across Canada.

Such conferences and symposiums are common in the U.S., but less so in Canada. Part of the problem, said Choe, is finding the right person to talk to in the Canadian government.

“Every time I ask other Canadians what kind of division in government I should approach to discuss this kind of policy, the answer is always, ‘I don’t know’. Hopefully this will change with the new government.”

North Africa: The biggest challenges facing stronger ties between the Canadian DSC and their home countries in Africa is a lack of critical mass (people) and ongoing funding to sustain networks, said Bensebaa. Examples of groups that are no longer active include the BioAlliance Canada-Maroc (Morocco) and the Algeria-Quebec Research and Cooperation University Center (PURAQ) Canada.

Bensebaa stressed that “big challenges require resources” and that scientific diaspora could play a critical role to identify challenges and sustainable solutions that provide opportunities for remote communities (in North Africa and northern Canada), support affordable and quality education and increase critical mass and connectivity.

In 2009, Bensebaa, who emigrated from Algeria, founded the Leaders and Experts for Cooperation and Development (LECODEV), a Canadian non-profit that links Algeria’s business and scientific communities to promote training and research for socio-economic development. He said it would be worthwhile holding science-related events led by more than one existing diaspora.

Nigeria: In 2007, Nigeria’s National Universities Commissioned launched the Linkages with Experts and Academics in the Diaspora Scheme (LEADS) program to strengthen engagement with its diaspora in the fields of engineering, mathematics, biochemistry and education. Successful applicants from the diaspora receive a monthly stipend and expenses to work as visiting lecturers, professors or researchers. Of the 62 LEADS scholars, only a handful are from Canada.

“We are hoping to engage the new (Canadian) government to increase this … we need those discussions at the highest level,” said Okojie.

Examples of DSC networks

United States:

  • Network of Diasporas in Engineering and Science (NODES) – joint venture involving the State Department, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering
  • International Diaspora Engagement Alliance (IDEA) – public-private partnership sponsored by the State department, AID, and the Calvert Foundation.


  • European Scientific Diasporas in North America (EURAXESS) – provides information on research positions, fellowships and funding sources in member states


  • Global Indian Network of Knowledge (Global INK) – an electronic platform for knowledge exchange between the diaspora and India

Research papers:

Sustainable Livelihood Systems in Nepal: Principals, Practices and Prospects; Dahal, Govinda P. and Madhusudan Subedi (2015);

Network of Diasporas in Engineering and Science;

Migrant scientists and international networks; Scellato et al, 2015;

Mapping world scientific collaboration: Authors, institutions, and countries; Gazni et al, 2012;

Divided Diasporas: Southern Africans in Canada; Crush et al, 2013;

Sustainable Livelihood Systems in Nepal: Principals, Practices and Prospects;

Other resources:

References and resources:

Association of Korean-Canadian Scientists and Engineers;

Balsillie School of International Affairs;

Canada Foundation for Nepal;

Canadian Global Affairs Institute;

Canadian Science Policy Centre;

Centre for Global Engineering, University of Toronto;

Centre for International Studies and Research, University of Montreal;

Global Affairs Canada;

Grand Challenges Canada;

Guerrilla Diplomacy, Daryl Copeland;

Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, University of Toronto;

Laval University;

Leaders and Experts for Cooperation and Development;

Linkages with Experts and Academics in the Diaspora Scheme, Nigeria;

NamSor Applied Onomastics;

National Research Council of Canada;

National Universities Commission, Nigeria;

Nepal Science Foundation Trust;

Non-Resident Nepali Association;

Open University Nepal Initiative;

Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute;

Small Globe Inc.;

Southern African Research Centre, Queen’s University;

University of Ottawa;

York University;

Conference Day: Day 1 – November 25th, 2015

Evidence Based Decision Making has been a source of much debate in Canada in recent years. The questions of how evidence is integrated into decision making; how we should structure our institutions, policies and practices to account for the realities of societal values, scientific evidence and the needs of the communities? Are pressing questions for policy makers around the globe.

