August 8, 2019

Building Excellence

The Expert Panel on Leading Practices for Transforming Canadian Science Through Infrastructure

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Summary

In Budget 2018, the federal government committed $2.8 billion to renew its science laboratories through an infrastructure initiative. One of the goals of the initiative is to support the construction of multi‐purpose facilities that bring together scientists and engineers from across different departments and sectors. Beginning in 2019, the federal government will consider approaches to assess infrastructure investment opportunities that reflect a new vision for the federal S&T enterprise as collaborative, adaptive, and efficient.

Public Services and Procurement Canada asked the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) to assess the evidence on leading practices for federal S&T infrastructure investment decisions.

To address the question, the CCA convened a multidisciplinary panel of four experts with backgrounds in government, academia, industry, and science administration. An additional 13 experts contributed their knowledge and insight at a workshop. The report’s findings emerged from the judgment, experience, and expertise of the workshop participants and panel members, informed by the best available evidence.

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The Question

What is known about leading practices for evaluating proposals for science and technology infrastructure investments that is relevant to Canadian federal science for the future?

Key Findings

Building Excellence synthesizes key theoretical and practical considerations in developing principles, criteria, decision-making structures, and processes for assessing and investing in collaborative S&T infrastructure.

Guiding Principles and Criteria

Leading practices in decision-making for S&T infrastructure investments take into consideration four principles: scientific excellence, collaboration, feasibility, and broader impacts.

  • Evaluations of scientific excellence for government S&T infrastructure investments differ from those in academia or industry because they must include consideration of government mandates. Because mandates can change over time, considerations for future needs can be addressed through flexibility, connectivity, and modularity of facility design.
  • S&T infrastructure that supports collaboration can amplify science outcomes and lead to solutions for complex challenges. Collaborative S&T infrastructure proposals highlight the ways that new users can find opportunities for engagement within a facility, and support building relationships by addressing potential barriers to access.
  • Assessing the long-term feasibility of proposed S&T infrastructure requires consideration of ownership, governance, and management, particularly for shared facilities. A stage-gated process allows for the evaluation of various aspects of feasibility (e.g., technical, financial, managerial, social, regulatory, environmental) by scientific and non-scientific professionals.
  • The broad economic and social impacts of proposed large-scale S&T infrastructure projects are typically included in the evaluation process. Though future impacts are difficult to assess, proposals can be evaluated on the credibility and logic of the pathways to expected impacts.

The report also considers how the design of decision-making processes and advisory structures might support these principles.

  • A “middle-out” approach to developing proposals facilitates relationship building from the outset of the proposal process and can ensure the success of collaborative S&T infrastructure. This approach allows the S&T community to co-create promising proposals that meet government needs.
  • A clear vision and strategy for prioritizing S&T infrastructure investments (e.g., roadmapping) is critical to the decision-making process. If it is co-created with stakeholders, a roadmap can also provide an opportunity to develop collaborative relationships.

Expert Panel

The Expert Panel on Leading Practices for Transforming Canadian Science Through Infrastructure