CIHR Response and Action Plan - 2011 International Review Panel Recommendations

Introduction and Overall Response

As CIHR reached its tenth anniversary, and in keeping with its legislated responsibility, CIHR's Governing Council commissioned a second International Review of CIHR. The review addressed the following overarching questions:

The review was conducted by a prestigious eleven member panel of global leaders in health research, led by Dr. Elias Zerhouni, the former Director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The 2011 International Review took place in Ottawa, in February and March 2011. Dr. Zerhouni presented the findings and recommendations to CIHR's Governing Council in June 2011.

The International Review Panel concluded that CIHR is fulfilling its mandate and is contributing to improving the health of Canadians. The International Review Panel made 16 specific recommendations in the following areas:

The Governing Council met in August 2011 to consider its response to the International Review Panel's recommendations and to provide strategic direction to management on the development of a corresponding action plan, against the backdrop of the current global economic outlook. Overall, Governing Council agrees with the spirit and direction of the recommendations. Governing Council will continue to provide oversight and strategic direction to management as it implements the action plan and reports on progress.

Governing Council acknowledges and thanks the Scientific Directors for their outstanding leadership. Governing Council thanks Dr. Zerhouni, the members of the International Review Panel and the Expert Review Teams, as well as all those who participated in the review for their valuable input into this important process.

The recommendations of the 2011 International Review Panel are listed below in italics according to broad themes. Each observation is followed by a summary of CIHR's response.

Governance and Management 

"The Governing Council should form a working group to periodically (every 3-5 years) examine whether the slate of CIHR Institutes is appropriate."

Governing Council will form a Working Group to examine the mandates and slate of CIHR Institutes.  The Working Group will be formed in the fall of 2011.

"Expand the breadth of the members of the Governing Council to include public members. The formation of a parallel advisory structure that would enlarge the participation of voluntary organizations may also be considered."

Members of CIHR's Governing Council are appointed by the Governor-in-Council, not CIHR. However, CIHR will identify appropriately qualified individuals for recommendation to the Minister of Health for appointment to CIHR's Governing Council, with the view to expand the breadth of public input on GC. Also, CIHR will develop a Citizen Engagement Strategy, which will consider new approaches to foster the engagement of voluntary sector organizations, by the end of 2012.

"Create a CIHR Office of Public and Government Affairs that serves "corporate" CIHR but is also staffed to help Scientific Directors with Institute-specific communication needs and/or issues. This Office would also lead communication efforts with various government agencies and Parliament."

CIHR will modify its corporate structure so as to better support the communications needs of individual Institutes. CIHR will also develop a Stakeholder Engagement Strategy to improve communications with key stakeholders, including various government agencies and Parliament, by the end of 2012.

"CIHR's President should create a position of Deputy Director for Operations and Management. Given the need to now look more externally to better engage other agencies of government at federal and provincial levels, to represent CIHR to its many stakeholders, to create new national and international partnerships, and to raise the profile and influence of CIHR nationally. This position would free the President to give more attention to these needs, especially since he has stabilized the organization and established good internal processes."

Governing Council does not believe that the current context of fiscal restraint is propitious for the creation of a new high ranking official position at CIHR. However, Governing Council recognizes the need to realign CIHR's corporate resources to better engage stakeholders and agencies of government at federal and provincial levels. Governing Council will also encourage the President to continue building innovative relationships with existing and new national and international partners and key decision makers, and to raise the profile and influence of CIHR nationally and internationally.

Research Programs, Peer Review and Capacity Building

"CIHR should consider awarding larger grants with longer terms for the leading investigators nationally. It should also consolidate grants committees to reduce their number and give them each a broader remit of scientific review, thereby limiting the load and ensuring full attention to new highly meritorious proposals."

CIHR concurs with the IRP that larger grants with longer terms should be awarded to leading investigators, across all research themes, nationally. It will take this recommendation into account in the redesign of the open grants competition program currently underway. CIHR will also review the composition and mandate of peer review committees as it phases in the College of Reviewers and implements peer review improvements to reduce the burden on applicants and peer reviewers.

"Conduct regular and comprehensive planning efforts to define and prioritize targeted research areas and create and promulgate research announcements aligning with these priorities. Consider creating a Common Fund from which some of such announcements could/should be funded."

As part of the implementation of Health Research Roadmap, CIHR launched a series of strategic funding reforms to attain greater focus and impact from its strategic investments. Among the latter are the pan-Institute Signature Initiatives that address priorities highlighted in Health Research Roadmap. CIHR will continue to build upon these processes and work with stakeholders to identify gaps and opportunities to inform targeted CIHR Initiatives for strategic investments and measurable results.