Takeaways and recommendations: 
  • Establish a framework for evidence to encourage integration of science into practice
    • Integrate and synthesize evidence and bring to policymakers in a meaningful way
    • Ensure evidence is accessible to policy makers by using common outcome measures understood by scientists, policymakers, politicians, industry and public
  • Design process to determine when you have sufficient credible evidence. Transparency is key in building trust and credibility
    • Make advice of the Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC) public and make its information accessible, transparent and reflective
    • Ensure the research and policy making communities take responsibility in evidence generation seriously
    • Build a scorecard of how science departments are responding to integrity and transparency, as well as a checklist to demonstrate how evidence used in policy decisions
  • Engage Parliament and establish a parliamentary science office
    • Fellowships and training for science community to better understand policy making
    • Science policy office should be non- partisan & located within the parliamentary apparatus
  • Network and support independent organizations communicating science evidence in all forms
    • Civic engagement and participation
    • Generation of evidence (citizen science, direction of research, evidence on public values)
    • Evaluation of evidence
    • Hold elected officials accountable
  • Promote leadership in Canadian science policy and develop alliances with other players
    • Understand and engage all stakeholders nationally and internationally (e.g. Quebec chief scientist)
    • Explore potential role for the CSPC

Case Study of EBDM
Evidence-Based Decision Making Report

Session Report: 

How to ensure a stronger voice for evidence in government policy

Symposium: Evidence-based Decision Making
CSPC 2015: November 25, 2016

ModeratorsJanet Bax, Former Interim President of the Council of Canadian Academies; Paul Dufour, Principal PaulicyWorks, Adjunct Professor, University of Ottawa; Gerard Kennedy, Chief Executive Officer, Alpha Healthcare Group; Heather Douglas, Waterloo Chair in Science and Society, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Waterloo; Kamiel Gabriel, Professor, Department of Automotive, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Ontario Institute of Technology

Panelists: Kamiel S. Gabriel, Professor, Department of Automotive, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Ontario Institute of Technology; Gordon McBean, President, International Council for Science & Co-Chair, Governing Council, Future Earth: Research for Global Sustainability; Paul Dufour, Principal PaulicyWorks, Adjunct Professor, University of Ottawa; Heather Douglas, Waterloo Chair in Science and Society, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Waterloo; Monica Gattinger, Director, Institute for Science, Society and Policy, University of Ottawa; Dr Chandrika Nath, Deputy Director, U.K. Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology; Gerard Kennedy, Chief Executive Officer, Alpha Healthcare Group
David Hall, Associate Professor of Animal Health, University of Calgary; Micheal Kruse, Board Chair, Bad Science Watch; Margaret Dalziel, Associate Professor, Conrad Centre for Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology, University of Waterloo & Vice-President Research, The Evidence Network; Graham Fox, President and CEO, Institute for Research on Public Policy; Rees Kassen, Professor and University Research Chair in Experimental Evolution, University of Ottawa

The policy issue:

Evidence-based decision-making (EBDM) has emerged as a defining issue in S&T research and policy circles, energizing discussion and debate over the role science plays in informing government. Enthusiasm for EBMD is surging in Canada following the election of a Liberal government that has committed to science and evidence in decision-making as central to its governing strategy.

The CSPC devoted a full day to EBDM, exploring central issues such as environmental sustainability, science integrity and best practices from an international perspective. Consensus emerged that while science is a fundamental competitive resource in a knowledge-based economy, existing Canadian science advisory bodies are failing to bring EBDM into the decision-making process.

Participants discussed and debated how evidence should be presented to government and parliament to ensure it will be seriously considered.

The options:

McBean provided an international perspective on the issue. He said a framework is needed that encourages integration of credible evidence from sources that may be is internal or external to government, or from Canada other countries. That framework must be able to assess the reliability of the science and while ensuring universal access to reliable data and an effective decision-making mechanism to help synthesize information into a credible plan for presenting to government.

