The federal government has commissioned a study of Canada’s science and technology landscape, due by the end of the summer, that will evaluate areas of growth and potentially influence public policy.
Industry Canada has charged the Council of Canadian Academies — an arms-length umbrella organization that includes the Royal Society of Canada, the Canadian Academy of Engineering and the Canadian Academy of Health Science — to conduct the research. The Council is working with a number of industry associations, including the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) to distribute an online survey that will form part of the preliminary report that will be submitted on August 30. That report will also be assessed by an “expert committee” with representatives from NSERC, academia and the private sector.
The government has asked the Council to look at a number of areas, including the technology applications where Canada excels in a global context, those which have significant economic or social benefits, and the science and technology infrastructure that gives Canada some natural advantages.
“Industry Canada’s primary interest relates to those sciences that have potential for commercial application,” said a memo from the ministry which outlines the research scope. “The project is to examine and report on Canada’s S&T ‘assets’ – it is not to recommend priorities.”
The memo also says, however, that the project will help “set the context” for the government’s science and technology policies. Industry Canada spokespeople said they were unable to comment at press time.
Peter Nicholson, former chief strategy officer at BCE and president of the Council, said the research will also come from existing studies within the public realm and those conducted independently by the government. Another component will include journal and patent databases to examine where Canada stands in terms of its ability to protect and promote the intellectual property of its innovators.
“This will probably tie into the work the government will do on S&T strategy in the Fall. Clearly it will be a piece of input to that,” he said. “What we’ll be looking at in various discipline is how does Canada rate in this field?”
Richard Hawkins, a professor at the University of Calgary who will sit on the expert committee, said the research might uncover areas where Canada is strong, but not highly regarded and that need to be nurtured.
“The aim of the study is simply to do a baseline check. It’s really a resource study,” he said. “It’s to find out who’s doing what in Canadian universities and to determine what the strong areas are, and what the less strong areas are.”
Nicholson said the online survey will be sent out to around 4,000 people, but could reach as many as 8,000. The targets make up a range of sectors, such as Canada Research Chairs, venture capital firms and participants in national Networks of Centres of Excellence.
“We want to get it in the hands of quite senior people in organizations, rather than thousands of people,” he said. “Everyone who’s being surveyed will be anonymous, but we will ask them to provide information about their affiliations.”
Besides its assessment by the experts committee, the report will be peer reviewed and released to the public upon completion, Nicholson added.