Overview of the NRC Dialogue

August 2016

As part of the continued renewal of the NRC and to support the government's Innovation and Skills Plan, the President was instructed in his mandate letter of August 2016 to assess the current state of the NRC in four areas:

  • Innovation Support: including better meeting the current and longer-term research and development needs of Canadian industry; ensuring science excellence in the research work of the NRC; and identifying opportunities to increase support for the technology, growth-to-scale and export needs of small and medium-sized enterprises.
  • Engagement: including ensuring effective processes to identify current and forthcoming industrial R&D priorities and collaboration opportunities with firms; working with Cabinet and federal stakeholders to set long-term NRC intramural research priorities; and ongoing outreach to engage external innovation and science community stakeholders to ensure that the NRC is a key partner in Canada's principal innovation clusters across the country.
  • Governance: ensuring best practices in governance, decision-making processes and resource management, safeguarding public and staff safety at all times; ensuring effective environmental stewardship processes and practices; fostering a culture of openness and consultation within the NRC and with federal stakeholders; and reviewing clarity in NRC executive accountabilities. In this regard, consideration should be given to whether and how organizational design challenges would enhance the NRC engagement, partnerships and governance.
  • Management: ensuring leading-edge management practices by examining the NRC budget, revenue targets and financial controls; assessing and strengthening the NRC IT systems where appropriate; and renewing and unleashing the full potential of the NRC workforce to become a global leader in science and innovation.

In addition, to support his mandate of an open and transparent approach, the President was tasked to make his mandate letter public; to engage the NRC science and innovation personnel in his process of examination and development of advice; and, to include the NRC's regional activity, he was asked to consult with innovation stakeholders in key clusters across the country.

September to November 2016: Consultations

To support the President's mandate, the NRC invited all NRC employees and engaged external experts and key stakeholders to identify opportunities for improvement in the four areas described in the mandate letter. This exercise was called "The NRC Dialogue".

Seven working groups, composed of a diverse set of the NRC's employees from across the organization, were created to start the NRC Dialogue assessment phase. Supporting the working groups, a number of external eminent expert advisors representing government, academia and the private sector provided a challenge function.

As part of the assessment efforts, seven themes emerged as the key enablers for the NRC to be relevant to the Innovation and Skills Plan, and address the four mandated areas of assessment:

  1. People: reinforce excellence essential to long-term success;
  2. Facilities: ensure quality and relevance to support the NRC's agenda;
  3. R&D: ensure relevance and impact across the spectrum of the NRC's activities;
  4. SME growth: help innovative firms grow to scale and increase exports;
  5. Engagement: open up the NRC activities and facilities for collaboration to build connections;
  6. Management: focus on stewardship of resources and more empowerment with enhanced accountability; and
  7. Governance: encourage research excellence and collaboration through organizational re-arrangements.

Findings from observations of the working groups and initial discussions with employees indicated that the NRC is unique among Canadian research performers in that it is the only organization that delivers large, directed research and commercialization programs; operates a national system of research and commercialization facilities (with over 88 research facilities at 22 sites); has the reputation and experience as a neutral broker with the ability to convene multiple innovation partners to work towards common goals and challenges; and has unparalleled insights into the innovation needs of Canadian companies through its highly respected Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP), supported by 255 industrial technology advisors at more than 100 sites across the country. A renewed NRC would reinforce its position as a mission-driven and results-focused agent of innovation for the government, delivering key elements of the Innovation and Skills Plan.

Proposed high-level improvements were developed as was an approach to continued engagement of employees and key stakeholders through the NRC Dialogue process.

December 2016 to May 2017: Solution design

The second phase of the NRC Dialogue, the solution design phase, was initiated through town halls, online surveys and other communication channels to identify opportunities for improvement in the seven thematic areas. All employees, including science, technology and supporting service personnel, were given the unique opportunity to input to the renewal of the organization.

In particular, the NRC Dialogue provided the opportunity to explore how the NRC could:

  • Reinforce excellence in all of its people;
  • Harness innovation in its high-impact R&D Programs;
  • Help innovative SMEs to scale up and penetrate international markets
  • Open up R&D facilities for collaboration with innovative partners;
  • Focus management on sound stewardship and empowerment; and
  • Adjust governance to strengthen its vision and alignment with federal government priorities.

In this phase, more than 3,000 employees participated in 350 open and inclusive consultations held at 18 of the NRC sites across the country.

June to August 2017: From dialogue to action

The proposed solutions gathered during the solution design phase were further developed and refined to create a series of actions that build on a consideration of the key success factors of past reforms, and reflect the unique aspects and capacity of the organization. Launched with all NRC staff in late August 2017, these actions set out strategies to revitalize and sustain the NRC's role at the forefront of research and innovation excellence.