Perspectives on the Canadian context were offered by Dufour and Gabriel. Previously employed models for delivering EBDM should be examined when establishing the new mechanisms for providing science advice, Dufour said. This was considered particularly relevant given Science Minister Dr. Kirsty Duncan’s mandate to “Create a Chief Science Officer mandated to ensure that government science is fully available to the public, that scientists are able to speak freely about their work, and that scientific analyses are considered when the government makes decisions”.

Dufour noted that he preferred the term science-informed decision-making to EBDM to reflect the multiple of inputs to the decision-making process and the gap in language used by scientists and politicians.

There’s a sense that Canada has fallen behind in using EBDM. Dufour said Dufour current mechanisms for informing the political realm with science—the Council of Canadian Academies and the Science-Technology and Innovation Council (STIC)—are insufficient for the complex and often diffuse ways in which legislators utilize science.

Dufour recommended a close examination of Quebec’s chief scientist’s role when the federal Liberal government weighs its options for new advisory bodies. Other recommendations included a scorecard to determine whether science-based departments and agencies are performing with respect to scientific transparency and integrity and making any reports developed by government advisory bodies public.

“Confidential advice is aberrational especially in a democracy,” said Dufour.

Science is only one of many factors governments consider when crafting legislation, placing the onus on selecting the most appropriate mechanisms to ensure that science is not crowded out.

“Focus on the Canadian context and requirements,” said Gabriel. “Science is only one input among many and science literacy is required to assess its capabilities and limitations.”

In determining the most effective role for EBDM, panellists agreed that politicians—not scientists—should make policy decisions as they are democratically accountable. Canada’s currently weak accountability and feedback mechanisms could be bolstered through the use of citizen science which helps form consensus and direct the science to where it is most needed.

Public values should also be weighed, said Douglas, adding that specially convened forums are more effective than telephone surveys where self-interest colours opinion. Douglas said the collaborative weight of evidence analysis is useful in bringing the public, stakeholders and scientific evidence together when considering contentious issues.

“Scientists set the research agenda (and) citizens gather and assess evidence,” said Graham. “It helps to resolve controversy in a transparent way by allowing scientists to address concerns. Involving the public builds trust in science and science literacy.”

The symposium heard how evidence can be effective in confronting challenges with major economic impacts. For the Canadian meat industry, EBDM could have helped allay the widespread fears unleashed in the wake of an outbreak of Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease.

University of Calgary researcher Dr. David Hall said surveillance is a key policy tool for supporting Canadian agriculture in the international markets that have banned the import of Canadian beef. Surveillance allows for the early identification of problems and engagement to ensure the damage is limited and not repeated. He noted that, while Canada is belongs to several international oversight organizations, it’s “not always at the table. It needs to be”.

“Early and open reporting maybe detrimental in the short term but it’s beneficial in the long term,” said Hall. “Freedom from disease is a strong competitive advantage when exporting.”

Bad Science Watch’s Cruse said EBDM could be used to better inform the public and policy makers about the potential drawbacks of natural health products (NHPs). Currently, these products are subject to “lax oversight and it’s getting worse”, as reflected in lower standards of evidence and shorter review times.

“We need an office of evidence-based policy and mandatory quality assurance programs,” said Kruse. “There should be the removal of NHPs from exemption in Bill C-17. There’s no consumer voice in these decisions.”

Dalziel offered 10 suggestions for using EBDM when formulating and assessing government business support programs. These range from creating a culture of learning and striving for business support that’s transformational to revamping the tax credit program for business R&D and designing programs for effectiveness rather than measurability.

One group aiming to improve the use of science in decision-making is the Science Integrity Project (SIP), which recently released a statement of principles for sound decision-making in Canada. Comprised of 75 science policy experts from coast to coast, the SIP has conducted in-depth interviews with science policy leaders and held a national conference in February, 2015. SIP also developed a set of five principles to utilize the full range of evidence that exists and create mechanisms to help move evidence into decision-making:

Principle 1: The best available evidence—produced by methods that are transparent, rigorous, and conducted with integrity—should always inform decision-making.

