Organized by: University of Ottawa / Office of the Chief Science Advisor
Vik Pant – Former Chief Scientist and Chief Science Advisor, Natural Resources Canada
Rachael Maxwell – Executive Director, Evidence for Democracy
Kyle Bobiwash – Assistant Professor, Indigenous Scholar, University of Manitoba
Eleanor McGrath – Research Officer, Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC)
Francesca Grifo – Scientific Integrity Official, United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Moderator: C. Scott Findlay – Professor; Researcher in Residence at the Office of the Chief Science Advisor; Associate Director at the Institute of Environment
Context: In 2018, the Office of the Chief Science Advisor, in collaboration with the Treasury Board Secretariat and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, released the Model Policy on Scientific Integrity (mSIP) implemented in 25 departments and agencies (D&As) to uphold scientific integrity (SI) of their science and research products. This panel explored the present status and barriers faced by the current version of mSIP, while gathering insights to inform Version 2.0. The panel also explored the role and relevance of the federal SIP for the broader Science Technology and Innovation (STI) ecosystem, and how the government of Canada can leverage mSIP to promote a Canada-wide SI culture.
It can be challenging to increase science accessibility without compromising federal security.
In federal science, scientific integrity policy (SIP) and other policies and directives, including value and ethics codes, are interdependent. SIP extends well beyond scientists and science and includes those who communicate, manage, and use science for decision making.
SIP is subject to challenges like poor implementation, policy withdrawal by federal departments and agencies (D&As), and lack of funds, resources or administrative support. Additionally, provincial science surveys highlight capacity building as a major challenge to provincial scientific integrity (SI), with barriers including reduction of scientific capacity, hiring delays, lack of succession planning, and over reliance on professionals outside of government science.
Not acknowledging diversity in the fundamental knowledge system and principles across D&As, cultures or communities can be a barrier to SI. Lack of integrity in data sharing may prioritize certain collaborations or groups, leaving others behind. Inclusion is necessary in knowledge generation across broader sociological and political systems.
Scientists or researchers communicating unpopular opinions or raising concerns about implicit misrepresentation may not have the freedom to do so without the fear of internal or external reprisals. Protecting legitimate scientific debates through policies that capture different scientific information and ensuring that the decision makers have a full scientific picture to make informed decisions are crucial to better decision making.
Identify and address threats to federal science security, without stifling innovative collaborations.
Build capacity in government science by hiring more scientists in their field of expertise, and allow them to use their research and transferable skills in decision making roles.
Have more multidisciplinary reviews to better understand the culture that the science system is embedded in. Diversify the definition of federal science beyond Western perspectives and include Indigenous communities.
Communicate with legislation to embed some of the SIP values within the statutes of government-run organizations. Get effective leaders to enact SIP and ensure transparency and accountability in science and science advice without fear of internal or external reprisal.
Encourage D&As to have a good understanding of the datasets/assets in their enterprise so that they are able to have full control of their data.
Equip the public with the ability to utilize shared, open data to make informed decisions. Regulate accessible data and build mechanisms to ensure safe uses of data.
David Castle – Professor in the School of Public Administration and the Gustavson School of Business at the University of Victoria and Researcher in Residence at the Office of the Chief Science Advisor
Carole Jabet – Scientific director, Fonds de recherche du Québec – Santé
Peter Phillips – Distinguished Professor, Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Saskatchewan
Claire Samson – Vice President, Programs and Planning, Canada Foundation for Innovation
Moderator: Stefan Leslie – Chief Executive Officer, Research Nova Scotia
This panel discussed the roles of provincial and federal research agencies in setting priorities, coordinating funding and serving the needs of regional research ecosystems. Representatives from provincial research organizations and federal funding agencies debated:
How national priorities align – and misalign – with provincial priority
The incentive structure within the federal model of research funding
The asymmetrical effect on provinces of vastly different fiscal capacity within a single federal research support system
System adjustments that can improve the federal-provincial partnership and better support research that benefits all Canadians.