A renewed NRC is committed to focusing on:

  • Creating NRC Programs to deliver on government priorities
    • Establishing fewer but larger-scale, multi-disciplinary, national, outcome-oriented R&D programs that focus science and technology on addressing national challenges related to business innovation, scientific inquiry and public policy to support government priorities and superclusters in the six critically important sectors identified in the Innovation and Skills Plan (advanced manufacturing, agri-food, clean technology, digital industries, health/bio-sciences and clean resources).
  • Research excellence in disruptive technologies to address critical challenges
    • Creating foundational programs in disruptive science and technology areas with the objective of advancing scientific knowledge and addressing the critical challenges facing the economy and society.
    • Enabling the excellence and development of the NRC's researchers through support for exploratory work, a more diverse workforce, and enhanced development opportunities for women researchers.
  • Growing SMEs to scale and helping them to export
    • Enabling innovative, high-potential SMEs to grow to scale and increase exports by developing and delivering an improved suite of programs specifically designed to make SMEs more internationally competitive.
    • Improving access to funding, technology facilities and the NRC research support that SMEs require to thrive and grow.
  • Revitalizing the NRC research environment
    • Ensuring excellence in the safe and secure stewardship of NRC facilities, and optimizing facility use as a platform for innovation.
    • Supporting the development of the next generation of Canadian innovators through outreach and new hiring programs for co-op and post-doctoral students, and by better engaging universities, colleges, polytechnics and other members of the regional innovation ecosystem to encourage more research collaborations and exchanges.
    • Renewing its current specialized science infrastructure, in coordination with the work of the Federal Science and Technology Infrastructure Initiative, to encourage the sharing of federal laboratories.
    • Exploring opportunities to create and occupy collaborative facilities with other government organizations, academia and industry to grow Canada's shared platform for innovation.
    • Fostering high performance management and employee engagement by harnessing and fulfilling the potential of all of employees through career development and leadership that empowers staff and by supporting wellness, inclusivity, and a culture of "One NRC".

A phased approach to implement the actions is taken to maximize synergies and prevent unnecessary disruptions.

February 2018: Celebrating early success

Since launching Dialogue actions, great progress has been made and a first wave of early successes is being celebrated, such as:

  • Hiring more high-caliber Postdoctoral Fellows and students
  • Distributing $5 million to SMEs through NRC IRAP for research projects undertaken with the NRC
  • Three collaboration centres are under development with the Centre hospitalier universitaire Sainte-Justine (Quebec), the University of New Brunswick and Memorial University of Newfoundland
  • Three memorandums of understanding have been signed with key international partners
  • Consolidating research programs to 26 more focused programs aligned to the Government of Canada's priorities
  • Developing a program for each of the new Government of Canada's five superclusters
  • A simplified approach to intellectual property for easier access by our clients and collaborators

Budget 2018 announced a "re-imagined" NRC, proposing to provide $540 million over five years and $108 million annually for measures to reinforce our research strengths and role as a trusted collaboration partner of industry (reference budget plan), including the following:

  • $150 million over five years and $30 million per year ongoing for NRC scientists to work with innovators from post-secondary institutions and businesses on multi-party research and development programs
  • $30 million over five years and $6 million ongoing to establish an ideation fund to target breakthrough research ideas through a competitive, peer-reviewed process
  • $62 million over five years with $12.4 million per year ongoing, to lower access fees charged to small and medium-sized enterprises and universities and colleges
  • The conversion of $59.6 million per year in temporary funding into ongoing, permanent funding to allow for better long-term research planning and delivery

Budget 2018 also announced an investment of $700 million over five years starting in 2018-2019, and $150 million per year ongoing to support business research and development projects up to a new threshold of $10 million. In addition, Budget 2018 highlighted the targeted actions that the NRC will be taking to include more women, youth, Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities and visible minorities among our researchers.

These important investments in Budget 2018 will help position the reimagined NRC at the centre of research excellence and collaboration in Canada–a strong signal that the government shares in the NRC's renewed vision.

November 2018 – The path forward on the action plan

In June 2018 a "stock‑taking" Summit was held. It provided an opportunity to celebrate accomplishments so far and set the path forward for the remaining actions. As of November 2018, more than a third of the actions have been substantially or totally completed, bringing the NRC one step closer to making its vision of a "re‑imagined NRC" a reality. The focus for this fiscal year is on an additional 30 priority initiatives. A further 10 actions will become the focus of activity in the next phase of implementation.

Looking to the future

For over 100 years, the NRC has brought its world-renowned scientific expertise to bear on the country's most pressing challenges. Building on its success, the renewed NRC will work collaboratively with the best minds from academia, government, and industry to deliver research and innovation breakthroughs that translate into vital contributions to Canadian economic and societal opportunities in support of government priorities.

In measurable terms, the NRC will be distinguished by:

  • Research excellence, and leadership in select disruptive technologies;
  • Alignment with industrial priorities in key innovation clusters;
  • Increased collaboration with regional ecosystems and with universities, polytechnic institutions, and colleges;
  • More effective and easy-to-use support to help firms grow to scale; and
  • A more diverse workforce and culture, emphasizing health and safety and the preservation of the environment.

Through its continuing process of renewal, the NRC is seizing these new opportunities to refine its role in connecting the various components of the Canadian innovation system and to help propel Canada into a position of global leadership in innovation.