Principle 2: Information should be openly exchanged among scientific researchers, indigenous knowledge holders, decision-makers and the public.

Principle 3: Research results should be preserved, protected, interpreted and shared in a way that is broadly understandable and accessible.

Principle 4: Decision-making processes, and the manner in which evidence informs them, should be transparent and routinely evaluated.

“There’s a feeling that the best evidence is not getting a fair hearing at all levels of government,” said Kassen. “The last nine years have been a motivation to engage.”

Kennedy said that with the appointment of Duncan as Science Minister, the timing is excellent to advocate for greater EBDM. He called on practitioners and promoters to form a committee or panel to advocate for greater use of EBDM.

“You have a seat at the Cabinet table. You don’t want this to go away,” said Kennedy. “The science policy community must demonstrate they’re in for the long haul and have skin in the game when it comes to giving government advice. Make it inevitable.”

Former MP and Liberal Science critic Hsu said the best time to engage the new government is within the next two months.

Watters, an innovation consultant, said there needs to be a process to gain a deeper understanding of the work done in the symposium. He also suggested looking at EBDM in the private sector, pointing to efforts by the former UK government of Tony Blair in this area that “yielded excellent results”.

“Get the diagnostics right and ensure that the social sciences are included,” said Watters.

Conference Day: Day 1 – November 25th, 2015

What is Science Policy? Always wondered but were too afraid to ask? Think you have all the answers? Then this workshop is for you. Whether you prefer “from bench to bedside”, “mind to market”, “knowledge to action”, or any other buzzy phrase, we can all agree that the need to translate and mobilize new ideas and scientific knowledge into useful applications is a growing pressure among researchers, funding agencies, and policy makers. Together we will break down ways to think about the influence of science on the policy-making process, and concepts for how policy can influence the scientific research enterprise.

You will gain an understanding of how science policy works by getting to know the policy toolkit (your nuts and bolts!) and by exploring the positions and competing interests of the stakeholders in a real-life case study. We will finish with a career panel consisting of professionals who ended up in science policy through very different avenues.

We welcome curious thinkers from all background, whether in sciences, engineering, public policy, business, communications, arts or something else entirely. If you have interest in science policy, this workshop is the place for you to share and expand your knowledge, build skills, and meet interesting people in the world of science policy.

Conference Day: Day 1 – November 25th, 2015

Takeaways and recommendations: 
  • Big science facilities need ongoing funding for operations, maintenance and research
  • Back big science initiatives with “natural” advantages
  • Allow federal labs to conduct both basic and applied research
  • Canada Foundation for Innovation a proven model for funding big science facilities
  • Involve industry where appropriate, but not at expense of basic science

Nobel laureate stresses need to fund big science

Session Report: 

Nobel laureate stresses need to fund big science

Keynote: The Science of SNO and SNOLAB

CSPC 2015: November 25, 2015

Speaker: Dr. Arthur McDonald, Director, Sudbury Neutrino Observatory; Professor Emeritus, Queen’s University; Nobel Prize Winner for Physics (2015)

Canada has much to brag about, says Dr. Arthur McDonald, the country’s newest Nobel Laureate. Our scientific citations rank above the international average, we’re global leaders in fields like neutrinos and dark matter, and our research community, with help from funding bodies like the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), has built some of the world’s most impressive big science facilities, including the Sudbury Neutrino Laboratory (SNOLAB).

That support paid off handsomely in 2015 with the joint awarding of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics to McDonald and Japanese physicist Takaaki Kajita for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, which show that neutrinos have mass. This changed the basic understanding of physics for these fundamental particles. Just weeks after the Nobel announcement, the SNO team received another prestigious award: the 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.

“We were successful with our experiment because of the effort of many people from institutions,” McDonald told CSPC delegates. “We started with about 16 people but ended up with 274 authors on all our papers, and also tremendous support from all our (funding) agencies.”

