NSERC 2030: Discovery. Innovation. Inclusion.
Enhancing connectivity in Canada’s research ecosystem
This document is one of a series of discussion papers generated by NSERC staff to foster discussion during the development of the NSERC 2030 strategic plan. Items presented do not represent policy directions; they are meant to elicit discussion among NSERC’s stakeholders. Similarly, all themes discussed in these papers are cost-neutral: they would not require new program funding or cuts to existing programming in order to fund new initiatives.
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NSERC maintains and fosters many beneficial connections within the research ecosystem in Canada and internationally. NSERC has demonstrated its capacity as an agile funder, responding to the needs of the research community and government partners through theme-driven funding opportunities. In parallel, NSERC has administered a range of programs dedicated to building connectivity across the research ecosystem and increased formal and informal engagements with diverse stakeholder groups. To maximize impact, efficiency and client focus, NSERC is looking to renew its role as a convener within the research ecosystem and leverage its existing connections with Canadian and international players.
The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) report Powering Discovery(CCA, 2021) and other experts have identified key drivers that could increase the demand for connectivity in the decade ahead. These include intense competition for funding; deepening connections between science and civil society; research collaborations that cross national, sectoral and disciplinary boundaries; the recognition that equity, diversity and inclusion are required to achieve world-class research; the need for knowledge translation; a shift towards open, yet safeguarded, science; and the need to secure Canadian intellectual property.
Connectivity is also a priority for NSERC’s stakeholders. NSERC 2030 surveys have indicated a need to connect researchers with other actors to support more “team science” approaches, to develop international collaborations and to tackle large-scale problems. As significant resources are required to develop and maintain strong relationships, NSERC is seeking feedback on novel ideas, new approaches and best practices for enhancing connectivity within the Canadian research ecosystem.
Enhancing impact through connectivity
NSERC has a strong track record of investing in both investigator-driven fundamental research and partnership programs. NSERC programs provide an established and reputable peer review process, and allow partners to leverage funds and de-risk investments.
NSERC is exploring how to work more effectively with other research funders to reduce duplication and provide a coordinated suite of equitable and inclusive opportunities to researchers while reducing administrative burden for agencies and applicants. Examples of options being considered include:
- expanding NSERC’s practice of working with science-based departments and agencies (SBDAs) and other federally funded not-for-profits and provincial funders to supplement NSERC funding in priority areas (e.g., climate change)
- increasing funding for international partnerships with funders abroad to facilitate global research and training
- supporting the community and engaging with stakeholders to ensure access to and planning for major research facilities in Canada and abroad
- exploring how NSERC’s Discovery grants and other peer review results can be leveraged by other funders in Canada (i.e., NSERC seal of approval to reduce merit/peer review duplication)
- reinforcing the Government of Canada’s national and international science policy leadership to drive changes in natural sciences and engineering (NSE) research practices, as was done for Dimensions, Tri-Agency EDI Action Plan, Setting new directions to support Indigenous research and research training in Canada, San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA, n.d.), Research Data Management and Research security.
Building and strengthening engagement with specific communities
The Tri-Agency (NSERC, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council [SSHRC] and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research [CIHR]) is currently undertaking efforts to deepen connections with Indigenous and underrepresented communities, organizations and researchers, as described in the Tri-Agency EDI Action Plan and the Setting new directions to support Indigenous research and research training in Canada strategic plan. Extensive engagement and co-development with diverse and discipline-specific communities will inform NSERC’s decision making and program development processes.
While resource constraints exist, there are opportunities for NSERC to establish effective, coordinated means for engaging with diverse communities to create new opportunities while addressing the potential to overburden those who are underrepresented.
Deepening the connections between science and society
NSERC is considering how to best demonstrate the positive impact of science and engineering research on societal challenges. Impacts include discoveries and innovations arising from investigator-initiated and partnered research, and the use of research to benefit local communities enabled by colleges (includes CEGEPs and polytechnics). In parallel, participatory and community-based research is becoming more prominent and provides new opportunities for science funders.
NSERC’s science promotion programs and communication initiatives such as the PromoScience program, Science Odyssey and Science Literacy Week are intended to directly reach diverse members of the public and help them benefit from the valuable contributions of science and engineering.
Enhancing collaboration with other government departments, agencies and other levels of government
NSERC is building and strengthening its connections with other departments and agencies, parliamentarians, and other levels of government. The new standing committee on science and research creates an opportunity for NSERC to engage more deeply with parliamentary committees and to increase bi-directional communication with other departments and agencies working in science and innovation. NSERC can also act as an interface between the NSE community and government, facilitating the mobilization of knowledge generated by Canadian researchers.
There is also potential for NSERC to engage further with provincial governments and science funders while ensuring appropriate coordination and consultation.
Developing a holistic approach to external relations
NSERC is open to developing a more coherent approach to external relations to foster relationships in an integrated, client-focused, inclusive, and strategic manner. Key principles include ensuring that relationships are appropriately resourced and driven by client needs. Existing connections with NSE disciplinary societies and community liaison committees continue to provide effective feedback and business intelligence that enhance NSERC’s program and policy efficiency and impact. Future engagement with these stakeholders could help provide guiding principles for identifying and prioritizing potential partners and coordinating engagements across the Tri-Agency.
In addition, NSERC will further explore the use of innovative digital tools to enhance the ability of communities to connect, such as the match-making service provided for the NSERC Alliance COVID-19 grants.
- What mechanisms are needed to facilitate connections between research and innovation actors in Canada? Which programs at other organizations have been successful? Where are the gaps?
- How should NSERC prioritize decision-making for international opportunities?
- How can NSERC and NSE researchers evolve their roles in connecting the broader public to investments in NSE? What can NSERC do in the next 10 years to build and deepen this connection?
Council of Canadian Academies. (2021). Powering Discovery: The Expert Panel on International Practices for Funding Natural Sciences and Engineering Research. Ottawa, ON: Council of Canadian Academies. Retrieved from https://cca-reports.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Powering-Discovery-Full-Report-EN_DIGITAL_FINAL.pdf
DORA. (n.d.) San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment. Retrieved from https://sfdora.org/
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