Canada needs a national framework for evaluating international “STIK” partnerships

Mark Lowey
February 21, 2024

Canada needs a strategic national strategy and framework for evaluating international science, technology, innovation and knowledge (STIK) partnerships, says a new report by the Council of Canadian Academies.

The report, “Navigating Collaborative Futures,” was produced by an expert panel and presents key elements, or building blocks, needed to construct data-enabled, decision-making framework to evaluate new and existing international STIK partnership opportunities for Canada.

“The global landscape for science, technology and innovation has transformed during the last several decades,” Dr. Monica Gattinger, PhD (photo at right), who chaired the expert panel, told Research Money

Many more countries are active in the scientific space, with burgeoning scientific activity worldwide including the emergence of open science and engagement of Indigenous and other forms of knowledge in scientific decision-making, she said. Overlying this landscape are geopolitical uncertainty, national security concerns, climate change and supply chain issues.

 “That transformed global landscape really shines a bright light on the importance of taking a strategic approach to evaluating international partnership opportunities,” Gattinger said. She is director of the Institute for Science, Society and Policy, full professor in the School of Political Studies, and founding chair of the Positive Energy program at the University of Ottawa.

Having a rigorous, data-enabled approach – informed by best international practices – for selecting international partners and evaluating international partnerships can pay large dividends in advancing Canada’s national priorities, Gattinger said.

Canada’s history of global STIK activities is marked by extensive international collaboration, including at the researcher-to-researcher level and among research institutes and organizations. Such collaboration is bolstered by a well-educated Canadian workforce, networks of high-quality research facilities, geographic benefits and associated natural resources, and a robust domestic science and technology ecosystem, says the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) report.

However, limited coordination among organizations that contribute to international STIK activities impairs Canada’s abilities to secure talent, share expertise, mitigate risk and benefit from the global network of participants, according to the report.

The expert panel heard during extensive consultation with multiple stakeholders that there’s a strong need to develop a framework to evaluate STIK partnerships, Gattinger said. “There’s just tremendous appetite within the science, technology, innovation and knowledge ecosystem [for having] that kind of support when it comes to decision making on STIK partnerships.”

However, according to CCA’s report, “the Government of Canada has also struggled for decades to coordinate STIK efforts among its own organizations, to provide direction and support for decision-makers, and to present a clear point of entry for potential international partners.”

The panel noted that repeated calls for a national strategy and framework to help coordinate Canada’s international STIK activity “have remained largely unanswered.”

While a variety of federal departments, agencies and research granting councils provide support for international collaboration, each pursues its own objectives with minimal coordination, according to the Canada’s Fundamental Science Review report in 2017. This review recognized an urgent need to “develop multi-agency strategies to support international research collaborations and modify existing funding programs so as to strengthen international partnerships,” CCA’s report notes.

Gattinger said the CCA’s expert panel wasn’t tasked with identifying why repeated calls for a national strategy or framework have gone largely unanswered. However, she noted that the panel presented the elements of a framework, along with a user guide, that will enable these elements and the framework to be implemented,  “whether or not there is a clear articulation of a STIK strategic set of priorities and a STIK strategy.”

Framework would inform choices about STIK partners and topics

The CCA produced its report at the request of report sponsor Global Affairs Canada, which asked the panel to address the question: “In a post-COVID world, how can Canadian public, private and academic organizations evaluate and prioritize STI partnership opportunities with foreign countries to achieve key national objectives, using indicators supported by objective data where possible?”

The CCA’s expert panel added “knowledge production” to the standard STI (science, technology and innovation) description, creating STIK, to include the practices of knowledge production and the body of knowledge beyond STI – notably Indigenous knowledge.

