CFI Update

August 9, 2002

The CFI has announced a considerable amount of investments over the last 6 months. With no major competition under way, this is an opportune moment to take stock and to reflect on future directions. This CFI Update has a dual purpose: to provide our stakeholders with a status report as well as to give you a flavor of the questions we are pondering as we reflect on the future of our major funds. We welcome your thoughts and suggestions on these matters. Please address them to Robert Davidson at robert.davidson [at]

The sections below will deal with the following topics:

1) CFI Budget Update
2) Innovation Fund
3) New Opportunities Fund
4) International Funds
5) Collaboration with federal granting councils
6) Progress reports and evaluation activities
7) External relations

1) CFI Budget Update

The following is a brief overview of the CFI’s current financial resources.

  • Excluding the funds that have been set aside until the end of December 2005 for the New Opportunities Fund, the Canada Research Chairs, the International Funds and the Infrastructure Operating Fund, the CFI is left with approximately $600M including accrued interest until the end of December 2005.
  • $750M plus interest are currently available for the period of January 2006 to 2010.
  • At this point, there are no funds beyond 2005 for the Canada Research Chairs Infrastructure Fund or for the Infrastructure Operating Fund.

It is readily apparent from this overview that we need to make choices and invest our resources strategically, particularly the investments in the Innovation Fund and the New Opportunities Fund.

2) Innovation Fund

Last January, the CFI had indicated that the next Call for proposals would be postponed in light of the significant investment of $588M to 208 projects that had just been announced. Originally planned for the early summer, the CFI Board of Directors agreed that we would not issue a Call for proposals until the fall at the earliest. This delay would provide time for the implementation of approved projects, for consultation and planning and for the design of high quality proposals.

Our discussions with institutions indicate a clear preference for issuing a Call for proposals sooner rather than later. This October appears to be viewed as timely. Therefore, we are expecting to proceed with a Call for proposals in October. The Board is expected to approve the Call at its October 8 meeting and we plan to issue the Call within two weeks of the Board approval.

In light of our current financial situation, we face the following choice: we can either hold a single large-scale competition from now until 2005 or hold two smaller competitions over the same timeframe.

In a related matter, we have received queries about the timing for the eligibility of in-kind contributions given the change in dates of the competition. We will accept in-kind contributions received as of January 1, 2002, the same date we would have had if the Call for proposals had been issued in June instead of October.

Our discussions with institutions to date reveal that there is no perceived need for major changes to the design of the program, although incremental changes are welcome.

In devising the next Call for proposals, we plan to rely on a variety of sources of information, including the following:

  • the lessons learned from previous competitions and on suggestions received from MAC members;
  • our review of progress reports submitted by institutions;
  • the results of the current evaluation of the Innovation Fund, the College Research Development Fund and the University Research Development Fund; and
  • discussions with institutions.

Incremental changes and improvements will hopefully lead to more innovative projects and a further improved review process.

Based on discussions so far, questions being considered for possible improvements include:

  • How do we foster really innovative projects of increasing quality that will truly be at the leading edge internationally and make a difference for Canada?
  • How can institutions be more strategic and more selective with respect to the projects they submit? Less than half the projects are funded. Yet, a considerable amount of time is required to prepare applications and to review them. We are therefore keen to eliminate wasted effort in the system, given applicant and reviewer fatigue. Hence the question: how could the number of submissions be reduced?
  • How do we foster planning of infrastructure investments within institutions and between institutions? How do we better link projects and institutional plans at both the application and review stages? Suggestions include asking institutions to address how proposals relate to existing projects at their own institutions and at others and to provide a forecast of planned investments over the next five years in areas of institutional priority. Would an inventory by theme of projects funded to date be helpful for planning purposes?
  • Many projects have not been fully implemented. Should institutions take this into account before they attempt to take on more? Are possible limitations on matching funds and on operating funds needed to sustain existing and future facilities also factors to be taken into account?
  • What should be the guidelines for construction projects? When is a proposal mature enough to be considered? Should one multidisciplinary assessment committee (MAC) review all construction and large projects?
  • Are changes needed to the guidelines for databases, high performance computing and campus networks?
  • What information do we need to better assess the factor on benefits to Canada? Is it time to put more emphasis on the benefits to Canada and on research training?
  • Should we consider opportunities for joint application/joint review with other federal granting agencies?
  • Should we adjust the criteria for colleges to reflect their environment? If so, how?

We expect to issue a draft Call for proposals in August. The document will be posted on our web site.

The plan for the next Innovation Fund competition is to proceed much as we have done in the past. We will request a notification of intent to apply (NOI) for administrative purposes, followed by a complete application. We have yet to finalize the schedule but we foresee the deadline for the NOI sometime in December and the deadline for the complete application in late February. The CFI Coordinators would be available to visit institutions throughout the fall.

3) New Opportunities Fund

We have already allocated $222M to the New Opportunities Fund for the period of 1999 to 2005. From this we have funded 763 projects amounting to approximately $123M. Overall, 55% of the 2002 – 2005 allocations is now committed.

