Science advice and technology assessment in Canada?

Thank you to the folks at The Black Hole blog for their very incisive post about the recent (released April 28, 2010) mid-term assessment report of the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA). Here’s a brief excerpt from what The Black Hole posting,

Created in 2005, the Council of Canadian Academies is a not-for-profit corporation that supports science-based, expert assessments to inform public policy development in Canada. It was created with $30 million seed funding from Government which expires in 2015 and just underwent its midterm assessment last week. The report was generally positive and indeed to the casual reader it would appear the CCA has a lot to be proud of and not much to worry about. Digging a little deeper though, one gets the feeling that the CCA is facing a critical juncture in its existence and faces the very real possibility of becoming a heck of a lot less effective in 2015.

The blogger, Dave, goes on to explain that the concerns arise from the CCA’s “lack of visibility” and its “dependence on government sponsors” (I assume this means funding). Given that the CCA is the only agency that provides comprehensive science advice for Canada, this could mean the loss of a very singular resource will  in the foreseeable future.

In looking at the report very briefly I too noticed a few things that rang warning bells. From the report (p. 9 in print version, p. 13 in PDF),

Recognizing that a great deal of Canada’s intellectual capital lies within the country’s three Academies – the RSC: The Academies of Arts, Humanities and Sciences of Canada, the Canadian Academy of Engineering, and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences – these organizations were designated the founding members of the Council. The relationship between the Council and its three Member Academies, however, has not [emphases mine] been as productive or cooperative as it could be.

As far as I’m concerned there’s no chance for survival if the CCA can’t develop a good working relationship with its academies. Further, this working relationship will determine the success of the CCA’s efforts to address its “invisibility.” In the report there are three recommendations for communication efforts to make the CCA more visible (p. 13 in print version, p. 16  in PDF),


14. The Board should lead the development of a new communications strategy that builds on the Council’s considerable assets: its reputation, quality product, enthusiastic panellists and scientific advisors, and its key partners, the Academies.

15. The Council should empower and support this broadened scope of voices to engage with a wide range of key stakeholders who could be identifying topics and/or making use of their findings.

16. The Council should continue to seek opportunities to work with the Academies to contribute to international science advisory bodies.

All of there recommendations are reliant on support from the member academies.

On another note, I find the complete and utter of lack interest in communication efforts to the general public fascinating (I’ve skimmed through the report and have to spot anything that concretely addresses it). They are unrelentingly focused on experts and policy makers. I understand that public outreach is not part of the official mandate but the CCA does release reports to the media and arguably they would like their reports to have some impact on the larger society. They might even be interested in public support when the next federal budget that will have an impact on their activities is due or if they try to increase revenue streams to include something other than government funding. At the very least, they should acknowledge the presence of a much larger world around them and their stakeholders (how do they define stakeholders, anyway? aren’t Canadian citizens stakeholders?).

This indifference to the Canadian citizenry contrasts mightily with the approach Richard Sclove (mentioned in this posting earlier today) is trying to implement with regard to technology assessment in the US. In fact, the indifference contrasts with material I see that comes from the US, the UK, and from the European Community.

2 thoughts on “Science advice and technology assessment in Canada?

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  2. Pingback: Nanomaterials, toxicity, and Canada’s House of Commons Standing Committee on Health « FrogHeart

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