As NSERC moves towards 2020, we can enumerate a number of clear strengths and opportunities to build on. We have built strong partnerships across the research and innovation ecosystem in Canada, embracing and connecting the private sector, universities, colleges and polytechnics, government-led research labs, training partners, and other non-governmental players.
The organization has a stable and effective set of investment mechanisms. Our investments are backed by a highly functional quality-control process; panels of researchers review and evaluate research proposals submitted by their peers. Because reviewers volunteer their time, the system is also cost-effective.
Previous reforms to the system significantly increased the stringency and rigour of the review process as well as the way investment funds are allocated amongst the natural sciences and engineering research community in Canada. A recent international review of these programs concluded that the reforms have been a clear success.
Throughout this process and in the years since, NSERC has benefited from a profound level of engagement and connection with the research community. We continue to receive strong application pressure for investment funds and, despite a more stringent system, we have a robust pipeline of high-quality research programs being funded. Such a result is perhaps not surprising given the high quality of research training programs in Canada that have produced a growing number of well-prepared and well-qualified applicants. The growing reality, however, is that the average Discovery grant is insufficient to support the full scale of investigation required by researchers. Scaled investments are necessary to maximize our usage of Canada’s natural sciences and engineering research community.
NSERC creates value for Canada by investing in scientific1 inquiry and discovery research. This is at the core of NSERC's mandate. In doing so, we have established the powerful brain trust needed to fuel this country's knowledge-based economy. We invest heavily in people to ensure continuous renewal of this brain trust, which will, in turn, claim numerous world-firsts in knowledge on behalf of Canadians.
Discoveries build the foundation for innovation and economic growth and demonstrate research excellence. These discoveries arise because researchers have the freedom to explore the frontiers of knowledge, to probe the unexplained and unexpected. A priority for NSERC is to encourage researchers to fully utilize this freedom to be bold in their investigations and to continue to raise the level of research enabled by our discovery programs. Enhancing discovery research also demands the responsibility to be aware of global challenges and societal needs, and the willingness to be influenced by each. For NSERC, we consider that research excellence involves taking an integrated view of knowledge creation and knowledge mobilization. Using this approach, we can be discoverers and innovators. It is not a case of either-or. For Canada to command influence in the global knowledge-based economy we must succeed at both.
Discovery and innovation, in fact, are two beads on the same looped string. Each one informs and propels the other. Being strong at innovation also boosts discovery. Accordingly, NSERC has made significant investments in tools to build two-way connections between this brain trust and industry. We have demonstrated considerable effectiveness in working with the private sector and our partnerships have, in effect, created a second level of quality assurance. The collaboration with knowledge users such as companies has provided the ability to effectively assess, validate, and de-risk ideas, concepts, and inventions for further investment.
By investing in discovery research, creating productive partnerships with industry and providing strong support for student training in research at all levels, NSERC has a unique perspective, a line-of-sight into the entire research enterprise. We create value by convening stakeholders, building consensus and mobilizing resources in the natural sciences and engineering in Canada and providing informed opinion to policy and decision makers on science-based issues. Internally, we have worked to make NSERC an agile and responsive organization by dismantling artificial barriers between discovery and innovation targets and streamlining programs.
NSERC 2020 focuses on what we can do to expand on those activities where we create value – creating a foundation of discovery and strategic industrial partnerships. It builds on the assessment of trends, gaps, and opportunities in the research ecosystem. It seeks to maximize the efficacy and extend the reach of existing tools, while also taking advantage of new modalities. With the new strategic plan, NSERC 2020, we can contribute to positive change.