Unreleased CSTA report calls for major changes in role and function of federal S&T

Guest Contributor
December 21, 2007

Boost S&T profile within government

An unreleased report from the former Council of Science and Technology Advisors (CSTA) urges the government to create S&T National Expert Teams (S&T NETs) to tackle the increasingly complex issues of the 21st century. The recommendation is one of seven which, if implemented, would dramatically restructure S&T functions within government, giving them higher profile at the political level and targeting issues deemed to be national priorities (see chart).

The report — dated March 2006 and researched in 2005 under the leadership of CSTA deputy chair Dr Alan Winter — has never been publicly issued. A change in government shortly before the report's scheduled release may be an overriding factor in the decision to shelve it.

Senior S&T managers within government reportedly support its analysis and recommendations and are working for its public release. RE$EARCH MONEY has viewed an executive summary of the report.

Positioning itself in response to emerging national issues, the CSTA report argues that a major transformation of government S&T and its place within the overall innovation system is required. Issues it cites as worthy of focused federal S&T resources include competitiveness and productivity, chronic and infectious diseases, climate change, energy sustainability, water management and terrorism.

Raise political profile of S&T

Entitled Facing Opportunities and Challenges Underlying Society (FOCUS): Federal S&T Management in the 21st Century, the report's recommendations are more pointed and forceful than those of previous CSTA reports. Their implementation would require a fundamental restructuring in the way S&T is positioned within government and significantly raise its profile at the political level. To that end, the recommendations are framed by five guiding principles: political engagement and commitment, flexibility and agility, focus, collaboration and integration and excellence.

The report's authors argue that dramatic changes in the structure and governance of government S&T are necessary to confront a wide range of rapidly evolving forces. These range from the "emergence of complexity, transdisciplinarity and systems approaches" to the role and convergence of enabling or platform technologies and the emergence of low-cost economies like China and India.

For starters, the CSTA recommends the creation of a Cabinet Committee for Science, Technology and Society, chaired by the prime minister. It would provide broad direction to federal S&T activities and, more importantly, instill political commitment to S&T.

Greater political commitment is also the aim of a recommendation to establish a Parliamentary committee for S&T learning and discussion.

"We propose that the government adopt an integrated, systems-based approach to the federal S&T enterprise, treating it as an organic whole in which the range of federal S&T instruments used to deliver on the government's agenda and to support S&T nationally complement and reinforce one another in a coherent package." —


The CSTA also calls for S&T to be added to the minister of Industry's official title with responsibility for all federal funding instruments dedicated to R&D and all federal S&T that transcends departmental boundaries. There would also be a new DM-level position wholly dedicated to the minister's federal horizontal S&T functions.

The report's recommendation for the Office of the National Science Advisor (NSA) is stale-dated, as the NSA now reports to the Industry minister and not the prime minister. The idea of adding an evaluation role appears to have been eclipsed by the Council of Canadian Academies, while its advisory function is now shared by the recently assembled Technology and Innovation Council (STIC).


Prominent among the recommendations is the call for S&T NETs — virtual teams or networks coordinated by government bodies but composed of experts from government, academia and industry.

Each team would be responsible for tackling a single priority — as assigned by the Cabinet Committee for S&T and Society — to develop and implement targeted S&T strategies. They would be multidisciplinary, multi-sectoral and cross-jurisdictional and used to support government decision making and foster S&T readiness.

FOCUS was the last report to be completed by the CSTA before its dissolution late last year. It was officially disbanded on May 17/07 with the release of the new S&T Strategy. The CSTA, the Advisory Council on Science and Technology and the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee were all cancelled and replaced by STIC.


FOCUS Recommendations

1) Create a Cabinet committee for S&T and society, chaired by the prime minister. Task with identifying federal policy priorities and assigning accountability for each priority to the appropriate minister.

2) Adopt a strategic approach to federal R&D funding instruments and apply a proportion of funding organizations' budgets to envelopes targeted at federal policy priorities. Adopt a competitive process for excellence-based funding that does not distinguish between S&T sectors.

3) Enhance and reinvigorate the minister of Industry's role in federal horizontal S&T, restructuring the position as minister of Industry, Science and Technology with responsibility for all federal R&D funding instruments.

4) Invest National Science Advisor with an advisory and evaluation role focused on providing counsel to the prime minister and the government on S&T.

5) Create a Parliamentary committee devoted to S&T learning and discussion to generate a climate of ongoing political support for S&T. Committee should be supported by a parliamentary office devoted to the provision of S&T information and assistance.

6) Realign and consolidate the S&T resources of science-based departments and agencies in dedicated S&T organizations.

7) Create S&T National Expert Teams (S&T NETs) around each federal policy priority, with each led and coordinated by departmental organizations. Use these national, virtual S&T networks to support government decision-making and foster S&T readiness. Each team would be responsible for developing and implementing an S&T strategy to deliver on its assigned federal priority.

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