CIHR's Framework for Citizen Engagement - Executive Summary

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The purpose of the Citizen Engagement (CE) Framework is to help guide the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) in developing a cohesive and consistent approach to engaging citizens in its research processes, including participating in decision-making and informing strategic priorities. This engagement is meant to ensure that funded research reflects the needs and values of Canadians. CIHR has adopted the term 'citizen engagement' because the essence of "engagement" is far more active than traditionally passive public consultation in its recognition of the capacity of citizens to discuss and generate options independently. As the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) points out, CE "requires governments to share in agenda-setting and to ensure that policy proposals generated jointly will be taken into account in reaching a final decision."Footnote 1

CIHR recognizes the value of moving forward with the establishment of a CE Framework as it will position CIHR to improve its access to valuable untapped public values, perspectives and experience. The objectives of the CE Framework are informed by the need to engage Canadians in CIHR's mandate in order to establish trust and legitimacy, and the desire to create a supportive internal environment to establish the common practice of CE within CIHR and its Institutes. For CIHR, CE is the meaningful involvement of citizens in its activities, from agenda-setting and planning to decision-making, implementation and review. The concept of CE is receiving greater attention both internationally and nationally as funding agencies such as Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council, the United Kingdom's Medical Research Council and the National Institutes of Health in the United States have developed programs for CE and are leading in the development of CE best practices for health funders. CIHR is currently lagging behind; however, it can now demonstrate leadership in this important area. In Canada, both the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada have implemented frameworks and programs that support CE activities.

CIHR's Framework was developed based on a situational analysis of CE activities and programs in selected health organizations in Canada and abroad (research funders and regional health authorities), and on an internal survey of activities within CIHR, Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada. It outlines the context within which CE operates by defining the concept and providing an overview of CE activities underway within CIHR and other agencies; it also highlights the general principles underlying the Framework, its objectives, implementation and how it will be evaluated.

The focus of CIHR's Framework is the effective engagement of citizens at the higher levels of Health Canada's public involvement continuum, which consist of collaborative decision-making and partnering activities. The internal survey of CIHR's Institutes and Branches revealed that, while CIHR has already engaged citizens in a variety of ways, engagement has been clustered around Levels 1-3 of Health Canada's spectrum, which range from informing and gathering information to education and time-limited consultation exercises. Levels 4 and 5 of Health Canada's continuum promote longer-term engagement and partnering, such as membership on standing committees and advisory boards. This Framework introduces an organizational strategy to build capacity within CIHR, within the public, and within the research community to increase the number of activities undertaken within the higher levels of engagement.

The CIHR Citizen Engagement Framework is underpinned by a value statement that articulates the importance of citizen engagement for the organization:

CIHR values the engagement of citizens in governance, research priority setting, developing its strategic plans and strategic directions and as an effective means of improving the relevance and translation of research into practice and policy. Ultimately, this will contribute to improving citizens' quality of life, more effective health services and products and a strengthened Canadian health-care system.

The Framework is also guided by five principles:

  • Working with citizens will add value to the program or project.
  • Mutual learning/understanding will build trust and credibility.
  • Openness will enhance transparency and accountability.
  • CIHR will be inclusive in its approach to citizen engagement.
  • Citizens will be supported to ensure their full participation.

The Framework focuses on four key areas where citizens can inform CIHR's work, and provides recommendations for action in each area. The four areas are:

  1. Membership roles on boards and committees;
  2. Informing strategic plans, priorities, policies and guidelines;
  3. Research priority setting/integrated knowledge translation; and
  4. Knowledge dissemination and public outreach.

While implementation of the CE Framework is the responsibility of all Institutes and Branches of CIHR, the Partnerships and Citizen Engagement (PCE) Branch will exercise a coordination and oversight role, facilitating CE activities and providing guidance to all areas of CIHR. As part of this facilitation and guidance, the branch will develop a Citizen Engagement Handbook and Resource Centre. This tailored handbook will outline the methods, processes and checklists that can be used by CIHR staff members for specific levels of CE.

CIHR will be setting standards and demonstrating leadership in this area through performance indicators and evaluation. Evaluation methods for CE programs will be included in the Handbook, similar to Health Canada's public involvement planning guide, which features critical questions to consider in the development process of an overall CE plan so that objectives can be effectively measured.Footnote 2

Through the implementation of this Framework and initiative, CIHR has the opportunity to be a leader in CE in Canada. By building on its existing strengths and taking realistic steps, CIHR will seize an opportunity to move forward with CE to fulfill its place in the global arena and to ensure that funded research connects with Canadians to improve their health and strengthen the Canadian health system. The vehicles already exist within CIHR, but a new way of thinking is needed to ensure inclusiveness and fair representation of citizens in CIHR's decision-making structures and in its research programs.

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