Canada’s main international S&T program is developing novel approaches to increasing Canada’s presence in the global arena in the face of stagnant resources. Greater targeting of limited capacity, training of existing field personnel and new software resources are aimed at making the program more effective in promoting S&T internationally, as tightening budgets diminish the likelihood of significant new funding.
Located within the business development branch of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), the S&T division has bounced back from near oblivion in the late 1990s (R$, April 23/01). Greater coordination of international S&T within the federal government, a vibrant business development program and collaboration with the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) have all worked to raise the profile of Canada’s S&T objectives and capabilities.
But the inability to attract more resources and the habitually low profile of international S&T among policy makers has stymied efforts to expand further. Three years ago, the Advisory Council on S&T issued a report on international S&T but its three recommendations have been largely ignored, including the call for a new fund jointly administered by DFAIT and Industry Canada. The realization that international S&T is still struggling to register powerfully on the federal radar means that doing more with existing resources and bolstering outreach activities hold the most potential for moving ahead.
“There is internal work to be done to make sure people are sensitized and understand the role that departments like ours can play in the delivery of the government agenda. It continues to be challenging but we are far more advanced today than we were three or four years ago. It’s a sea change,” says Marie-Lucie Morin, DG international business development policy and planning with responsibility for S&T. “What we can do over the next two or three years is look at our priority countries and the missions we have within those countries to see how we can re-deploy substantial efforts to S&T from within our existing operations.”
The S&T division recently launched a geographic review to determine how to best utilize existing resources both in Ottawa and at missions in key foreign countries. The potential to do more is huge, as was seen during a recent Team Canada mission to Europe where 60% of all signings in Germany were S&T related. Once the review is complete, a list of priority countries will be drawn up and work will begin on strengthening relationships and spreading the word throughout Canada on areas of potential.
“The review is meant to target our efforts because we don’t have infinite resources,” says Morin. “We want to be in a position to identify those countries where we would like to put a sustained effort over the next two or three years.”
The review will be complemented by several new initiatives at home. Within the S&T division, a new software program is in prototype development. Called CanSCAN S&T, the interactive web site is based on a communities of practice model. It is designed to facilitate the dissemination of international S&T information through peer-to-peer discussion across departments. The prototype is being tested this summer for roll-out in the fall.
NEW S&T NETWORK
The S&T division is also working with a new network of innovation officers focused on international trade and situated across the country in Industry Canada’s regional offices. It’s hoped that the new network will provide a powerful complement to the S&T division’s use of the existing IRAP network to heighten awareness of international S&T opportunities among the regional S&T community. IRAP has long pushed for a greater role in international S&T but to date it has been unsuccessful in securing the necessary funding.
“We are not a science-based department and as a result we can play a coordinating role. Our strength is that we have missions abroad and if tasked properly we have people in those missions that can play a very useful role in helping our universities, foundations and companies in getting ahead in the field,”says Morin.
Those efforts are enhanced by the Interdepartmental Network on International S&T (INIST) linking federal departments and agencies. Chaired by Thierry Weissenburger, DFAIT’s deputy director of S&T policy and intelligence, INIST has grown over the past three years as a key tool in determining how and where to direct resources for S&T promotion and collaboration. INIST is a working-level group and the only federal body dealing exclusively on international S&T. Its stature within government (representatives are at the director level or below) means that it has no budgetary powers, but it has been successful at taking a more pragmatic approach to bilateral initiatives.
Rather than expending precious time developing memoranda of understanding, the S&T division is focusing on establishing less formal working agreements and collaborative relationships.
“That’s what we did in Spain. We didn’t need an agreement. We had a plan of action and it’s working because that’s how you discover who does what and who the movers and shakers are,” says Robert Lee, former director of the S&T division and now its principal advisor. “The South Africans are interested in working with us but they don’t want an agreement. What they want is to see where we can work together in collaboration.”
The area that holds the most potential for improved efficiencies is the training of existing DFAIT personnel stationed abroad. The S&T division has only six S&T counsellors and while considerable effort has been expended to “sensitize” other officers in the field, much work remains to be done.
“In order for own economy to remain competitive, we have to be in a position to help our companies and our research institutions to position themselves abroad in the area of S&T,” says Morin. “Most of our people in the field working in trade have not been terribly sensitized to that area. It has to enter the mainstream consciousness of all people working in the areas of economics and trade.”
Raising awareness within the domestic S&T community is also proving challenging. As an outgoing S&T counsellor points out, lack of awareness extends throughout the public and university sectors (see back page). Dr Philip Hicks calls for government to follow through on the ACST recommendation for an international S&T fund and concludes that it’s time Ottawa “really got serious” about global S&T.