Bringing science and technology to the policy table

Posted on Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Author: Dr. Sylvain Charbonneau

Vice-President, Research

On April 15, 2021, the Institute for Science, Society and Policy at the University of Ottawa and the Institute for International Science and Technology Policy at the George Washington University hosted Sethuraman Panchanathan, the Director of the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), as part of the 2021 Bromley Memorial Event. This blog is an adaptation of the author’s remarks.

Since the outbreak of the global pandemic, the general public has been fed an incredible amount of scientific data. This information is often delivered by our countries’ top medical scientists, who have experienced unprecedented levels of visibility. Both the American chief medical advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and our Canadian public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, have become household celebrities!

Despite several dissenting voices, our fellow citizens look ever more to science to find answers. In turn, they have become increasingly aware of how critical research is to shaping and implementing public policy, including strategies to overcome this pandemic. Bringing science and technology to the policy table to better inform science policies, and to improve society, is fundamental to this endeavour.

The integration of science and technology with policy is likely what inspired David Allan Bromley, the brilliant Canadian-born Yale physicist, after whom the Bromley Memorial Event is named. He was a trailblazing director at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy during the Bush Administration in the 1980s and 1990s. Dr. Bromley’s position mirrored that of Canada’s Chief Scientific Advisor, Dr. Mona Nemer, who happens to be my predecessor at the helm of the University of Ottawa’s VP Research Office.

Building on our wealth of talent, our strong vision for innovation, our commitment to bilingualism and our strategic access to national decision-makers, research at the University of Ottawa aims to help our nation meet domestic and international challenges of the 21st century knowledge economy, by informing and shaping public and science policy. Our strategic research approach is aligned with our Transformation 2030 roadmap for the next decade, which prioritizes excellence, relevance and impact, as well as interdisciplinarity, international collaboration, knowledge mobilization, and inclusion. 

Transformation 2030 will be largely carried out through our research and teaching centres and institutes, such as the ISSP, which enable rich student experiences and build bridges across campus, among the academic, public, private and civil society sectors, while ensuring greater equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in research. Building a more inclusive science and engineering community that reflects the diversity of our societies is an indispensable component of transforming decision-making to meet the grand challenges of our time. 

Taking action to allow a more diverse and equitable participation in our respective research ecosystems, is indeed a fundamental requirement, if we aim to drive research into a brighter future. While we have embarked on the journey to bring about change by tackling systemic barriers, we remain mindful of how much further we have to go, particularly in STEM, and are all the more committed to keep our eyes on the prize. 

It is precisely why events like the Bromley Memorial Event continue to be an important forum for conversations on Canada-US relations in science and science policy. In keeping with Dr. John de la Mothe’s vision, this annual joint event continues not only to reinforce the collaboration between our two nations and between both our academic institutions, but also to strive to be a renewed source of inspiration for the next generation of scientists and science policy professionals who participate every year.

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