"CIHR should catalyze new areas of research that are beyond its current knowledge domains, including the domains of mathematics, physics, computer and materials sciences, bioinformatics and certain engineering disciplines such as bioengineering. Strategic cooperation with other partners, e.g. Genome Canada or NSERC, should be considered in order to facilitate the development of a national bioinformatics strategy. Other areas such as ecology, operations research or the study of complexity in general might be worth exploring."

CIHR will work closely with Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), Genome Canada and the National Research Council (NRC) to catalyze multidisciplinary research and foster convergence across disciplines at the interface of the agencies' respective mandates. Particular attention will be paid to emerging areas as well as to areas requiring common infrastructure needs.

"Establish Canadian Centres of Excellence of Clinical and Translational Research, which will develop the critical mass of scientists coupled with research infrastructure (horizontal integration) to expedite the advancement of basic discoveries to human application, impact clinical practice, and community health. Implement the Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research."

CIHR will continue to lead and coordinate national efforts to implement Canada's Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research. The Strategy will ensure better integration of research evidence and clinical practice for improved health outcomes and a better health-care system in Canada.

"Provide sufficient funding for randomized controlled trials to ensure adequate sample size and statistical power. In view of current budget constraints, it will be important for CIHR to prioritize and only select trials with high potential impact. One effective approach to reduce cost is to develop international partnerships and collaborations."

CIHR will implement Canada's Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research. A key component of the Strategy is the identification and support of randomized controlled trials in partnership with key-stakeholders across multiple sectors. For large multicentre trials, mechanisms will be set up to prioritize and select applications that in addition to meeting criteria of scientific excellence offer the highest potential for applicability and impact.

"CIHR should work with the nation's universities to enhance the career paths of its young investigators. Particular attention should be paid to clinical investigators who must balance clinical service obligations with research."

CIHR will work with the nation's universities and health research institutes to build a sustainable pipeline of talent at all career stages. Building and nurturing appropriate career paths for clinical investigators is a primary deliverable in Canada's Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research.

Knowledge Translation & Public Outreach

"Enhance industry relationships and opportunities for Canada by encouraging symbiotic collaborations at the investigator, institute, university and federal government levels. CIHR should clearly emphasize as a major strategic orientation the creation of novel career paths allowing flexible interconnections between academic and private positions."

CIHR will develop by the end of 2012 a Commercialization Strategy that takes into account the recommendations of the Jenkins Report and complements the mechanisms set up by Government to stimulate business-led innovation. The Strategy will look at means to foster investigator-initiated innovation and to accelerate commercialization of health research while maintaining the most stringent ethical standards.

"CIHR should explore methods for increasing public and patient participation/input in all its processes from prioritization, through advising on appropriate study endpoints and funding decisions to trial steering groups."

CIHR will ensure that its Citizen Engagement Strategy addresses new and effective ways of engaging the public and patients across all levels of the organization.

"Create programs that are sustainable and can work over time to improve knowledge translation between researchers, their institutions, CIHR and the public at all levels."

GC will continue to oversee the implementation of CIHR's strategic plan, Health Research Roadmap, to ensure integration of Knowledge Translation in needed reforms, stakeholder engagement, as well as a renewal of CIHR's Knowledge Translation Strategy.

Performance Metrics and Evaluation

"CIHR should develop a comprehensive set of metrics and robust evaluation strategy as a means of regular review of CIHR by both the agency's leadership and future international review panels."

CIHR will complete implementation of a Performance and Outcome Measurement Framework to standardize robust data collection and analysis. The Framework will also guide new approaches for the development and implementation of new evaluation methods to aid in reporting on the outcomes and impact of results CIHR's investments in health research.

Canada's Research Landscape

"Major Canadian funding agencies, the relevant federal funding departments, the provincial system and the university sector in Canada should make the necessary structural and process changes to streamline the current complex system for funding infrastructure, salaries and indirect costs."

CIHR will continue to work proactively with all relevant partners to integrate and coordinate current and future funding processes. Increased interagency collaboration is a priority.

"CIHR should lead a Canada-wide effort to harmonize data sets and enable national linkages which would benefit all CIHR institutes and the Canadian research enterprise at large."

CIHR is working with federal, provincial, territorial, and international partners to develop cross-disciplinary strategies for harmonization of data sets and databases, data sharing and linkages.  CIHR will capitalize on initiatives such as the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging which is working multilaterally across the provinces to ensure inter-operability of IT structures, data linkage and harmonization. 

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