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Focus on the SQRI and strategic planning this fall

I hope you made the most of a fun and relaxing summer and have had an easy time getting back into the swing of things despite the pandemic. The return of in-person classes on university and college campuses must be a welcome change. Let’s hope the delta-driven fourth wave is shorter lived, less threatening to our health and less restrictive for our professional and personal activities. At the Fonds de recherche du Québec (FRQ), the return to the office—at least part-time, since telework is now integrated into our practices—planned for September is postponed until mid-October. Little by little, we are settling into normality. Personally, I am very much looking forward to coming back to public speaking in front of live audiences and not a screen!

For the past few months, the efforts to set out the upcoming Stratégie québécoise de la recherche et de l’innovation (SQRI 2022) have kept me very busy. Meetings with teams from the Ministère de l’Économie et de l’Innovation and the Conseil de l’innovation were held to discuss issues and directions related to research and innovation. We considered over 233 briefs and some 1,500 recommendations submitted by members of the scientific and student communities, dissemination organizations, civil society and the private sector. I would like to thank you, in particular, since so many of you answered the call. It is critical that your voice be heard to push Québec forward in terms of research and innovation.

As part of the consultations on the SQRI, Luc Sirois, Québec’s chief innovation officer, and I cohosted six virtual regional meetings chaired by MarieChantal Chassé, Member for Châteauguay and Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Economy and Innovation. The scientific directors of the FRQ played active roles at the sessions, which brought together over 180 stakeholders from across Québec in the business and research sector, networks and intermediating organizations. The discussions focused on issues, obstacles and potential solutions in research and innovation in Québec’s regions.

The SQRI and the FRQ’s strategic planning

With the end of summer, the consultations and analyses resumed and, in November, will lead to the Grande rencontre sur la recherche et l’innovation chaired by Premier François Legault: two days of presentations, discussions and co-construction workshops to define the directions, themes and means action of the next strategy.

In the meantime, a one-day virtual consultation with the directors of FRQ-funded research groups will be organized on September 10 to go over research-related issues and challenges and avenues to consider in the years to come. The day will contribute to the upcoming SQRI from different perspectives, including curiosity-driven and basic research. It is important to reiterate the significance and relevance of this research, which constitutes a driver for the advancement of knowledge and discovery and, eventually, innovation, which is essential to ensure sustainable economic and social development. It goes without saying that it is also the opportunity to further explore the FRQ’s strategic planning.

Surveys, workshops and online consultations with the general public will also be undertaken to better identify the research, social issues and needs that will define the focuses of the FRQ’s mandates: support for new researchers, research activities and knowledge mobilization and partnership development. I strongly encourage you to take part so our directions and interventions remain in line with your needs and concerns.

For instance, the issue of providing better support for students by increasing the availability and value of scholarships or expanding the offer of cross-training in entrepreneurship will be raised, as will the major societal concerns—sustainable development and climate change, demographic change and populating ageing, and entrepreneurship and creativity—that have mobilized the FRQ for the past several years through intersectoral research.

As we develop our strategic plans, we must consider open access to journals, international collaborations, the principles of equity, diversity and inclusion in research, access to data for research purposes, emerging research practices and the link between science and society.

We will also account for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) following a day of reflection on June 23 in which representatives from research, government, community organizations and civil society took part. The many discussions aimed to identify three priority SDGs that the FRQ could integrate into their strategic planning. Though the 17 SDGs are all related, the prioritization exercise remains both challenging and critical. The idea is to determine how the FRQ and scientific community could help Québec and indeed all of Canada attain the SDGs. As was the case with the three societal challenges established as part of our last strategic planning efforts, the focus on the SDGs will require supplementary budgets.

Another important step in our strategic planning efforts is the virtual day organized for the three boards of directors of the FRQ on September 21 to discuss issues and challenges specific to the research ecosystem, priorities for action and changes required to tackle them. Discussion periods between members of the boards and the Minister of Economy and the Minister of Higher Education are also organized.

Québec hosts an international conference on scientific advice and diplomacy

From August 30 to September 2, I chaired the 2021 conference of the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA) in a hybrid format in Montréal. Over 2,000 people from some 130 countries registered to attend the talks and discuss topics including experiences providing scientific advice to governments during the health crisis. The discussions turned a spotlight on means to improve our ways of doing things and better take on social challenges such as climate change, technological development and health and natural and environmental disasters. The talks on trust in science, our institutions and democracy in the face of the disinformation, exacerbated by the pandemic, were also very stimulating.

At the conference, I was officially appointed president of INGSA. My two-year mandate is all the more important to me now that the global health crisis has surfaced the relevance, here and abroad, of scientific expertise and the role of science and research in decision-making at all levels of government: national, regional and local. It is vital that our elected and senior officials have the best possible understanding of social issues within the framework of current scientific knowledge and conclusive data to ensure their interventions are more adequate. I will pursue my predecessors’ work with a view to emphasize the contributions of science to diplomacy. I am convinced that the response to major societal challenges requires scientific and diplomatic collaborations, since the scientific values of rationality, transparency and universality can support diplomatic efforts.

Finally, as part of the conference’s francophone day, I had the pleasure of announcing the launch of the Réseau en conseil scientifique dans la francophonie. Led by a committee chaired by Lassina Zerbo, who is originally from Burkina Faso and serves as the executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, the network will encourage French-speaking scientific advisors to share their practices and develop capacities within their communities. A call for proposals will be launched in the coming months to select the individuals who will develop and facilitate the work of the network, which will be recognized as a division of INGSA.

I would like to wish you all a wonderful start to the new academic year. I hope to meet with you virtually, and especially in person, in the year ahead!

Rémi Quirion
Chief Scientist of Québec