Many institutions, especially smaller ones, have committed a significant portion of their envelope. Institutions have expressed a strong interest in a further injection of funds given the number of projected hirings over the next few years. The evaluation of this Fund demonstrates the enormous impact this program is having on institutions (see the complete report on our web site at An early indication of any increase to this envelope could allow for better long term planning at the institutional level.

In October, we will present to the Board a proposal on how to proceed with future investments in the New Opportunities, and on further allocations to institutions. These additional allocations could be accessed starting in 2003.

The next application dates are September 3, 2002 and December 2, 2002. The deadlines for the Canada Research Chairs are September 16, 2002 and December 2, 2002.

4) International Funds

We are proceeding with nine projects: 3 under the International Joint Ventures Fund and 6 under the International Access Fund. The Board has agreed not to proceed with another Call for proposals for the time being. They will review the possible options taking into consideration the funds remaining under each Fund are not sufficient for another competition. These funds were earmarked for International and cannot be used for other activities at this time.

5) Collaboration with other federal granting agencies

The CFI and the three main federal granting agencies (i.e. CIHR, NSERC, SSHRC) are organizations with distinct and complementary mandates and clienteles. The mandate of the CFI is to invest in research infrastructure with a view to strengthening the capability of Canadian universities, colleges, research hospitals and other not-for-profit institutions to conduct world class research and technology development, as well as for attracting and retaining top quality researchers. The CFI contributes to the infrastructure projects of institutions. It does not fund research which is the purview of the granting agencies and other organizations. Moreover, institutions are the eligible applicants in the CFI programs whereas researchers are the applicants to the granting agencies.

In recent months, we have initiated discussions with CIHR, NSERC, SSHRC and Genome Canada. There may be opportunities for a more coordinated approach to ensure efficient and successful investments in research. We are exploring what these might be. The following are some of the questions we are exploring.

  • Where are the opportunities for collaboration between CFI and the granting agencies that would assist institutions and researchers to better achieve their goals?
  • What should be the involvement of granting agencies in the funding of equipment as opposed to CFI? For instance, should NSERC maintain an equipment program for all existing categories now that CFI goes on until 2010? If maintained, how should duplicate applications be dealt with?
  • The recent evaluation of the New Opportunities Fund suggested that a more integrated approach with the granting councils would make it easier for institutions to offer more competitive start-up packages to attract outstanding researchers. Are there ways in which we can work together to attract the very best, possibly by building-in a research grant component?
  • Do we need to reconcile the various priority-setting exercises taking place at the level of the granting councils and of the institutions? If so, how should it be done? How do these mesh?
  • Is there a better way of harmonizing the research funding decisions and the infrastructure decisions?
  • The CFI is providing a contribution to the incremental operating costs of projects funded by CFI between July 2001 and 2005. What should happen with respect to the ongoing operating costs for projects already funded and for those to be funded after 2005? What should be the role of institutions, of granting councils and/or of CFI?

6) Progress reports and evaluation activities

The CFI is committed to the principle of public accountability, and places great importance on explaining the impact of its investments in research infrastructure in achieving its national objectives. An analysis of the progress reports has been prepared by an independent consultant, Mireille Brochu. The report was submitted to the Minister of Industry as part of our annual performance report.

In light of this year's experience, we will be improving the report format. The next reports will be due on June 15, 2003. The revised version of the report will be available in February 2003.

We have created a new section on our website called ''Evaluation: Focus on results'' . I invite you to read Mireille Brochu’s analysis and the institutional reports. You will also find under this section the evaluation report of the New Opportunities Fund that was carried out by Hickling Arthurs Low (HAL) Corporation and other reports related to the evaluation of our activities.

We have retained the services of KPMG Consulting LP to design and implement program evaluations of the University Research Development Fund, the College Research Development Fund and the Innovation Fund. These evaluations will be carried out over the summer and early fall. We will use the information and insights gained from this exercise to assist in the design of the Call for proposals for the Innovation Fund. There will not be a major survey of project leaders as this study will build upon the wealth of information already gathered from the progress reports. Rather, we will focus on case studies to supplement the information already available.

7) External Relations

At the January Board meeting the appointment of Suzanne Corbeil as VP - External Relations was confirmed. Since then she has staffed the team, including, Douglas Lauriault as Director of Public Affairs. I encourage you to check our website for further details.

We continue to review the external relations/communications strategies and approaches and some dialogue has occurred and will continue with your institutions. As a result, we have decided to request from institutions a communications plan which will indicate to us your strategies and approaches to communicating CFI investments in your institutions.

One of the objectives of our communications framework is to showcase Canada’s research achievements and demonstrate the benefits of research to various stakeholders, including the general public. It is in this context that we launched the new electronic magazine (3rd issue launched on July 3) and we are preparing to launch a book of essays from prominent Canadian researchers called "inno'va-tion!". Stay tuned for more details in the fall. We continue to work with your institutions in showcasing success stories.