Federal and provincial agencies both fund research directly (through projects, infrastructures, etc.) and indirectly (through financial transfers to universities, teaching hospitals, etc.). Federal and provincial agencies tend to focus on different areas.
Engagement and openness with provinces is essential when designing new programs and initiatives. Ongoing input ensures new programs and initiatives reflect current and future needs and priorities.
Provinces have different industrial interests. This generates uneven capacity from province to province. Developing national strategies also proves difficult when some national industries are concentrated in one or two provinces. National innovation programs are often not truly national.
Basic research grants tend to be small, with high input costs, low rates of success, and no guarantee of continuity, even if well reviewed.
There is a dichotomy between mission-driven and curiosity-driven research. It’s important to have a balance between the two in order to have diverse research which focuses on a variety of topics from different perspectives.
Have a funding model that ensures provincial participation in research; matching funding formulas can ensure funding is aligned with provincial science and research priorities and strategies.
Improve federal-provincial partnerships and better support research that benefits all Canadians.
Invest in research projects (partnerships projects, innovation networks, research chairs, etc.), careers (research scholars, researcher-professors, college researchers, etc.), clusters (research groups, institutes, teams, etc.) and the next generation (scholarships, fellowships, etc.).
Support research training for a more intersectoral approach (e.g., high-risk projects that explore new territories of knowledge and build on uncommon collaborations) and develop international partnerships.
Address major societal challenges such as sustainable development, climate change and AI while raising awareness about research and empowering people with evidence-based data.
Encourage the next generation to launch companies and start-ups, and develop their ideas in areas other than academia.
Raman Srivastava – Chief Data Officer and Assistant Deputy Minister, Health Canada
Teresa D’Andrea – Director General, Service and Data Modernization, Transport Canada
Vidya ShankarNarayan – Assistant Deputy Minister, Chief Information Officer, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Dominique Bohn – Assistant Deputy Minister and Chief Officer, Alberta Digital Innovation Office
Moderator: Vik Pant – Former Chief Scientist and Chief Science Advisor, Natural Resources Canada
Context: Governments, academic institutions and the private sector collect and generate a vast and ever-expanding array of data catalyzed by the internet of things and digital technologies. In the current science and technology climate, the lack of a generally accepted framework limits the potential to ascertain the true value of data and derive economic and societal benefit from data assets, digital tools and applications. This panel brought together senior public servants to discuss the challenges of implementing data governance in the public sector and approaches for considering how data assets may be leveraged to support organizational strategic decision-making
Data is often collected in resource and logistical silos and not shared across government departments, academic institutions, nonprofit and for-profit organizations, diminishing the value of this robust yet disparate data.
Complex jurisdictional challenges at provincial, federal and international levels require ‘big picture’ thinking; seeing the bigger picture and addressing complex issues is difficult when there is no access to data across all the actors in these complex systems.
Adaptive and agile data governance is essential in the current context of rapid change that requires quick pivots and decision-making; this is in contrast to conventional, hierarchical governance.
Fear of change and the unknown within many organizations, including government departments, can be a barrier to successfully implementing better data management and governance practices.
Privacy, security and data access all need to be considered when creating data governance strategies.
Promote collaboration across federal government departments, academic institutions, and private and non-profit organizations for improved data governance and data accessibility. Leverage the value of all data collected across organizations and sectors.
Work towards discovering high impact use cases related to data collaborations across organizations that demonstrate wins within the next 12 to 24 months and disseminate learnings.
Utilize existing and emerging tools and techniques to support a balance between data access and security and privacy.
Balance culture change regarding data governance and management with other priorities; culture change is a slow process and requires leadership that will lead people through the changing digital and data management landscape.