Among the report’s findings are that:

  • International STIK partnerships are essential to the continued prosperity and well-being of people in Canada and around the world.
  • A data-enabled decision-making framework can help Canada align its STIK activities with its national interests, strategically identify productive partnerships and manage accompanying risks, and build successful responses to today’s global challenges.
  • Identifying national priorities helps potential framework users articulate and align international STIK partnership goals. However, Canada lacks the published national strategies on STIK and foreign policy that could inform such goals.
  • International STIK cooperation can create new relationships as well as strengthen existing activities in relevant areas, both domestically and internationally.
  • The success of a decision-making framework will be determined by the level of support available for its implementation. This includes support for strategic foresight, identifying and improving data sources and analyses, and appropriate governance structures.
  • The longevity of any strategic framework will depend on the ability of users to evaluate and adapt or adopt new framework elements to match a changing context.

 Several organizations in Canada already have their own decision-making processes for evaluating STIK partnerships, Gattinger said. So part of implementing a national framework would involve better coordination and incorporating the elements suggested by the expert panel to help strengthen those processes, she said.

“Canada is a very prized [international] partner, there is no shortage of opportunities,” she added. “But for individual organizations and for the government as a whole, time and resources are limited, so choices do need to be made.”

The overall aim of the framework is to inform the choices about which international STIK partners to work with and on what topics, Gattinger said, “so that they bring the greatest value and benefit to the country in advancing its interests.”

Multiple benefits expected from the framework

The CCA’s report highlighted multiple benefits of Canada having a strategic, data-enabled framework for evaluating international STIK partnerships. Economic benefits include strategic support and coordination for innovation, trade and commercialization, Gattinger said.

The framework also would help build Canada’s scientific capacity, talent and infrastructure, she said. It also would bolster the country’s resilience, whether from an environmental and sustainability perspective or resilience in terms of national security, she added.

Gattinger said time and resources – including financial investment – will be required to implement the framework, whether at the level of an individual federal science-based department or agency, a non-governmental organization, or by the federal government as a whole.

A lot of data already exists – which the CCA report examined in depth – that could be incorporated into a national framework, she said. “There’s no question that better coordination, sharing of data and access to data across organizations would be very beneficial.”

 However, in many instances new forms of data will be identified that will be valuable as an input into decision making on international STIK partnerships, Gattinger said. The expert panel’s aim was to put forward the elements of a decision-making framework “that could be iterative, adaptive and flexible, that can over time identify potential gaps in data and work on filling those gaps in the implementation process.”

Governance, including leadership and coordination, will be crucial in implementing and sustaining the framework, Gattinger said.

The expert panel suggested several approaches, including creating a new position, such as an assistant deputy minister for scientific affairs within Global Affairs Canada, who could provide leadership and send a clear signal about the importance STIK has in Canada’s foreign, trade and development policies.

Another option the panel suggested would be to establish a framework secretariat which, if appropriately resourced, could also create institutional support for strategic foresight, data collection and management, and framework evaluation.

“Government will be in the best position to know which particular approach will be most appropriate to sustain momentum over time,” Gattinger said.

The CCA’s report underscored the need to evaluate the framework on an ongoing basis and make adjustments as necessary. The report offered several different case studies, or methods, that could be used to evaluate the framework’s success.

Given the importance to Canada of international STIK partnerships, “the cost of inaction [on implementing a framework] is incalculable, but it is surely steep,” Gattinger said. “One would be that Canada risks being left behind.”

“The absence of an effective decision-making framework and related governance may lead to duplication of effort, conflicting policies, dilution of impact, and a lack of clarity for potential partners seeking to work with Canada,” the CCA’s report says.

The framework is necessary if Canada wants to continue to have access to the best science globally, secure talent, share expertise, gain access to unique facilities or research sites, and leverage funding from international sources, the report says.

Many global challenges, or opportunities depending on the topic, that Canada and other nations face require international collaboration, Gattinger noted. “Ensuring that Canada is plugging in to international partnerships on the right topics and with the right partners will surely stand the country in good stead.”


Other News

Events For Leaders in
Science, Tech, Innovation, and Policy

Discuss and learn from those in the know at our virtual and in-person events.

See Upcoming Events

You have 1 free article remaining.
Don't miss out - start your free trial today.

Start your FREE trial    Already a member? Log in


By using this website, you agree to our use of cookies. We use cookies to provide you with a great experience and to help our website run effectively in accordance with our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.