The new federal Cabinet, science & innovation - Institute on Governance

The new federal Cabinet, science & innovation

By Rhonda Moore

On 26 October, thirty-eight masked faces, eager to deliver their government’s platform to Canadians became our new Federal Cabinet. Some faces are returning to their portfolios, some are shuffling to new seats, and others are brand new to government and have already landed a cabinet role.

Of the 38 cabinet members, six ministerial bios confirm backgrounds in what we can call ‘science and innovation friendly’ studies, such as mechanical engineering, nursing, and medicine. Another 12-15 ministerial bios demonstrate strong ties to local communities, where many have invested their time and talents to make their communities better, safer, healthier. May the scientists and the community-minded find each other in cabinet, and find ways to work together and pool their knowledge and their passions for the betterment of Canada. 

Science and communities – or society – require each other. In Canada our scientific enterprise – the elaborate system designed to fund, review, and conduct science – is based on a strong relationship with society. One where society – through government – agrees to fund science for the benefits to health, wellbeing and the economy that may result. In exchange, science has been provided a great deal of autonomy. The blueprint for this enterprise dates back to the end of the Second World War when science had been successfully mobilized during the war and had also yielded some significant medical advances.

Fast forward 75 years and the relationship between science and society is strained. The blueprint is outdated; it doesn’t include considerations for international collaboration, or promoting equity, diversity and inclusion in science. Nor does it count on a mass rejection of science by large tracts of society. By all accounts the relationship is under strain.

At the IOG we have launched a collaborative research initiative, Government Science and Innovation in the New Normal that is examining eight facets of this blueprint that desperately need updating:

  • Promote equity, diversity, and inclusion in order to expand the participation of historically underrepresented groups (women, minorities, LGBTQ, Indigenous peoples) and overcome the inherent biases that are rampant throughout multiple dimensions of the scientific enterprise. 
  • Strengthen and formalize an approach to global research collaboration and infrastructure to better support science diplomacy, international research infrastructure and governance, and big collaboration to address global grand challenges and opportunities facing society.  
  • Adopt an inclusive innovation approach that considers: Who and how should people be included in innovation? What activities are considered innovative? How should governance of innovation evolve to be more inclusive?
  • Give equal privilege to interdisciplinary, Indigenous and Other Ways of Knowing in order to be inclusive of the social sciences and humanities, and acknowledge the importance of and support interdisciplinary approaches. A contemporary scientific enterprise should seek to interweave Western science, Indigenous traditional knowledge, and other ways of knowing while respecting the cultures and practices of each. 
  • Invest in a mission-directed approach to research and innovation by considering how to create the greatest possible compatibility between the new knowledge that scientists create AND the public’s capacity to assimilate it for society’s long-term benefit.  
  • Mandate science communications, outreach and public engagement to ensure science fulfils its full potential, in partnership with society. A new framework must embrace a broader skillset and new incentive systems to reward mentoring, community engagement, knowledge mobilization, and ideation in partnership with society. 
  • Reconceptualize the necessary skills and knowledge of a scientist. Those trained in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines increasingly require additional skillsets to successfully navigate today’s complex world.  
  • Bolster trust, integrity, and science ethics to ensure that that science is pursued with integrity and can produce knowledge for the benefit of all Canadians. Science can also help us understand how we internalize knowledge, why we believe what we do, and how to work together collaboratively to rebuild trust.

Science needs to innovate not just for society, but with society. For more information about this research initiative, please visit our web page.


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