Our multi-stakeholder Alliance has been calling for a whole-of-government, integrated ecosystem approach to federal research funding and innovation policy for a number of years.
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Last week on October 6, 2022 the Government of Canada, through two departments—Health and Innovation, Science and Industry—launched the Advisory Panel on the Federal Research Support System. The panel will aim to provide independent, expert policy advice on the structure, governance and management of the federal system supporting research and talent to position Canadian researchers for success.
Research Canada could not agree more with the spirit of the government’s initiative. Our multi-stakeholder Alliance has been calling for a whole-of-government, integrated ecosystem approach to federal research funding and innovation policy for a number of years. But with these initiatives, the devil is always in the details and there are not yet many of these for us to fully understand what this initiative will mean to the health research and innovation ecosystem.
One question we have is will the panel only focus on the relationships among the federal research granting agencies—CIHR, NSERC, SSHRC—and the relationship between these agencies and the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) or will it expand its focus in the future to include other relevant agencies that are part of the federal research funding apparatus? It is a reasonable question given the mandate of the panel which is to modernize the federal research funding ecosystem to maximize the impact of investments in both research excellence and downstream innovation. It is not reasonable to expect that you can achieve such a mandate by only focusing on four agencies. But why then does the government not state that this area of focus on the relationships among four of the funding bodies is just a first step in a larger process that will focus on all of the funding bodies which comprise the federal research support system?
If the Panel does expand the scope of its work, will it also expand the panel’s membership? According to the Terms of Reference, the panel will represent a range of perspectives, including active researchers, senior administrators at post-secondary institutions and individuals from other sectors who are partners in Canada’s research ecosystem (e.g. industry and non-governmental organizations). The current panel includes members drawn largely from the academic sector—primarily universities—which, while an extremely important sector within our research and innovation ecosystem, do not represent other partners such as academic health science centres, colleges, health charities, Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCEs), and biotechnology, medical device and biopharmaceutical companies.
It does seem that this has been put together rather quickly and there is not much time for consultation if a report is to be delivered in December of this year. We suspect this is because the Government wants to include any costs associated with restructuring at least part of the federal research funding system in Federal Budget 2023.
It will be important for our community to ask these questions as well as others we know you all must have and at the same time be involved in this process to make sure that the conclusions of the report represent the best interests of our respective sectors and, very importantly, the health research and innovation ecosystem.