Tackling the Unknown: Collaboration in Research
Institute of Public Administration of Canada - Luncheon Speech
Holiday Inn, St. John’s, NF
April 18, 2001
Thank you for inviting me to speak with you today.
My topic centers on how we can better work together – "you" being the leaders in our public sector and "we" being the members of Memorial University.
Before I get to the "how" I would like to look at the "why". Why is it that we should enhance collaboration between public administrators and the university?
In the Public Sector, there are many questions to which the answers are unknown or, at least, unclear. For example, how do we create economic development for small communities or regions? How do we contain and control costs in the health care system? How do we match educational opportunities to realistic employment prospects? There are numerous questions of this type, and many of them are critical to the evolution and development of our province and country.
How do we find answers to these questions – questions that confront us as members of the public, as members of the university and as public administrators?
- First, we ask the right questions and frame the questions in the proper way – this is not a trivial problem;
- We must then decide on which questions are the most important – or, in other words, we must set our priorities;
- For the questions we select, we then draw on existing knowledge in the hope of finding at least partial answers;
- We have to realize that most questions are complex and that answers are not usually available elsewhere;
- We must therefore use our creativity to develop new and innovative answers;
- We test our preliminary answers and adjust these answers and refine the answers to arrive ultimately at the really good answers. Of course, very often, we will find that the "good" answers are compromise answer. Only in rare cases are there right and wrong answers.
The process I have just described to you is no doubt familiar to you. However, what I have just described is also the methodology of research which we use in the university for our scholarly work. This process consists of:
Defining a problem, analyzing the problem, exploring what is known, exploring the unknown using creativity, developing and testing potential answers and, finally, identifying the best answers for certain situations.
Many of you therefore work as researchers and, indeed, as researchers at the leading edge of knowledge.
Every day, this kind of activity also happens at Memorial University. There are over 900 faculty members at Memorial University engaged in research in scores of disciplines and working on countless problems. We also have about 1,600 graduate students, most of who are also actively engaged in research.
In fact, last year, Memorial University attracted $37 million in research support. Where did it come from and for what was it used?
- From the Federal Government, we received just under $22 million.
- From the Provincial Government, we received only a small amount: $1.2 million. That level of research support sets Newfoundland apart from many other provinces such as Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, even on a per capita basis.
- A significant amount of research money these days comes from industry and the private sector – this is mainly Canadian industry, but some of it is also international industry. For Memorial University this amounted to $10 million.
- Some research funding comes from non-profit organizations, largely foundations. Memorial University received $4.4 million in this kind of support last year.
This research money enables us to help our students obtain master’s and doctorate degrees, it leads to new discoveries in many fields, and it also contributes about 500 jobs per year to the province. There are many who work at the university. Others work in the community and are dependent on the research income that the university produces.
How might the university’s work relate to you as public administrators?
Memorial University represents a critical mass of research expertise, which can be directed towards important public sector issues. Our social scientists, our economists and our business, engineering, heath care and education experts can and do make significant contributions to solving major problems of the type with which you are confronted.
Our graduate students also represent a potential pool of future public administrators.
As you well know, there are tremendous demographic pressures facing public administrations across this country. This is the direct consequence of an aging public service and the upcoming retirements in the management ranks of the public service. Where are future public administrators going to be found and, very importantly, where will the future leaders in public administration come from?
The logical place to look is our universities where we have the capability to develop highly skilled men and women with expertise in public policy issues. In particular, the universities can provide you with employees who have spent several years exploring the unknown during their master’s and doctoral programs.
The universities, and we at Memorial University, have a role to play in preparing the next generation of public administrators. We also want to play a role in assisting current public administrators to deal with the complex social and economic problems faced by our society.
Memorial University is now looking increasingly at the area of public policy development. We are developing academic and research programs that are dedicated to the enhancement of policy on economic and social development. To be effective, these initiatives necessitate collaboration between the university, government departments and agencies as well as private and public sector institutions in other parts of Canada and indeed the world. Many of our problems are also found elsewhere.
To foster this work, we have recently established the Public Policy Research Centre. Administratively, it is located in our Faculty of Arts, but it serves the entire university.
The Centre’s mission is to promote and facilitate research that is relevant to the wider Newfoundland and Labrador community and to assist in policy formation that will benefit our province.
Another important goal of the Public Policy Research Centre is to promote awareness of the policy relevance of the research that is performed at Memorial University.
