4. Best practices and recommendations
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As stated previously, the objective of this study was to sketch a picture of perceived barriers to research and funding in official language minority community (OLMC) settings or on linguistic duality as a research subject. One of the purposes of this study was also to catalogue the best practices of federal research funding agencies with respect to their role in applying Part VII of the Official Languages Act. Another was to propose solutions and make recommendations. The present chapter sets out to do just that. This section builds on the previous two, which presented the obstacles identified by the researchers on the one hand, as well as the best practices as presented by the federal research funding agencies themselves on the other. Section 4 also includes recommendations by the Commissioner of Official Languages, recognizing that under Part VII all federal research funding agencies share the federal government’s responsibility to take positive measures to enhance the vitality of OLMCs and assist in their development and promote linguistic duality in Canadian society.
As shown in the report, some agencies are already taking steps to implement their responsibilities under Part VII. The objective is not to single out any particular research funding agency. Instead, the aim of the following section is to look at existing practices, identify areas for improvement and suggest ways for moving forward. As such, the suggestions and recommendations in this section should be considered as valuable tools to help federal research funding agencies meet their obligations of promoting linguistic duality in Canadian society and research in French, support official language minority researchers and institutions, and enhance the ability of federal research funding agencies to contribute to the development of OLMCs. It must also be added that these suggestions and recommendations are pertinent to the respective agencies to the extent that they fit with the agency’s mandate and area of intervention.
This section is based on the literature available in this subject area, input from the researchers and agencies, and feedback obtained from both groups during the forum held by the Commissioner of Official Languages in Ottawa on November 17, 2006. An attempt was made to identify which agency practices and initiatives relative to OLMCs have produced positive results, which have been less successful and what efforts have been made to address the particular challenges, obstacles or problems encountered by official language minority researchers. Each of these best practices is described in further detail in the pages that follow.
Finally, it is worth noting that the Association des universités de la francophonie canadienne (AUFC), a network of 13 institutions whose mission is to promote post-secondary teaching in Francophone minority communities in Canada, recently developed their action plan for 2007–2012, which focuses on supporting its research community and the internationalization of member institutions.
As part of this action plan, the AUFC created an advisory committee on research in June 2006, and last fall hired a research coordinator. The financial support the committee received allowed it to define the subject and strategic areas of research in terms of the Canadian Francophonie and develop a strategy to enhance researchers' ability to obtain funding from research funding agencies (especially those whose primary areas of interest concern Francophone minority communities). To that end, the research coordinator interviewed some 75 researchers who are interested in this field. A support plan for research on Francophone minority communities was adopted by the members of the AUFC on May 31, 2007, and the priority activities of this plan are already being implemented. The findings and conclusions of this plan are similar to the findings of this study. The AUFC will therefore be in a position to contribute to the implementation of the Commissioner's recommendations.
As the AUFC wants to play a connecting role between OLMC researchers and the federal funding agencies, it will be important to examine the final results of its study and determine how it can be used to support and implement the Commissioner’s recommendations.
4.1 Actively promote and inform researchers about available funding
Researchers generally have limited knowledge and awareness of the full range of sources of federal government research funding available to them. The federal research funding agencies could be more proactive in promoting and disseminating information on funding programs available to universities and researchers in OLMCs. The most prevalent practices as well as suggestions made to improve the level of communications with universities and researchers include the following:
- Consult with official language minority institutions and the AUFC to determine their needs: Meet with official language minority institutions and the AUFC to ensure that funding programs are aligned with their needs.
- Make more frequent visits to the universities: Conduct information sessions on the programs available and their eligibility criteria and describe new programs. The need for more visits was cited repeatedly by researchers. The agencies would need to target the small universities where the research infrastructure and overall research culture are much more limited.
- Use a wide range of information dissemination strategies to increase the visibility of the funding programs: Federal research funding agencies should provide information on the areas of research that they see as a priority, the amounts of research funding available, the program eligibility criteria and the selection criteria so that researchers can increase their chances of submitting a successful proposal. In addition, they should clearly identify where institutions and researchers need to go for funding support. Dissemination strategies could include the Internet, personal contacts, the media, research expositions and shows, workshops, the distribution of videos as well as collaboration with other institutions and the AUFC.
- Maintain direct contact with the researchers: The federal research funding agencies need to go beyond the research offices of the larger universities to ensure that information reaches OLMC researchers more directly. For example, agencies could send program funding information directly and regularly to individual researchers.
- Pursue an integrated approach to providing information on research funding programs across all government agencies: This could be facilitated by coordinating the promotion and communications efforts of the various research funding agencies (e.g., through joint expositions at universities and the creation of a single Web site that would identify all sources of funding for a particular area of research).
4.2 Develop the capacity of federal research funding agencies to serve researchers in their own official language
In order to integrate linguistic duality into the overall culture of research funding, and into the way that the agencies conduct their business, the following practices could be used.