McDonald said SNOLAB scrambled to find its initial funding prior to the formation of CFI in 1997. That changed by 2003 when CFI launched a peer-reviewed competition that enabled his lab “to put forward our best ideas and have them reviewed by our peers”.

CFI evaluates applications based on a rigorous merit-based expert review process. A CFI review committee also meets with big science facilities twice a year to ensure scientific excellence, responsible stewardship and accountability. McDonald described it as “a good model for major science” facilities.

However, he expressed concern about the stagnant growth in NSERC discovery grants. Having the equipment and facilities means little unless you have the technicians, graduate students and post-docs to run the experiments. Programs like the Canada Research Chairs have helped, but he said a “cradle to grave” approach is needed that includes funding for capital, operations, maintenance and the actual research. He would like to see operational funding on par with what’s provided for capital costs.

“We can’t just give the capital and somehow we’ll figure out later where the operating is going to come from because that gets us in a lot of trouble.”

CFI currently has two mechanisms for supporting operations and maintenance of major science facilities: the Major Science Initiatives Fund and Infrastructure Operating Fund.

McDonald said it’s important that countries devote a percentage of their science spending to large-scale projects “where you really can address things that are of substantial scientific importance”. This means investing in areas where Canada has a “natural advantage”. For example, the SNOLAB had access to Vale’s Creighton 2 km-deep nickel mine in Sudbury and $300-million worth of heavy water on loan from Atomic Energy of Canada and Ontario Power Generation.

Early support for SNOLAB was also provided by the National Research Council, something that likely wouldn’t happen today with the NRC’s increased focus on large-scale, business-driven research projects, as opposed to basic science.

“It’s important for there to be not such an absolute statement about ‘thou shalt not do anything other than applied science when you’re dealing with national laboratories’,” said McDonald. “There’s an advantage to these sciences being connected with innovation and an advantage to the whole community to have (these) facilities plugged in broadly across the community.”

McDonald insisted there is a role for industry partnerships, but cautioned that R&D could be overlooked and killed in the process of relying too much on industry support. “A combination of the two (public and private) is what’s important in terms of being able to be innovative”.

Looking ahead, McDonald said SNOLAB is continuing its work with a new generation of experiments, including more sensitive neutrino projects, searches for the elusive dark matter in the galaxy, and new research threads in genomics and mining innovation.

Conference Day: Day 1 – November 25th, 2015

Recently the challenge of collecting, presenting and ensuring the effectiveness of scientific advice in the process of policy making is becoming increasingly important.
Especially the integration of scientific advice with decision making at the highest political offices is much debated in science policy.

The first conference on science advice to government was organized in New Zealand, in the summer of 2014 and led to the formation of the International Network of Government Science Advice, INGSA. The INGSA mandate is: “….to share experience, build capacity and develop theoretical and practical approaches to the use of scientific evidence in informing policy at all levels of government.”

In the light of CSPC 2015 is being held in the Canada’s Capital at just post federal election with a new mandate for Federal Government CSPC and the office of the Chief Scientist of Quebec are organizing this keynote session to provide insight into the crucial topic of science advice to government.

Takeaways and recommendations: 
  • Establish a sound science advisory system based on best practices in other countries
  • Reinstate a national or chief science advisor and chief scientists in key science-based departments
  • Commit to an open dialogue with scientists and the public on a long-term vision for science, technology and innovation
  • Establish firm principles prescribing science-government relations and the use of evidence into the policymaking process
  • Create a Parliamentary Office of S&T
  • Ensure science advice is independent
  • Create direct reporting lines to decision-makers
  • Focus on evidence to inform policy, distinguishing that from policy for science
  • Honest brokerage is not advocacy
  • Acknowledge the limits of knowledge and report in probabilistic terms
  • Trust in science advice is critical

How science can best service policymakers

Session Report: 

How science can best service policymakers

Keynote: Science Advice to Government

CSPC 2015: November 25, 2015

ModeratorMaryse Lassonde, President elect, Scientific Director, Royal Society of Canada, Fonds de Recherche du Quebec-Nature et Technologies; PanelistsAlan Bernstein, President & CEO, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research; Arthur Carty, Executive Director, Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Waterloo; Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of New Zealand; Remi Quirion, Chief Scientist Officer, Government of Quebec

The policy issue:

Canada’s new Liberal government has promised that science, facts and evidence will inform future policies. “This will not come easy,” said Carty, “because practices such as control over messaging and restricting federal scientists from communicating with the public and their community are now embedded in the (Canadian) system.”