The Centre is also a place where you and your colleagues can come when you have questions and when you want to know what research is underway regarding public policy issues.
The Public Policy Research Centre was established with the help of $477,000 from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the support of the Province.
The centre will co-operate with policy makers and policy staff at all levels of government in identifying questions for research and analysis, in studying these questions in a responsible and timely fashion, and in communicating the results to help the public and policy makers determine the best possible decisions.
In effect, we want to put the University’s research capacity, especially our capacity in the social sciences and humanities, at the disposal of policy makers. The new centre provides an excellent direct link between the university, the federal and provincial governments and, of course, the broader community.
Some examples of questions the Public Policy Research Centre might tackle include: regional economic development, fiscal policy, tax regimes, and labour market developments as our economy undergoes a transition from its heavy reliance on natural resources to one that is more diversified. The university has already considerable expertise in these issues.
Generating intelligent public policy requires good policy research. This new Centre will provide policy makers with the information they need to respond effectively to global pressures.
Of course, there are also other areas where we are involved in research relating to public policy issues. I would like to tell you about three of them.
Last year, we launched our Oil and Gas Development Partnership, a teaching and research initiative that is designed to position this province to gain maximum benefit from the development of offshore petroleum resources.
In developing this Partnership, faculty and administrators from Memorial held meetings with representatives of industry, government and other educational institutions to identify opportunities and needs in the oil and gas sector. The result was a comprehensive initiative that involves the delivery of 11 new academic programs as well as research and development programs.
Last year we also launched AquaNet. As the name suggests, AquaNet is a research initiative focused on the aquatic environment, but particularly focused on aquaculture.
Aquaculture is likely going to be much more important in our province in the future than it has been in the past, given declining stocks of wild fish and, possibly, crab and mussels. The focus of AquaNet is on:
- The production and raising of animals, with particular emphasis on underutilized species. It is not just cod, salmon or trout, but also species like halibut and less well-known species that can make a significant contribution, particularly to rural Newfoundland.
- Environmental questions and issues (e.g., artificially raised species, pollution impact of aquaculture facilities, etc.), and
- Social and economic aspects of developing the aquaculture industry.
The total funding for AquaNet over a four-year period is $14.4 million provided partly from government and partly from industry.
AquaNet has members right across the country and the headquarters are at Memorial University in St. John’s.
The third example, which I want to cite, is a five-year multidisciplinary research project based at Memorial University. This project which will identify ways to improve marine and coastal workplace health and safety.
Work in marine and coastal occupations in Atlantic Canada is notoriously dangerous and risky, but comparatively little research has been done on the occupational accidents and diseases faced by workers employed in these activities.
This research program is supported through a grant of $2.1 million from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).
The program involves nine interrelated research projects in key aspects of Atlantic economic activity - four on fisheries, two on oil and gas, and three on exposures to cold air and cold water associated with work in either or both of these sectors.
The research will be done through a unique and innovative network of collaboration involving the university, the provincial government, the Workplace Health Safety and Compensation Commission, unions and employers in Newfoundland, as well as researchers and partner organizations in a number of other provinces.
We will use the funding not just to undertake specific pieces of research over the next five years, but also to develop the infrastructure and expertise to attract ongoing funding for research on workplace health and safety issues in future years.
A substantial portion of the funding will be used to support the training of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in various aspects of workplace health and safety research.
One interesting component of our research program will be collaboration between university-based researchers and the staff of the province’s Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission; each research project will generate a set of specialized training modules for workers and managers in local and regional workplaces.
Let me conclude by putting forward some specific challenges and opportunities which reflect our common interests:
- Through our new Centre for Public Policy research, we should jointly look at specific issues with major public policy implications. Some examples are: fiscal policy, oil and gas development, tourism, and telehealth. Together we could also work on issues of gender equity, labour policy, compensation, negotiations, pensions administration and many others.
- We should enhance our public administration training and expertise. Has the time come for a focused program in public administration at Memorial University?
- We should have more staff exchanges, exchanges which let you spend time at the university and lets my colleagues spend time in your departments.
- We should increase our partnerships and joint initiatives in areas such as co-operative education, internships and practica.
- We should use existing gateways, such as the university’s Harlow campus in England to explore European best practices across a variety of disciplines and activities.
Our goal would be to maximize collaboration between public sector organizations and Memorial University, in order to improve the opportunities and quality of life for the citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador.
© Copyright 2002 Memorial University of Newfoundland