Shernaz Bamji – Professor and President, Canadian Association for Neuroscience
Jan Bjaalie – Professor and Chair, International Brain Initiative
Deanna Groetzinger – Manager, Neurological Health Charities Canada
Jason Mattingley – Professor and Co-Chair, Australian Brain Alliance
Moderator: Yves De Koninck – Professor and Chair, Canadian Brain Research Strategy
Context: In 2016, science academies from 14 nations declared that the human brain is civilization’s most precious resource. Investment in brain science is, therefore, an investment in the future of society, and nations must cooperate to understand, protect, and foster optimal development of the brain (http://bit.ly/G-SciBrain2016). Building on lessons learned from established transnational and national brain initiatives, we discussed the need and opportunity to develop a strategy where Canada can distinguish itself by setting the standard for a new model of neuroscience that is open, collaborative, transdisciplinary and ethical.
The annual healthcare costs of neurological health disorders are upwards of $61 billion and growing.
Canadian neuroscientists consistently punch above their weight on the international scene. They are among the most productive in the world and are highly cited, despite Canada investing relatively fewer dollars in research.
Canada can be a role model for how brain research is done. Canadian brain research has many strengths and is well-positioned to become a leader in conducting open, collaborative, transdisciplinary and ethical research.
Canada is a part of the International Brain Initiative but does not have a nation-wide brain research initiative (in contrast to the EU, US, and Japan). This is a hindrance to our country’s neurological and mental health.
The Canadian Brain Research Strategy (CBRS) is creating a collective nation-wide strategy that builds on Canada’s current investments and strengths in neuroscience to advance neurological and mental health for all Canadians. A major objective of the CBRS is to unify the neuroscience and mental health research ecosystem across the country.
Canada needs to establish stand-alone neurological health policies that reflect the diverse realities of our country. This includes creating a Canadian brain research initiative.
A Canadian Brain Initiative would fit well into the brain research ecosystem that already exists within Canada.
Initiatives are needed in open science, diversity and team science, transdisciplinary training, neuroethics, neuroscience-AI interface, and platform science to bridge the scales of complexity across the brain, behaviour, and society.
Large-scale international efforts are the new collaborative model needed to advance our understanding of the human brain. Canada needs to be able to keep up with, connect with, and draw on the efforts of other national and pan-national brain initiatives.
As evidenced in established and developing brain initiatives around the world, investment in brain research can stimulate growth in many other fields beyond the health sector and act as a major driver for economic and technological development.
Organized by: University of Ottawa Heart Institute
Cara Tannenbaum – Scientific Director of Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s Institute of Gender and Health, Professor, University of Montreal
David Moher – Senior Scientist, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Elham Almoli – Undergraduate student, McMaster University
Kelly Cobey – Scientist, University of Ottawa Heart Institute
Michael Hoffman – Senior Scientist, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre; Associate Professor, Departments of Medical Biophysics and Computer Science, University Health Network/University of Toronto
Clare Ardern – Physiotherapist and researcher, Department of Family Practice, University of British Columbia
Karim Khan – Scientific Director, Canadian Institutes of Health Research-Institute of Musculoskeletal Health & Arthritis; Professor, University of British Columbia
Context: Science is currently dominated by a ‘closed’ research culture. Open science is a philosophical approach that includes a set of practices that seeks to change this to make research more accessible. At present, there are a variety of ongoing initiatives and policies that seek to embed open science in Canada. Despite stakeholders espousing the value of open science, there is a key challenge in terms of effective implementation. This panel discussed challenges and suggested steps toward implementing open science practices at Canadian universities and biomedical research institutions. In addition, it discussed the connection between open science and research quality.
Open science can promote transparency, reduce waste in research, and catalyse equity, diversity and inclusion in scientific and citizen engagement.
There is currently a disconnect between ideals of open science, extant policies, and implementation at funding, research and academic institutes; this includes the tension with conventional academic performance evaluations that do not take into account open science activities like open access publishing and data-sharing.
Previous experience with integrating new policies into research to change research culture (e.g., the Canadian Institutes of Health Research sex and gender-based analysis policy) can offer insight into effective implementation and adoption of open science policies.