Countries everywhere face challenges when it comes to collecting, presenting and ensuring the effectiveness of scientific advice in the policymaking process. In particular, what is the best approach to ensure that scientific advice is integrated within decision making at the highest political levels?

“It will require a fundamental change in attitude, philosophy and transparency within government and by the bureaucracy as well as a commitment to a dialogue with scientists and the public on science issues,” said Carty, who served as Canada’s science advisor from 2004-08.

Different countries have adopted different models: some have chief science advisors (U.K., U.S., India and New Zealand), while other countries rely on an advisory board or have both. In Canada the national science advisor was replaced with the Science and Technology Innovation Council. The new Liberal government has since established a Science Minister.

Globally, there has been an upsurge of interest and debate on issues of science advice to governments, science advisory systems and the role of chief science and scientific advisors within those systems. This interest is being driven by complex societal questions around human health and the environment and unprecedented advances in life sciences and computational sciences. “We’re moving into areas with inevitable unknowns” and “areas where governments most want our help”, said Gluckman.

Policymaking is changing as well with decision-makers under increasing pressure to deliver policy decisions faster, noted Gluckman. “The 24-hour news cycle, social media, the expectations of hyper-informed and often misinformed public, means that the concise policy cycle you see written about in textbooks just doesn’t exist.”

Gluckman also prefers the term “evidence-informed” rather than “evidence-based” decision-making since policymakers and politicians need to balance myriad interests and trade-offs in reaching decisions, including fiscal priorities, public opinion, diplomatic considerations and political ideology.

The options:

All panelists shared several suggestions for improving both the quality of science advice and the best mechanisms for sharing this advice with decision-makers (see Takeaways list).

Regardless what model for science advice is chosen, Quirion said personal relationships and trust are paramount. “Where this really counts is with informal advice”, which accounts for the majority advice he’s called upon to provide.

To help scientists better communicate their findings, he encourages them to keep their presentations to elected officials short, just four-or-five minutes. Those presentations prompted a group of MPPs to recently create a working group that will call on scientists as issues arise. First on their list: gene editing.

In Quebec, the Chief Scientist Officer is not a political appointment. The position currently reports directly to the minister of Higher Education, Research and Science, not to the premier. In addition to providing science advice, the mandate includes increasing the visibility of Quebec scientists through international partnerships and finding better ways to link science and society. He also chairs the board of the province’s three research granting agencies and encourages inter-sectoral research on issues like climate change and an aging population.

“There was no job description for this when I started four years ago. That’s the beauty of it. You write your job description as you go along,” said Quirion.

Bernstein pointed out that it’s all well and good to provide science advice, “but someone has to want it and want to hear it”. “We have some capacity building to do to get that advice listened to.” That requires a strong and coordinated science advisory mechanism to avoid giving decision-makers conflicting advice.

Advisors should also look beyond their own borders for answers. “Canada is four to five percent of the world’s scientific literature which means 95 to 96 percent of the science outside of this country … As (Louis) Pasteur said, ‘science knows no country.”

There’s no shortage of global expertise Canada can tap into, including CIFAR fellows, the International Network for Government Science Advice and the APEC Chief Science Advisors and Equivalents, the latter co-chaired by Gluckman.

“In Britain for example, when they are asked for science advice during an emergency, they will, where appropriate, call on other international experts,” said Gluckman.


Sir Peter Gluckman’s Top 10 Principles of Science Advice, Nature, March 2014;