Editorial – 30-16

By Mark Henderson, Editor

Effectively utilizing the National Research Council as Canada’s premium generator of new knowledge and economic advancement has bedevilled a succession of government going back decades. Most recently, the agency has been reeling from top-down changes engineered by the previous president to transform it into a world-class research and technology organization.

With industry engagement and co-funding trumping all other priorities, the NRC has suffered in many ways. Its workforce has been significantly reduced, many researchers are demoralized and near-empty facilities are sprinkled across the country. Determining whether John McDougall’s attempts to reconfigure the NRC worked or failed is the formidable task facing Iain Stewart, who was hired to conduct an internal consultation and assessment before reporting back to government with his findings and advice.

Stewart knows his way around science policy and while he may lack the hands-on experience of running an industry-focused scientific organization, his mandate and thoughtful approach bode well for a thorough rethinking of the 100-year-old Canadian institution.

And the forthcoming Innovation Agenda offers a timely opportunity for the government to refocus the NRC as part of a larger innovation ecosystem where its strengths can be leveraged for maximum impact.

Much is riding on Stewart’s work over the next two years. Without an effective NRC, Canada’s efforts to compete in the global knowledge-based economy will be that much more difficult.