Fostering deeper thinking about how to integrate open science practices into research requires education and training in open science practices and the implementation of a system of auditing and feedback to monitor compliance with existing or newly introduced policies. Funding infrastructure is also important.
Research institutions should consider incorporation of open science practice metrics into performance evaluations for faculty. This would not only incentivize open science practices, but also promote researcher evaluations based on quality rather than numbers of publications or traditional metrics like impact factors.
Introduce open science early in research careers, even as early as undergraduate-level programs.
Develop digital dashboards to audit and evaluate open science practices in order to track whether we are successfully reaching policy objectives.
Create education and training programs for open science activities, including data management and sharing, and provide funding for these activities (infrastructure and personnel costs).
Provide funding to encourage meta-science on open science topics.
Organized by: Simon Fraser University, SFU Innovates and SFU Partnerships Hub
Dr. Elicia Maine – VanDusen Professor of Innovation & Entrepreneurship; Academic Director, Invention to Innovation (i2I); Special Advisor on Innovation to the VP Research; Simon Fraser University
Dr. Duncan Stewart – Partner, Deep Tech Venture Fund, Business Development Bank of Canada
Dr. Kausar Samli – Applied-Technologies Commercialization Executive, Board of Genome BC
Dr. Alejandro Adem – President, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)
Also joined by Ms. Kristen Elkow – Graphic Facilitator from Drawing Change
Moderator: Dr. Sarah Lubik – Executive Director, the Charles Chang Institute for Entrepreneurship; Director, Entrepreneurship, Simon Fraser University (SFU)
Context: Science commercialization can take 10-15 years and millions of dollars of investment with uncertain outcomes. Translating leading scientific inventions into impactful innovation has three main challenges: the time-money-uncertainty, the different incentives and timelines of academia and industry; and the typically narrow education our science and engineering researchers receive. To overcome these challenges, Canada needs a Build-for-Scale strategy, starting within university research labs and classrooms, and extending through purpose-driven translational grants, de-risking and process scale up facilities, mentoring support, to commercialization and IP strategy.
University research can and should be mobilized to respond to significant global challenges. For example, throughout the pandemic, university researchers have played a leading role in informing policy and practice, and university science-based spin offs have been essential actors. We should mobilize in the same way to meet the challenge of climate change.
Canada’s research universities and the leading researchers within them can be powerful originators of value-creating companies, supplying high-quality jobs and unique products and processes which can be exported around the world.
Canadian science innovation needs to be supported at the earliest stages while nascent ventures are still incubated within the university. We need to re-evaluate how to support continued growth of start-ups through incentives and refine programs that aren’t currently working.
Governments have a role to play in building cohesive strategies for innovation economies across specific industries—especially in areas where Canada excels. Government policy needs to send a clear message to private sector investors and early technology adopters that they support breakthrough Canadian inventions.
In Canada, a major barrier to our potential in innovation is our perception of risk and uncertainty (both culturally and by leaders of Canadian companies). Mission-oriented goals can have a strong transformative change in the mindset of researchers, scientists and engineers.
The metrics that are currently used for professional development pathways (e.g., number of papers published, grant funding, etc.) don’t allow the kind of risk-taking needed for innovative entrepreneurial activities.
Create appropriate conditions for ideas and research to succeed by building effective 2-way bridges between research labs and the industry. Create pathways and mechanisms so that talented students and professors can see the importance of taking risks to mobilize their research.
Facilitate more engagement between researchers, industry experts and policymakers at every level so they can share ideas, test value propositions, inform market-driven research opportunities, inform new product development and inform innovation policy.
Governments have a role in creating pathways and showing students that what they will do as scientists has repercussions on society–no matter how theoretical their work is. This can be done through de-risking, technology scale-up vouchers and enabling scientist innovators to strategically utilize university and government research facilities and expertise, both pre-and-post venture formation.
Help scientist innovators develop an entrepreneurial mindset. Provide support for the licensing/copyright of intellectual property and provide a continuum of programming support via relevant academic and non-credit programming, as well as incubators and accelerators, to scale up ventures.
