Strategic Plans & Initiatives

SSHRC Transformation at the University of Saskatchewan

OVERVIEW OF THE SSHRC TRANSFORMATION PROCESS

Overview | Renaud's Visit | Consultations | Useful Links

Peter Stoicheff is the U of S SSHRC Transformation Officer


I: Overview of the SSHRC Transformation Process

In early 2003 the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council decided that it was necessary to make some fundamental changes to its mandates and granting structure. Until that point, it had essentially seen itself as a "granting council" that funded researchers and graduate students to undertake mainly curiosity-driven research whose results circulated within the academic environment. For a number of reasons, it decided in 2003 to begin transforming itself into a "knowledge council" - one that maintains those earlier responsibilities but also "directly supports and facilitates the sharing, synthesis and impact of research knowledge."

SSHRC is now at the point where it is beginning to communicate a clearer picture of its new vision to universities and partners across the country and to ask for feedback from them in order to finalize its new role. To facilitate this process, each campus has appointed a representative to act as a liaison with SSHRC to ensure that SSHRC's message gets out and that campus response to that message is received back. Vice-President Research Steven Franklin appointed Peter Stoicheff (English Department) to act in this capacity for the U of S. SSHRC hopes to increase the amount of funding it receives from the federal government in order more fully to support social sciences and humanities research in Canada. It currently receives 14% ($242.1 million) of federal Tri Council funding (NSERC receives 44% and CIHR 42%) although its disciplines represent 54% of the full-time professors and 58% of the full-time graduate students in the country. If it is to be successful in its attempt to increase substantially its federal funding, SSHRC needs to be able to demonstrate that its research has, and will have, "impact" on Canadians and their society. SSHRC's concern is that, at present, the research it funds is both "ubiquitous and invisible" - widely undertaken by active researchers with exciting initiatives, but known to very few outside the post-secondary institutional system that houses the work. That term "impact" is quite open to interpretation. SSHRC's future, and our part in that future, are directly related to how it is, in fact, interpreted, and to how involved we are in the consultation process that is now before us. SSHRC offers possible granting models representing various responses to the term in its document From Granting Council to Knowledge Council: Renewing the Social Sciences and Humanities in Canada. It is linked through this website; you are encouraged to take a look at that document. This website also contains background lectures and media reports relevant to the transformation process (under Useful Links). Professor Stoicheff is endeavouring to give everyone involved in SSHRC-related disciplines an opportunity to be involved in the consultation stage of this transformation process. This includes all SSHRC-related faculty, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, all levels of administration, and the Faculty Association. It is also crucial that relevant constituencies outside the university are involved, including the Aboriginal, the agricultural and the artistic. These consultations have begun and will continue until the end of April, at which point Professor Stoicheff must deliver a short report back to SSHRC that captures the various responses he has received from these different sectors. The "consultations" link lists the various people, groups, committees and community partners he has consulted, or will be consulting in the next few weeks. SSHRC's president Dr. Marc Renaud visited the U of S on March 11th for a full day of meetings with researchers and faculty, community partners and U of S administration. He introduced some of the facts of the transformation process and received, first-hand, responses to them.

II: Issues and Questions
The document From Granting Council to Knowledge Council: Renewing the Social Sciences and Humanities in Canada outlines the new directions SSHRC wants to take. It is clear that SSHRC does not want to change its present core values of research excellence, competitive funding, inclusiveness and openness, innovative continuity, and accountability. It does, however, want to change some of its goals and ways of achieving them.

A. New Goals: SSHRC wants to encourage collaborative research that is more international in scope and more interdisciplinary, and that connects the university and public sectors. It also wants to maximize the impact of humanities and social sciences research in Canada so that it reaches not just scholarly audiences but the wider public, government, the private sector, the media, etc. As the document states, "In this day and age, meaningful, intensive and fruitful connections - between researchers and students across disciplines, institutions, communities of all kinds - are a sine qua non for pushing back the boundaries of knowledge, building understanding and taking informed action." The question SSHRC asks us in regard to this is, "to what extent does this vision of a 'knowledge agency' resonate with [our] own sense of what Canada requires to strengthen human sciences research and training for the challenges of this century?" B. New ways of intensifying collaboration and of connecting scholarship with the public:

Some of SSHRC's more recent programs have been successful in achieving each of these already, including the Community-University Research Alliances (CURAs), the Major Collaborative Research Initiatives (MCRIs) and the Initiative on the New Economy (INE) grants. Several new possibilities are offered in the document:

  • "Confederations of Learning" (similar to the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research) would "allow 20 to 30 researchers to interact regularly … under the guidance of a scientific director." "More Formal Institutes" (created by SSHRC's Board for a certain period of time) would provide a "home" to "large groups of researchers (200-300) who would focus on "cross-cutting issues of major and immediate social or political importance." "Knowledge Mobilization Units" would "look at all active researchers and … make sure that research expertise is 'made use of' … by organizations and groups outside of academia." "Web-Facilitated Communities of Practice" would provide a "web-enabled knowledge network to increase synergies" among researchers and research units. "A Clearinghouse for Advanced Expertise" (similar to the Brookings Institute in Washington) would bring researchers together on a small or large scale to discuss pressing issues with government representatives or the media. "Exchange Mobility Programs" would facilitate contact between researchers and government. "Enriched and Connected Postsecondary Training Environments" would fund postsecondary institutions competitively to enable them to, in turn, "recruit, retain and connect the best graduate students." "A Human Sciences Foundation" would increase "Canada's capacity to 'broker' or 'mobilize' knowledge in the human sciences" with "governments, businesses, voluntary sector agencies, media and the general public."
  • "Scholarly-Based Journals for Lay Audiences" would "render highly specialized knowledge into accessible prose" for non-academic readers along the lines of the New York Review of Books and the Harvard Business Review.

Questions SSHRC asks in regard to these proposals are, "what advantages and disadvantages do you see in [them]" and "what importance do you attach to SSHRC investing in" a full spectrum of research types, from the curiosity-driven to "the most applied"? C. Improving Current Programs: SSHRC is reviewing its current programs in relation to its new goals. Among the issues they raise in this regard are whether to:

  • have more people receive smaller Standard Research Grants or fewer people receive larger grants? offer support for young scholars in order to boost careers of talented new researchers? promote greater relevance and impact of Strategic Grants to link with "researchers working on complementary topics funded under the Standard Research Grants Program"? provide more support for research communications to take advantage of new communications technologies, of new ways of increasing the impact of conferences and congresses, and of the full potential of the annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences?
  • offer new or different support to institutions that would, for instance, require matching provincial funding or that would "devolve to universities more responsibility for deciding what activities receive funding?"

The foregoing points capture some but not all of the breadth and detail of SSHRC's intentions. The document From Granting Council to Knowledge Council contains much more information. As mentioned, you are urged you to take a look at it on this site. Identical hardcopy versions are available from Professor Stoicheff (peter.stoicheff@usask.ca or tel. 966-5516).