- Increase the bilingual capacity of peer review committee members: Ensure that both language groups are adequately represented in peer review committees, that there are a sufficient number of members who are highly proficient in French and that experts in research on linguistic duality and OLMCs are present on those committees when needed. A number of best practices have been identified in this report.
- Raise the awareness of peer review committee members about the circumstances and challenges of OLMCs: Ensure that members of evaluation committees are aware of the specific context of conducting research in an OLMC institution, and of the federal agencies’ objectives and obligations in this regard.
- Identify a champion within the research funding agency: This champion would promote the interests of the French-language research community to peer review committees. For example, some researchers that were interviewed went as far as to suggest the creation of a French section within the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) that would focus on the research needs of the Francophone research community.
- Provide staff training to federal research funding agencies: This would target senior management in the agencies, members of evaluation committees and program officers, and focus on the needs and circumstances of OLMCs.
4.3 Establish research funding strategies that target small institutions
OLMC institutions and researchers need to develop their capabilities if they wish to be successful in accessing research funding and compete with larger institutions. The federal research funding agencies have a role in helping them do this.
- Tailor funding support to the circumstances of the small bilingual and official language minority universities and develop a range of funding support instruments for small institutions: Research funding programs need to recognize the limited capabilities of the small universities in terms of graduate programs, available research time and overall resources, and need to be sufficiently flexible to acknowledge the special circumstances of small official language minority universities. The agencies should set research funding aside for the smaller institutions (or for official language minority sub-units in the larger universities) and for smaller research teams that do not have the capabilities of research teams at the large universities. This funding support could serve a number of purposes:
- Support the development of infrastructure in small universities to coach and support researchers in submitting applications for funding and to train researchers in OLMCs so they can improve their skills in developing research proposals. This should especially help new researchers, who are often employed in smaller universities and need to develop their capabilities. For example, funding could be used by research services offices to help researchers in OLMCs prepare funding applications. The ultimate objective would be to enable researchers in smaller universities to reduce their teaching workloads and focus more on research.
- Target funding for undergraduate universities in order to encourage students to apply for grants and undertake research at an earlier stage. Such a strategy would not only develop research capacity in these universities but could also encourage more students in OLMCs to pursue graduate studies.
- Provide technical support to researchers, for example, by holding preliminary consultations with researchers who wish to submit a research project, by organizing workshops in the smaller universities that could stimulate ideas on research proposals or by providing funding support that could help researchers prepare research proposals.
Small institutions face particular circumstances (e.g., fewer or even no graduate programs, fewer professors and therefore few collaboration possibilities, heavier teaching and administrative loads, less available research time, fewer overall resources and less institutional support), and researchers perceive that federal research funding agencies favour the large majority-language universities.
- Encourage more networking among researchers in official language minority institutions: Networking could help create a critical mass so that researchers in minority-language communities can become more competitive in obtaining funding for research proposals. Specific suggestions include:
- Provide funding to support the creation of networks for new researchers from different small institutions: Federal research funding agencies and OLMC institutions should encourage the creation of research teams that would enable new researchers to work with more experienced research teams that are already in place in order to help them through mentorship programs, submit their first applications and obtain funding support. Agencies should also provide funding to researchers from different institutions so that they can work together on an inter-university basis to submit winning research applications. In addition, funding should be provided to enable OLMC universities to share the expertise necessary to help them prepare research funding proposals, improve the quality of their applications and facilitate the completion of research projects. Overall, researchers indicated a need for more coordination and collaboration among the federal research funding agencies.
- Create research centres: The creation of research centres in official language minority institutions that focus on specific research areas deemed important for them would enable the smaller institutions to share specialized research resources and expertise (e.g., the Canadian Institute for Research on Linguistic Minorities). The smaller universities cannot afford to develop competencies in all research areas and, at the moment, cannot take advantage of certain research funding programs because they do not have the competencies in these particular research areas that are necessary to apply for research funding. Experienced mentors could help those researchers in smaller universities who have less experience in submitting applications for research funding. These research centres could also promote networking with well-known research networks and also pursue research specific to OLMCs and linguistic duality issues.
Researchers in OLMCs are often isolated and do not always benefit from the expertise of more experienced colleagues, which can make them less competitive in obtaining the funding requested for research proposals, and that they are often not on equal footing with other universities in national networks.
4.4 Streamline funding administrative processes
While recognizing that the agencies have established application processes in place, simplification of these processes would support the interests of researchers in OLMCs. Specific suggestions for improvement include the following:
- Use letters of intent for major research projects to simplify the application process and to identify potential research projects: Simplified and streamlined application processes and shorter application forms, such as letters of intent, when pertinent to do so, could help researchers by requiring them to commit less time and effort to the preparation of a formal detailed proposal.
