Re/innovating innovation

By Ted Hewitt

This article was originally published in the University of Manitoba’s ResearchLIFE summer 2018 edition.

Canada’s science and innovation agenda is vital among current national priorities.

The Government of Canada recognizes that fundamental science is essential to economic growth, but that it must also work together with innovators in all fields for research results to reach their full potential.

The University of Manitoba knows this first-hand as a partner of the recently announced Protein Industries Supercluster, which will look at new ways to grow, process and market plant proteins. Activities at the core of the supercluster focus on genetic research, but expertise from social sciences and humanities, such as law, economics, sociology, business and ethics, will be integral to helping Canada be a leader in agricultural production and, ultimately, help feed the world.

Social sciences and humanities fill a key role in all innovation. Collaboration is fundamental to the health, functioning and sustainability of the innovation ecosystem. This is what we need in order to avoid the stuff of Jennifer Doudna’s nightmares.

The world is facing serious international issues—of climate change, increased migration, inequality, faltering economies, health, food and water insecurity, and cyber insecurity. Militant groups are defying traditional boundaries. Populist and radical movements have surged around the world. And changes to society and to economies are challenging global trade patterns and international relations.

I recently participated in a mission to Mexico City with colleagues from postsecondary institutions in Canada and Mexico. Greater talent exchange, research collaboration and Indigenous high education dominated discussions.

It is clear to everyone that collaboration across borders and across disciplines is paramount for meeting the needs of the 21st-century world.

Much of the fundamental research today is based on problem-solving and is carried out by interdisciplinary teams, and as research funding agencies must continue to find greater ways of working together. Reinvigorating the research ecosystem is now more important than ever.

Ministers Kirsty Duncan and Ginette Petitpas Taylor announced the creation of the Canada Research Coordinating Committee (CRCC) in October as part of the federal government’s response to the Fundamental Science Review’s recommendations. CRCC’s mandate is to improve coordination efforts between Canada's research funding agencies—the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research—as well as the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

CRCC members are working together to strengthen Canada's ability to grow in a rapidly evolving global research landscape, while focusing on key priority areas such as strengthening equity and diversity in research; increasing the capacity of Indigenous communities to conduct research and partner with the broader research community; and improving support for the next generation of scientists and scholars.

The funding announced in Budget 2018 will be instrumental in carrying out the CRCC’s priorities; in particular, the $3.8 million in support of engaging with Indigenous communities and stakeholders to identify new ways of doing research together and creating partnerships that are led by Indigenous researchers with the broader research community; and the $275 million over five years for programming focused on innovative and rapid response research that is international, interdisciplinary and high risk.

Budget 2018 also included additional funding for the Canada Research Chairs Program to support emerging scholars as they turn their dreams into reality. Ultimately, they will be ones responsible for researching and finding solutions for tomorrow’s biggest issues.

The CRCC is working to find more effective ways of linking government science with academic research to increase research capacity, outreach and impact. By supporting and promoting collaboration across the academic, public, private and not-for-profit sectors—nationally and internationally—we can examine the cultural and technical tensions affecting health, food, the environment and everything in between. We can then ensure that the knowledge gained meets the needs of Canada’s own research community and of those who will put this knowledge into action.