Operating context and key risks

Operating context

The Government of Canada and NSERC recognize that Canada’s future prosperity will be determined by the ability of Canadians to harness the results of investments in natural sciences and engineering research and development. New innovations in emerging and disruptive technologies in areas such as clean technologies, big data analytics and artificial intelligence are driving the need for new skills, ideas and innovations.

NSERC’s main stakeholders are Canada’s postsecondary institutions, their faculty, their students, and Canadian business enterprises that conduct and fund R&D. Canadian universities, colleges and polytechnics are challenged by increasing enrolments, an ageing faculty, the lack of diversity of faculty and students in science and engineering, restricted growth of operating budgets, and the pressure to equip their graduates with market ready skills that employers are demanding. Canadian businesses are struggling to invest in R&D and become more innovative. Most NSERC programs are demand-driven and are impacted by the challenges facing our primary stakeholders. For example, an aging university faculty slows the hiring of younger researchers and female faculty. NSERC’s Research Partnership program’s potential growth is affected by stagnant business R&D investment.

As a small agency, NSERC may be limited in its ability to reallocate/utilize resources effectively to meet operational needs, stakeholder expectations, and respond to government priorities. Governance and decision-making underpin NSERC’s ability to manage change.

Key risks

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) produces a Corporate Plan annually that highlights major corporate projects and the associated planning, as well as a Corporate Risk Profile that includes strategic risks along with risk mitigation activities.

NSERC’s corporate priorities and associated key commitments were identified in consideration of the two 2018-19 strategic risks:

  1. Information infrastructure and grants management: NSERC is unable to manage technological change and resource pressures. Specifically, NSERC may not be able to effectively allocate its limited resources to support internal and external pressures while developing a common grants management system which may impact the cost, complexity and timeliness of NSERC program delivery.
  2. Responding to changing priorities: NSERC is unable to manage policy and program change. Specifically, NSERC may be limited in its ability to respond to government priorities (i.e., government’s response to the Fundamental Science Review and new initiatives resulting from the Innovation and Skills Plan).

The 2018-19 Corporate Risk profile presents the key underpinning operational risks to which NSERC and corporate projects are exposed, an analysis of risk exposure and, once reviewed with management, the planned response approach for each risk.

Key risks

Risks Risk response strategy and effectiveness Link to department’s Core Responsibilities Link to mandate letter commitments and any government wide or departmental priorities (as applicable)

1. Information infrastructure and grants management: NSERC is unable to manage technological change and resource pressures. Specifically, NSERC may not be able to effectively allocate its limited resources to support internal and external pressures while developing a common grants management system which may impact the cost, complexity and timeliness of NSERC program delivery.

NSERC worked together with SSHRC and CIHR to replace their respective ageing and disparate grants management systems with a shared solution. The Presidents of the three granting agencies formally approved the decision to move forward with planning for a common Tri-agency grants management solution, 2018.

Activities to improve data management services have been scoped into the Tri-agency Data Strategy which is required by Privy Council Office (PCO) to be in place by September 2019.

The Bi-Council Data Governance Committee, which provides oversight and alignment on the quality and integrity of bi-agency data collection, management and use of data, addressed a variety of data management issues and priorities pertaining to Open Data, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, data privacy and data visualization. Funding Natural Sciences and Engineering Research and Training

Funding Natural Sciences and Engineering Research and Training

 

2. Responding to changing priorities: NSERC is unable to manage policy and program change. Specifically, NSERC may be limited in its ability to respond to government priorities (i.e., government’s response to the Fundamental Science Review and new initiatives resulting from the Innovation and Skills Plan).

Steps have been taken to enhance and support greater interagency coordination, including: creation of the CRCC and, more particularly, the CRCC Secretariat; firming up of Tri-agency bodies and coordination mechanisms, including executive management governance; creation of the Executive Vice-Presidents Committee to oversee Tri-agency program related initiatives;

CASD is exploring options to develop a portfolio management/change management office that would coordinate change management for projects across the agency.

Funding Natural Sciences and Engineering Research and Training

Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Mandate Letter:

Examine options to strengthen recognition of, and support for, fundamental research to support new discoveries.

Innovation and Skills Plan

Support leading-edge research for innovative and job-creating businesses.

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