Executive Director, Research & Innovation, HealthCareCAN
Integrated Vice President Health Research London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s London, HealthCareCAN Research Co-Chair
Chief Administrative Officer Research Provincial Health Services Authority, British Columbia and HealthCareCAN Research Co-Chair
President & CEO, HealthCareCAN
If science policy seeks evidence informed practice, it is very possible that the results of Canada’s Science Review now provide sufficient evidence to move from diagnostic to action. This is particularly important on the issue of funding and coordination for the granting councils.
Consider that in qualitative research, you look not necessarily for a particular sample size to collect sufficient evidence, but for the point at which the recurrence of themes is so strong that no further data collection can be justified. The findings are the findings. This is known as “saturation”.
Extending the saturation metaphor, the recent review of fundamental science, although not a research study, has recommendations, particularly as they pertain to funding, which are likely sound.
First, the panel is made up of many trusted experts each of whom had a significant and diverse background as well as a community upon which to draw. Still, the panel members did not assume they knew all the answers. Instead, they invited feedback. They received over 1200 written submissions which they presumably read. The questions were not trite. They were specific and considered.
Second, many of the submissions that were made to the Science Review, including those of our organization, HealthCareCAN, which represents the majority of the country’s research hospitals, were also, in turn, based on saturation points. For over a decade, the Vice Presidents of health research from the country’s research hospitals have been working together to identify and explain key issues that their scientists and organizations experience in the science and innovation ecosystem.
Third, while this is a significant body of knowledge, there are also other groupings of expert organizations, ranging from the Association of Faculties of Medicine to Universities Canada to the National Alliance of Provincial Health Research Organizations, to the Health Charities, Research Canada, the Association of Early Career Health Researchers, Colleges and Institutes Canada, U15, and H10, among others, that would have gone through similar processes to develop their submissions. Without deliberately coordinating their efforts, the common messages in these submissions are the same. Funding is stretched; coordination in problematic; and there are practical solutions to fixing these issues.
Fourth, more saturation of themes occurs when international experts, invited to review research process issues in Canada, such as the panel headed by Sir Gluckman and his international colleagues to study the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR)’s peer review processes, are willing to go outside of their mandate and express concern about science funding and its implications on good science processes. It is worth noting that the first recommendation in the Gluckman panel’s report is to increase research funding. The panel acknowledged this recommendation as outside the scope of its mandate, but crucial to the integrity of its report.
Health providers and researchers are about the evidence base. They know only too well the consequences of the wrong question or wrong interpretation of crucial data. However, they also know the consequences of waiting too long – the proverbial paralysis by analysis. It is clear that our granting councils, particularly CIHR, given the mandate accorded to it by the CIHR Act, are underfunded. The question remaining on the funding issue however is how much is enough? The answer is comparative in how Canada is faring vs. competitor nations in the competition for talent to drive a knowledge-based economy. The report points out strong evidence to show that Canada has fallen from 7th to 9th overall, and in a number of key innovation areas that will dictate our future, is falling behind. This trend must be reversed as a mortgage on the future of our advanced society.
Finally, while the Science Review is a seminal document in science policy and will be for years to come, it is not inconsistent with other reviews ranging from the Advisory Panel on Healthcare Innovation and the Review of Federal Support to Research and Development. While these reviews had other mandates, the findings are aligned.
As the coming months clarify the economic situation domestically and in the United States, the fall Economic Statement would be a great opportunity to take action on the funding front as happened for infrastructure in 2016. It would be meaningful not only to the scientists whose labs are essentially small businesses that have to make payroll but it would also be a meaningful statement culturally during our 150th anniversary to highlight the importance of science in Canada.
We simply cannot encourage a culture of science without the funds to support it. We now have a (really) good diagnostic and a plan moving forward. It’s time to get back to the business of world class science with the funding needed to make it happen.
HealthCareCAN is the national voice of hospitals and healthcare organizations in Canada including the majority of the country’s research hospitals. www.healthcarecan.ca