- Explore other tools to simplify the application process: For example, make use of staged applications, common resumés between agencies, multiple application programs, on-line applications, coaching for researchers, etc. Additional mechanisms could include:
- Ensuring better coordination between the programs of the various research funding agencies, so that programs are cohesive and complementary and that a coordinated approach is taken to the scheduling of application processes;
- Making funding support available to OLMC institutions through specific grants, so that researchers in the social sciences can carry out successful research projects requiring smaller dollar amounts;
- Showing flexibility in the research application processes, for example, in terms of program eligibility requirements, eligible expenses and the amount of institutional investment required; and
- Increasing the transparency of research funding practices and processes, particularly in the application process, in clarifying selection criteria and the rationale for decisions, and in ensuring that evaluation criteria are fair and reflect the unique circumstances of OLMC researchers.
Researchers have indicated that application processes and procedures are complex and vary between agencies and that selection criteria are not always transparent.
Smaller OLMC universities have a limited number of graduate programs and researchers, which in turn have limited time and resources to devote to research and little support to help prepare and fine tune their grant applications compared to their counterparts from larger institutions.
4.5 Establish programs that target research on official languages issues
In order to establish specific programs aimed at encouraging research in OLMCs and on official languages issues (such as the Canadian Heritage-SSHRC pilot program from 2004 to 2007) and in order to place a higher priority on such research, the following suggestions could be taken into account.
- Dedicate funding for research on official languages issues: Before funds can be specifically targeted at research on OLMCs and linguistic duality, they need to be given greater recognition as a separate research discipline by both funding agencies and federal departments. Greater stability in funding requires well-defined programs. In addition, there needs to be increased recognition by federal research funding agencies of linguistic duality as a distinct theme in research funding allocations and of the interdisciplinary nature of research on linguistic duality and OLMCs.
- Reinforce federal interdepartmental coordination for research on official languages: This can be done through the interdepartmental working group on official languages research and through reinforcing research partnerships with universities and research institutes.
- Support the dissemination of research results: The federal research funding agencies, federal departments and official language minority institutions should develop a communications strategy that aims to better integrate and communicate research findings, knowledge transfer and the greater visibility of research results within the research community and among the general public. These findings could be published in scientific journals or on-line revues. Funding support could foster the creation of a journal on OLMC research, or assist researchers in publishing and distributing French-language research papers. Money could also be made available to help communicate the existence of research funding programs and to support the development of OLMC research projects.
- Give priority to OLMC researchers: This would involve researchers who submit funding applications on issues affecting OLMCs or who are affiliated with official language minority institutions. Programs could also be developed to encourage researchers to become more closely connected through research networks and to work in partnership with OLMCs.
- Establish an advisory board comprised of university representatives involved in research on official languages issues: An advisory board could provide suggestions and feedback on actions that have been taken and encourage research on linguistic duality and OLMCs.
Current research funding levels might not be sufficient to sustain present research efforts, develop research capacity where it does not exist or allow the government to fulfill its commitment to official languages. Furthermore, research on official languages issues seems to be a low priority.
- Monitor research support to OLMC institutions: The federal research funding agencies, the Coordinating Committee on Official Languages Research and Canadian Heritage’s Official Languages Secretariat should monitor progress in addressing the needs of researchers who study official language minorities. This could be readily accomplished by examining the research statistics reported by Statistics Canada and the Canadian Association of University Business Officers (CAUBO) each year. The task would be facilitated if a few minor enhancements were introduced to the research funding tables, for example, keeping separate statistics for all OLMCs and bilingual and majority institutions, keeping separate statistics for French and English grant applications, breaking down the “other federal” reporting category to reveal the other federal government research funding sources and reporting the amounts allocated to research chairs for OLMC universities.
4.6 Engage the institutions
In order to increase the amount of research that is carried out on OLMCs and linguistic duality, it must become a priority on both government and university research agendas. Universities are key players since they provide financial and technical support to researchers, and the Canada Research Chairs Program also has a role to play in this area. The academic reward system and support infrastructure of universities must recognize research focused on OLMCs and linguistic duality as a priority, and provide incentives to publish in French whenever possible or through the translation of work conducted in French. Specific strategies include the following:
- Integrate official languages and linguistic duality into university research plans: Senior leadership in the universities must actively foster and encourage this research. Researchers must be rewarded for carrying out research with community groups (as opposed to traditional peer-evaluated research supported through the federal research funding agencies). For example, SSHRC has developed the Community-University Research Alliances program, which has not yet been used extensively by OLMCs. University publications can be used to help disseminate research results.
- Encourage universities to establish research programs on OLMCs and linguistic duality: Bilingual universities could direct part of their research funding to official language minority researchers in the university who publish in French. To help this process, university research support services administrators and staff should develop an institutional ability to work in both official languages.
- Develop the capacity of universities to review applications in French: Applications must be reviewed and approved by the university, but universities outside Quebec are often unable to review French applications prepared by official language minority researchers.
In conclusion—Researchers and agencies identified a number of best practices to actively promote and inform researchers of available funding, develop the ability of research funding agencies to serve researchers in their official language, establish funding strategies that target small institutions, streamline funding application processes and direct research programs at official languages and linguistic duality issues. Universities also have a role to play in integrating these themes into their research plans and fostering programs on official languages and linguistic duality.