Advocacy Investment Achieves Billions for Canadian Research and Development
Advocating for biomedical research around the world, including direct communication and engagement with policymakers, is foundational to advancing neuroscience priorities. This was convincingly demonstrated when the Canadian Association for Neuroscience (CAN) collaborated with partner organizations to inform policymakers about the importance of neuroscience research and discoveries. This coordinated advocacy effort helped to garner an additional $3 billion CAN for research.
Prior to this historic investment, the Canadian government’s support of scientific research had been steadily declining for nearly 15 years, signaling a great need for enhanced advocacy communications regarding the value of basic and biomedical research. Recognizing this need, and following on a 12-year partnership with CAN, SfN signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with CAN in the spring of 2016 providing $25,000 per year for three years, contingent upon CAN’s contribution of $10,000 per year, to support advocacy targeting four groups in Canada: neuroscientists, government, media, and the public. “The advocacy investments made by SfN allowed the CAN advocacy committee, inaugurated and led by Katalin Toth, to develop an advocacy program that has increased our Association’s visibility and influence, and positioned us as one of the leading science advocacy groups in Canada, through a highly collaborative approach, which is characteristic of the Canadian approach,” Julie Poupart, CAN chief operating and advocacy officer, said.
“By working together with other associations, we were able to show a united front that convinced the government to increase investments in fundamental research,” said Chair of the CAN Advocacy Committee Katalin Toth.
Collaborative Support for Basic Research
CAN’s coordinated advocacy efforts alongside other scientific organizations led to historic investments in 2018 for scientific research, including a 25 percent increase in basic research investment. Over the next five years, Canada will invest more than $1.7 billion CAN to support the next generation of Canadian researchers — the single largest investment in fundamental research in Canadian history. New funding also includes more than $1.3 billion CAN for investments in the laboratories, equipment, and infrastructure that researchers rely on every day.
Creating a unified voice to cut through the noise of competing priorities in Parliament was CAN’s primary initiative. SfN’s commitment provided the resources needed to build relationships with scientific societies, research institutions, and universities in Canada that synergized messaging across the community. This strategy built a robust group of knowledgeable neuroscience advocates who can speak directly with lawmakers about the benefits of funding basic research in Canada.
“By building partnerships and ensuring that all partners speak in a unified and coherent voice, the government received a clear message that could then be acted upon,” Toth said.
Much of CAN’s advocacy efforts align with Canada’s Fundamental Science Review, also known as the Naylor report, which recommended that Canada invest $1.3 billion annually to bring Canada’s research enterprise up to global standards. With newly dedicated funds, CAN leveraged the momentum created by the Naylor report and launched a collaborative website to further publicize the #supportthereport campaign that aided in the large-scale mobilization of science advocates and increased investment for 2018.
In addition, over the last two years newly dedicated staff and travel funds have enabled CAN to meet with at least two dozen members of Parliament (MP). For example, CAN met with Canada’s Health Research Caucus (HRC), which brings researchers to Ottawa, the Canadian capital, to share their work with MPs including John Oliver, chair of the HRC, as well as vice-chairs Carol Hughes and Marilyn Gladu, all of whom are leading supporters of health research in Canada. CAN also met with members of Parliament who are critical of health funding in Canada to openly discuss the value of the research enterprise.
“Katalin Toth’s multiple trips to Ottawa paid off, putting her in a position to have real conversations with elected officials to gain a better appreciation of the decision-making process in the Canadian government, and with other advocacy groups to learn effective lobbying strategies. Now we can build on these relationships to work with MPs and other advocates to increase support for basic research,” said Melanie Woodin, who took over the leadership of the CAN Advocacy Committee in June 2018.
Partnering for the Future
The intersection of these and other advocacy efforts undertaken by CAN has raised the profile of neuroscience priorities across the country; however, where Canada’s historic investments in scientific research have demonstrated the government’s willingness to listen to scientists, there remains significant work to be done to fully implement the recommendations outlined in the Naylor report.
With the remaining support from SfN, CAN will continue to work with policymakers and advocacy partners to further increase research investment. This includes growing its staff to include a dedicated lobbyist with specialized knowledge of the Canadian government. “We are optimistic that our efforts will lead to even more long-term increases in science funding in Canada,” Woodin said.
Effective advocacy is contingent upon a unified group of science advocates who can build lasting relationships with policymakers. By supporting international organizations that know how to navigate their unique governments and culture, SfN is helping to propel neuroscience discoveries forward.
Learn more about how SfN is advocating on behalf of neuroscience around the globe and how you can get involved at