Create evolving and efficient pathways for commercialization. Provide training to build up a culture of entrepreneurship and risk taking; provide a safe space for students and post-docs to develop their entrepreneurial skills without having to take on extreme risks; encourage academic faculty members to take on start-up opportunities and allow leaves of absence for such ventures.
Incentivize universities and their start-ups to work together with a longer term, ecosystem perspective. For example, the university could get a small equity position in the start-up instead of money. The subsequent growth of the start-up then adds value to the start-up itself as well as to the university.
Having investment funds that make decisions informed by local needs can benefit the public interest by not being purely focused on financial returns.
Encourage university leaders, faculty, staff and students to be active members of their communities. Facilitate university-community exchange of ideas and mobilize university knowledge for the greater good.
Scott Findlay – Professor, Researcher in Residence at the Office of the Chief Science Advisor, Associate Director, Institute of Environment
David Guston – Foundation Professor and founding director of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, Arizona State University
Melanie Rock – Associate Professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences, and member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary
Gwendolyn Blue – Associate Professor in the Department of Geography, University of Calgary
Kelly Bronson – Canada Research Chair in Science and Society in Sociology, University of Ottawa
Context: Developed with the support of the Institute for Science, Society, and Policy (ISSP) at the University of Ottawa, this panel addressed the role of expertise in science policy from a range of different perspectives including academia, policy and civil society as well as the natural and social sciences. Panelists discussed the challenges of bringing diverse forms of expertise together to offer potential solutions to policy problems.
Science, technology and innovation (STI) policy can be thought of as a guideline for the appropriate use of science, deployment and dissemination of technology, and the facilitation of innovation.
STI policy expertise refers to declarative or procedural knowledge held by an individual considered to be an expert. However, the definition of who qualifies as an STI policy expert is ambiguous and is not universally agreed upon. Among other characteristics, an STI policy expert may have relevant knowledge in a particular context or may be an individual to whom others delegate authority on a certain topic.
Experts have low-dimensional views of very high-dimensional policy problems. A multitude of experts from different perspectives are required to appreciate the full dimensionality of a problem.
Social sciences and ethics experts are needed to assist in the translation of scientific knowledge into inclusive and appropriate science policy as well as in the integration of science advice with democratic norms.
Lived experience experts can provide specific knowledge of the local context of an STI issue. The expertise of these individuals is helpful for designing adaptive STI policies that are effective at the local level.
Including diverse expert perspectives increases the likelihood that all important dimensions of STI policies are considered.
Identify and recruit potential STI policy experts based on the specific context of how their knowledge will be applied to policy making.
Solicit the expertise of STI experts from different disciplines, including those with expertise in science policy per se (those who have learned methods for doing science policy), as well as individuals with lived experience expertise.
Address barriers to inclusion (e.g., resource inadequacies) to facilitate the meaningful participation of STI experts from all backgrounds in policymaking discussions.
Context: The pandemic has shown how research partnerships between post-secondary institutions and industry have the potential to speed up the commercialization of innovative solutions to pressing problems. Large investments and a sense of urgency have led to a large number of successful cross-sectoral partnerships. As we slowly resume our day-to-day activities, there is a need to continue to engage in these partnerships to increase the impact of research. There is also a need to bring new companies into the fold, including those that have historically been underrepresented in research partnerships due to their industry, size, or the characteristics of their leadership. Despite these intentions, it can be challenging to create successful partnerships between sectors with differing expectations, incentives and realities. Moreover, it can be hard for partners to find one another in such a large, dispersed country. This panel explored best practices and innovative solutions for creating partnerships between industry and post-secondary institutions that benefit all parties.
Canada is a large, diverse nation with a wide variety of needs and strengths, so there is no unified national innovation ecosystem.
