Canada Foundation for Innovation lays out plans to broaden scope of support
December 22, 2011
New strategic roadmap
The Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) intends to encourage greater research collaboration between academia and the private sector by broadening the range of activities it supports, according to a new strategic roadmap that spells out its intentions for the next five years. The plan for Canada's principal funder of academic research infrastructure also includes a re-design and adjustment of existing programs as well as a higher level of coordination with other funding agencies with the aim of boosting innovation.
The roadmap is an update of the 2010 funding agreement the CFI struck with the federal government when it committed $600 million in the 2009 Budget to launch two new funds and launch competition for existing programs (see chart on page 2).
But it is the objective of greater collaboration with the private sector that will capture the most attention. By strengthening this aspect of is mandate, the CFI is signalling its intention to further align itself with the federal government's current emphasis on business impacts and outcomes stemming from its support of Canada's research enterprise.
The CFI, in conjunction with its funding partners, has been cited as a central agent for transforming the research landscape since its launch in 1997 with more than $12 billion in infrastructure investments. But the difficult fiscal environment facing Canada as yet another global downturn looms poses a serious challenge for the CFI, which benefitted from large year-end cash infusions during the heady days of federal Budget surpluses in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
To date, the CFI has received nearly $5.4 billion in federal support, which it effectively leveraged through its funding formula of covering 40% of the cost of successful projects plus a slice of operating costs.
"This document is intended to stimulate discussion. We have our lens focused on the research spectrum and we want to broaden it slightly. Our College-Industry Innovation Fund is a start in this direction," says CFI president and CEO Dr Gilles Patry. "We will engage with ministries, the provinces and other stakeholders. The board wants to establish a direction that is appropriate."
Although the new strategic roadmap has been approved by the CFI board, Patry says it could be "tweaked" once it receives feedback. The board will then determine how much it will cost to deliver on the new thrusts.
"Over the medium and long-term ... it is important to augment capacity beyond current levels to keep from falling behind, losing competitive advantage and forfeiting the economic and social benefits of research to other countries. Remaining competitive will require ongoing investments in research infrastructure to enhance capacity." — CFI Strategic Roadmap 2012-17
The proposed adjustments range from talent and training to international linkages and new measurement tools. But the most closely watched effort will likely be on "ensuring that programs and policies are designed to connect institutions with innovators".
The roadmap cites the CFI's intention to place a stronger emphasis on international collaboration and funding for large science facilities it already supports. For the latter, Patry says the CFI intends to help universities and colleges encourage the private sector to take advantage of CFI-supported infrastructure, much of which is unique within Canada.
* Apply the principle of excellence across a broader spectrum of infrastructure funding by expanding its areas of funding to include major science initiatives and colleges working with industry.
* Design and deliver programs and policies that support the full spectrum of research, from discovery to innovation by continuing to provide support for researchers who have developed relationships with companies, partnering with the Networks of Centres of Excellence program helping build research capacity at colleges and working with the
private sector to shape CFI support to meet industry needs.
* Expand consultation, coordination and communication activities to improve ties to federal and provincial agencies, build bridges between the academic, non-profit and private sectors and better communicate with the general public.
"Institutions have state-of-the-art equipment and they have the people. This is attractive to industry. When we consult with universities, the perception is that CFI-funded equipment cannot be used by the private sector," he says. "The equipment is available to researchers and students but universities can open up their facilities to interact more closely with industry."
To secure industry's ongoing interest, the CFI will continue to maintain and upgrade existing facilities on a selective basis. But Patry says the growth in the overall system means that research infrastructure must be expanded and enhanced.
"The research enterprise has grown tremendously. Between 2000 and 2010, the numbers of Master's and PhDs graduating has doubled," he says.
Implementing the roadmap
Steps are already being taken to lay the foundation for the CFI's evolution, starting with the hiring of personnel. Recent hires have added expertise in the areas of funding and operating large-scale research facilities, data analysis and a greater understanding of the university system.
|Leading Edge Fund (LEF)|
and New Initiatives Fund (NIF)
|Infrastructure Operating Fund |
|Leaders Opportunity Fund |
|Major Science Initiatives Fund |
|College Fund |
Last year, the CFI began implementing a new suite of tools for assessing the impact of its investments, resulting in a series of Outcome Measurement Studies. This year it plans to go further with the introduction of a socio-economic impact assessment exercise to demonstrate the benefits of targeted investments. Beginning with medical imaging technologies, the pilot study — involving the Univ of Western Ontario and McGill Univ and their affiliate research hospitals and institutes — has already been expanded to a pan-Canadian focus with the addition of the Univ of Toronto and the Univ of British Columbia. The pilot will now have the broader objective and include the range of impacts resulting from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research as well as those by the CFI. The exercise should be completed by May/12.
The 2009 Budget — for the first time — provided CFI with funding targeting major science facilities in which CFI has already invested a minimum of $25 million. A Major Science Initiatives (MSI) competition is currently in the field and will go to the CFI board on March 20/12 (along with the college fund) for approval of projects
"Eventually we will have to address where MSI and the big science projects are going," says Patry, adding that the issue is part of a larger process of determining how much federal funding is required to implement the roadmap.