The canadian digital infrastructure system for research and innovation

Written by  Urs Obrist, Embassy of Switzerland in Canada

In October 2013, the leading Canadian funding agencies, i.e. the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) presented a consultation paper regarding big data and digital scholarship.[1] This paper delineates key aspects of Canada’s policy framework for advancing digital scholarship in Canada and points out how, with various cooperative investments and ventures involving post-secondary institutions, not-for-profit organizations and all levels of government, Canada has put in place many of the elements of a well-functioning digital infrastructure system for research and innovation. The perception is, however, that the potential of data-intensive research is progressively outstripping Canada’s ability to manage and to grow the digital ecosystem required to the forthcoming needs.

The above-mentioned research funding agencies SSHRC, NSERC, CIHR and CFI in collaboration with Genome Canada have joined forces to address the digital challenge. Their consultation document proposes a collective realignment of agency funding policies regarding management of data obtained through projects undertaken with agency funds.

The proposed document includes the following initatives:

  • Establishing a Culture of Stewardship. The funding agencies should cooperate in the development of clear policies and guidelines to bring attention to this important aspect of research culture and promote the development of appropriate data management systems and capability. The funding agencies are to define the core elements of a focused data stewardship plan.
  • Coordination of Stakeholder Engagement in a research environment that has a high degree of commitment to collaboration in order to address long-term planning and initiate bottom-up actions. Together with the provinces and other stakeholders the funding agencies should aim for a maximum contribution of all players to develop further a Canadian digital infrastructure system.
  • Development of capacity and future funding parameters. The parameters for the funding of coordinated Canada-wide digital infrastructure should be reexamined. The balance of roles and responsibilities among national, provincial and institutional stakeholders should be reassessed to ensure effective support and efficiency. The funding agencies encourage the establishment of a number of world-class centres specializing in data management and supporting interrelated functions including but not limited to administration, operations, policy and access.

The goals are threefold:

  • Encourage the collection and sharing of data among researchers, in keeping with the Government of Canada’s Open Government Initiative
  • Encourage an environment for digital scholarship in Canada that provides for more effective coordination among the stakeholder organizations
  • Help ensure that investments in digital infrastructure render optimal benefit for Canadians.

Besides a useful bibliography, the paper also lists and describes the main stakeholders in Canada who are actively supporting digital scholarship and the cyber-infrastructure underpinning in Canada. Amongst them are:

Research Data Canada (RDC), Leadership Council for Digital Infrastructure, Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL), Ontario Council of University Libraries, Canadian University Council of Chief Information Officers, Compute Canada, CANARIE, Canadian Research Knowledge Network (CRKN), Canadian Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (NRC-CISTI), Canadian Research Data Centre Network (CRDCN), Canadian Polar Data Network or Canadian Astronomy Data Centre (CADC).

Since the publication of the consultation document, Canada has progressed with the arrival of the open access policy and the ongoing funding of Digging into Data projects.[2] The third round of the Digging into Data competition was announced in 2013, whereby research funders representing Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States, offered the Digging into Data Challenge to fund a wide variety of projects that explore how computationally intensive research methods can be used to ask new questions about and gain new insights about the world. Digging into Data is sponsored by ten international research funding organizations that are working together to focus the attention of the social sciences, humanities, library, archival, information, computer, mathematical, and statistical science communities on large-scale data analysis and its potential applications.

Furthermore, the big data theme will be included in the participation of international funding agencies through the Trans-Atlantic Platform[3], in the next competition and the development of policy frameworks for data management.

SSHRC has announced to present a draft policy directive on data management for final consultation in late Fall 2015. The issue of big data will be included in the scope of a knowledge synthesis grants competition, to assess the state of research on the impact of emerging technologies that SSHRC will be launching in late 2015.

This grants competition is one of a series of knowledge synthesis competitions that are aligned with the future challenges[4] identified in SSHRC’s Imagining Canada’s Future initiative.


[1] For the full paper and complete text on which this blog entry is based, see

[2] For the mandate of Digging into Data, see

[3] See In the most recent Learned’s Congress, this platform, T-AP, has been a special focus of a SSHRC-led symposium to enhance cooperation across the Atlantic.

[4] See:


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