Countries with great innovation ecosystems follow certain best practices, including having publicly funded challenges which focus on initiatives of national importance, providing funding for all stages from technology development to commercialization, implementing policies that encourage entrepreneurship, implementing clear IP policies, providing tax credits, and instituting a supportive regulatory environment.
NRC’s challenge programs focus on rallying around common Canadian goals.
While academia and research institutions in Canada excel at research, partnerships with industry are also needed to bridge the gap to commercialization. Government funding through NRC’s IRAP and NSERC grants provide support for all stakeholders in the partnerships.
Startup entrepreneurs are focused on bringing technology to market, but they generally do not have the same depth of understanding of the ecosystem as those with more experience; small and medium-sized enterprises sometimes have the same issue. Collaborations can help fill gaps in knowledge, but multinationals are not always willing to participate in collaborative innovation. An innovation supercluster could help promote the collaboration process.
For smaller sole proprietor companies, programs which have multiple partners each contributing small amounts and sharing the benefits can be advantageous for both the company and the partners.
Upfront conversations are critical to solving the IP ownership issue. Knowing what issues might arise is important, especially for VC-backed companies that prefer to have ownership of both foreground and background IP.
Diversity of opinion and backgrounds should be incorporated upfront. Diversity is key to building strong research teams and it should never be an afterthought.
Listen to people within the ecosystem and build trust between partners. Craft strategies that are beneficial to all parties involved. Develop ways to communicate and share knowledge between academia and industry.
Organized by: Public Services and Procurement Canada – Laboratories Canada
Roseann O’Reilly Runte – President and CEO, Canada Foundation for Innovation
Malcolm M. Campbell – Professor & Vice-President Research, University of Guelph
Walter T. Dixon – Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Alberta
Catalina Lopez-Correa – Executive Director and Chief Scientific Officer, CanCOGeN
Hope Weiler – Research Scientist, Health Canada and Adjunct Professor, McGill University
Fred Wrona – Special Advisor to the ADM at Public Services and Procurement Canada, Professor and Svare Research Chair in Integrated Watershed Science, University of Calgary
Moderator: Natalka Cmoc – Director General of Science and Policy, Science and Parliamentary Infrastructure Branch, Public Services and Procurement Canada.
Context: The federal science community has long identified barriers to science excellence, collaboration and innovation in Canada. Laboratories Canada has announced a new strategic approach to federal science with the vision of creating a more integrated and agile approach to building federal laboratories. This panel brought together experts to advise Laboratories Canada in creating enabling conditions and solutions to address institutional and governance barriers. Many of these barriers – ranging from public participation, security issues, safeguarding intellectual property – are not new issues, but we may finally have the platform to start pulling them down or doing things entirely differently.
Infrastructure provides the means through which innovative research and discovery can occur. Infrastructure can facilitate interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research.
Science has become increasingly team-based and interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary in nature. Collaboration is key to tackling major national and global issues.
Global challenges are becoming increasingly critical and addressing them properly requires state-of-the-art equipment and infrastructure.
Sharing data and developing platforms to enable connected infrastructure is critical.
We approach most of the challenges in infrastructure based on previous experience, but in order to address complex scientific, societal and economic issues, fresh approaches are key. Understanding transdisciplinary approaches, recognizing multiple knowledge systems and fostering collaboration are all ways to rethink how we approach certain issues.
When designing infrastructure, consider jurisdictional differences in how IP commercialization is managed, how space is managed, how equipment is shared and maintained, and what information management systems and cybersecurity protocols are in place to safeguard research.
When building research facilities, it’s important to think about safety, economy and convenience. Also consider providing inclusive spaces where people can collaborate with industry and transfer ideas.
Address barriers to innovation and create conditions for research to thrive.
Improve research mobility between academia and government to benefit both institutions.
Public engagement and involvement is an important component of science design and delivery. It should shape how infrastructure is designed and implemented. Engaging non-scientists in important research topics creates visibility for science and increases interaction between the general public and the science community.
