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Science Day in Canada results revealed!

September 16, 2009

Reshaping Canadian science policy is a hot topic (relatively speaking…) these days, and scientists, industry leaders, NGOs, and government leaders are all making their voices heard.

Today, I came across the summary (.pdf here) of Science Day in Canada – the one-day science policy forum hosted in May by the Public Policy Forum of Canada. It’s a thought-provoking document, and makes some very good suggestions (along with some fairly unlikely hopes and dreams). From the Executive Summary:

For Canada to become a global innovation champion, a culture and practice of innovation must take hold within the research community, the private sector, government and among the general public. To achieve this, participants at Science Day in Canada outlined six areas of attention as a way forward.
Canada must strive to be a global leader in those areas where it can excel. Continually aiming for bronze will only diminish our prosperity. Guided by a national innovation vision, we must target our efforts and shoot for gold.
To succeed globally, more Canadians must adopt an entrepreneurial ethos – in the private sector for sure, but also within government and the research community. We must train scientists, business people and public servants to be entrepreneurs, not just employees. And they need the right regulatory and investment system to be able to succeed.
Sectors must collaborate more closely so that knowledge reaches those with the creativity to transform it into something useful. This will require more co-location of private firms within university research facilities, exchanges and fellowships and an academic reward system that encourages collaboration.
Government’s financial resources must be allocated to organizations in a way that maximizes benefits. STIC should develop principles to transparently guide allocation of innovation resources amongst the various funding agencies and institutions.
Researchers must communicate more effectively to make their work more accessible and meaningful to journalists and the broader public.
All sectors, and those most directly involved in innovation especially, need to move from description to prescription. Canada’s strengths and weaknesses are increasingly

For Canada to become a global innovation champion, a culture and practice of innovation must take hold within the research community, the private sector, government and among the general public. To achieve this, participants at Science Day in Canada outlined six areas of attention as a way forward.

  • Canada must strive to be a global leader in those areas where it can excel. Continually aiming for bronze will only diminish our prosperity. Guided by a national innovation vision, we must target our efforts and shoot for gold.
  • To succeed globally, more Canadians must adopt an entrepreneurial ethos – in the private sector for sure, but also within government and the research community. We must train scientists, business people and public servants to be entrepreneurs, not just employees. And they need the right regulatory and investment system to be able to succeed.
  • Sectors must collaborate more closely so that knowledge reaches those with the creativity to transform it into something useful. This will require more co-location of private firms within university research facilities, exchanges and fellowships and an academic reward system that encourages collaboration.
  • Government’s financial resources must be allocated to organizations in a way that maximizes benefits. STIC should develop principles to transparently guide allocation of innovation resources amongst the various funding agencies and institutions.
  • Researchers must communicate more effectively to make their work more accessible and meaningful to journalists and the broader public.
  • All sectors, and those most directly involved in innovation especially, need to move from description to prescription. Canada’s strengths and weaknesses are increasingly well known and it is time for leaders in all sectors to initiate the changes needed for Canada to succeed.

While these goals are laudable, it’s not exactly clear how some of them can be achieved with concrete policy adjustments (shooting for gold, adopting an entrepreneurial ethos…), though the main text has some ideas. Other ideas sound attractive in theory (increasing industry-academic research collaboration), though the numbers suggest  they won’t work. Placing private enterprise in university research facilities is a non-starter – imagine the outcry! A Glaxo-Smith Kline lab next to a pharmacology lecture hall? Forget it.

Other ideas, though, are certainly worth endorsing. Reexamining Canada’s R&D benefit system should be a top priority. Despite implementing a highly generous tax credit system, industrial R&D hasn’t grown. This is partly due to the lack of awareness among small and medium enterprises (SMEs), but is also because it requires up-front investment by companies whose biggest problem is a lack of capital. Perhaps direct investment is a better strategy, especially considering Canada’s very poor VC community.

The other suggestion I like is the need for greater communication by scientists. Getting research into the public sphere reminds the public of the importance of the work being done, will doubtless increase support for basic research, and will also provide no small encouragement to the scientists doing the work. Increased access for journalists, bloggers, etc. will help this.

There are more details and positive suggestions in the document. Hopefully it will serve as a starting point for further discussion – for instance, at the Canadian Science Policy Conference next month.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. SpungeBob permalink
    September 17, 2009 02:15

    Once again, “thinkers” – probably MBAs with an Internet connection – talk about science without making the difference between science and industrial innovation.
    Science is a long term endeavour through which Mankind questions the Universe it lives in. It is not limited to “techno-sciences”, which are a subset of science.
    This will to shoot for gold, and despise bronze, is a symptom of the productivism doctrine that is reigning now. This doctrine only recognizes the ratio between the output, in terms of money, and the input. It does not value work, knowledge or ethics. It looks for global wealth, not for its distribution. By concentrating on gold, the risk is, if the targets are misidentified, to end up wasting resources. Scientists know that it much easier and faster to dismantle teams with expertise than to build them. You cannot just move money around as in the stock market. As the evolution of science and techno-sciences is by nature difficult to predict, the risk is high, and these “thinkers” should be watched carefully.

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