Organized by: Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)
James Wilsdon – Digital Science Professor of Research Policy at the University of Sheffield and Director of the Research on Research Institute (RoRI)
Arian Steenbruggen – Director of the Domain Science, Dutch Research Council (NWO)
Shirley M. Tilghman – Professor of Molecular Biology and Public Affairs, Princeton University
Moderator: Danika Goosney – Vice-President, Research Grants and Scholarships Directorate at NSERC
Context: Internationally, research funders are experimenting with ways to leverage their limited resources more strategically, effectively, and equitably. Powering Discovery, the 2021 Council of Canadian Academies report sponsored by NSERC, describes many promising methods — from innovations in program design and delivery, to shaping research practices and norms. This report has also been instrumental for the development of NSERC’s next strategic plan, NSERC 2030. This interactive panel brings together international perspectives to examine these initiatives and to reflect on how research funders can apply experimentation to foster a diverse and resilient scientific workforce, to support research excellence in all its forms across disciplines and career stages, and to be responsive to changing social and scientific landscapes.
There is a growing hyper-competition for funding, which is putting enormous pressure on researchers and funding agencies alike. Funding agencies around the world are reflecting on how to best improve their funding practices, and many are experimenting with new approaches. These approaches include: reducing the administrative burden on researchers, research institutions and funding agencies (e.g., by pre-screening applications and restricting resubmissions); segmenting awards by career stage; utilizing double-blind applications, partial randomization, narrative CVs and ensuring diverse peer review panels (to reduce bias); and providing a diversity of funding modes to meet the diverse research community’s variety of needs.
Evidence-informed decision-making in the design of research funding practices is important. However, there is often little evidence available on their effectiveness. Evaluations of funding practices are rarely disseminated, and their rigour can vary, which limits opportunities for meta-analysis. There is also no baseline to compare how new practices, like randomized grant allocation and other experimental approaches, have changed the way funds are allocated as opposed to more conventional ways of funding. Additionally, what works well for one funder might not work for another.
There is often too much focus on a one-dimensional definition of excellence (e.g., focusing only on high impact papers).
It takes time, dedication, strong national support, and good international collaboration/coordination to build capacity for experimentation, to drive evidence-informed research funding policies and practices, and to make progress towards more responsible and responsive research assessment.
Work is underway internationally to advance more responsible research assessment practices, through initiatives like the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), the Research on Research Institute, and the Global Research Council. Canada’s federal granting agencies are engaged in this work and have been signatories of DORA since 2019.
Explore how to best support researchers at all career stages as well as how to ensure equitable funding support to less competitive regions and institutions.
Cultivate EDI with equity charters, programs, and fellowships for disadvantaged applicants or diversity targets for grants. Support Indigenous research and researchers (e.g., through dedicated funding programs, Indigenous research review committees, funding for community research teams, etc.). Develop ways of allocating research grants to encourage women and/or other under-represented groups to choose STEM careers, and support them throughout their careers.
Implement mechanisms to support interdisciplinary, high-risk, and responsive research (e.g., adaptations to review processes that can help reduce bias, longer-duration awards, mission-oriented calls, etc.).
Experiment with methods to better support research professionals. Conventional funding systems promote the hiring and training of students, but they are being trained in numbers the academic system cannot absorb, and it can be difficult for researchers to allocate limited funding to permanent staff whose salaries are higher than student stipends.
Experiment with different timelines for grants. For example, open competitions without deadlines can remove a part of the pressure since researchers can submit proposals in their own time and as needed. There is some evidence that this can reduce the total number of proposals received by funding agencies.
Develop effective methods of evaluating whether new experimental practices are successful, and ensure funding agencies have the expertise to do so. Both qualitative and quantitative data from these evaluations should be considered and, where possible, shared across funders to enable a greater understanding of what works in what context.
As part of its strategic planning exercise, NSERC has published a series of discussion papers to solicit feedback from external stakeholders on strategic issues relevant to natural sciences and engineering research funding. Anyone interested in providing their input can consult these papers and share their feedback and ideas.