Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Canada is missing an important trend: Design Research and the Science Review

Much has been written of late on the Review of Fundamental Science report recently released publicly.  The Naylor Report as it has become known, has put forward a list of recommendations to update Canada's approach to fundamental science, or basic research in OECD terms.

OCAD U provided input to the Panel with a vision for fundamental science that encourages multidisciplinary research teams that include design researchers as the country prepares to address grand challenges.  

We called on the Panel to address the need to:
  • Adapt federal research funding to meet the needs of researchers working in design disciplines;
  • Improve coordination among the granting councils to support multidisciplinary research;
  • Ensure that small universities are able to access research funding;
  • Ensure Highly Qualified and Skilled Personnel (HQ&SP) in small institutions are not disadvantaged.
Some excerpts from our submission:
Design research in Canada currently falls between the cracks in Canada's fundamental research funding ecosystem. As a result, Canada is not supporting these important areas of research, nor are we gaining the benefits that design disciplines add to fundamental science. This impairs our ability to participate in area of research importance internationally, and prevents us from fully establishing interdisciplinary research that can effectively tackle grand challenges.

Other countries offer models to consider as the federal government examines the country’s approach to fundamental science. Design research has an important role in fundamental science and knowledge creation. It comprises a set of disciplines that have inherent value as distinct areas of inquiry (research and knowledge creation), as well as being important inputs to downstream innovation capacity. Design disciplines are key areas of research activity internationally. 

Around the world, design-centred research has been seen as critical to future innovation and growth. The Australian Research Council has long instituted the 1203 Field of Research code to enable design organizations to apply for its Discovery and Linkage grants [See note below]. The United States’ National Endowment for the Arts explicitly supports design research as an area for funding. The European Commission’s Action Plan for Design-Driven Innovation (2013) calls for “research in which designers and design methods play a central role” and the recognition that, “co-design and other design methods can help to reinforce partnerships between multidisciplinary research teams and assist us in understanding the crosscutting issues and architecture of complex problems.” The UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has reiterated design as a strategic priority area in its 2013-2018 AHRC Strategy. Canada is more than ten years behind the funding of design research by Asian governments, such as South Korea, which funded the Korean Design Research Institute at Seoul National University from 2002-2012, and Hong Kong, which funded the DesignSmart Initiative to support design research as one of its initiatives from 2004 until 2011.

The good news is that the Panel Report has acknowledged the importance of design disciplines: the panel "notes that certain areas of research (e.g., health law, medical anthropology, design) are distinct disciplines that have not found consistent support from any of the granting councils" (p123). They call on the granting councils to provide "a welcoming home for these orphan disciplines, and to ensure that appropriate peer review mechanisms are structured for them." This also includes the need to expand the capacity of the granting councils to engage multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary researchers in enabling this transformation. 

These are among many recommendations that will certainly take time to sort out and sift through. But the Panel has done a great service to Canada's research community by putting forward important issues of research productivity, funding normalized to GDP (where we are lagging internationally),  and the relationship of science to international competitiveness and national  innovation and productivity.

Note: Sub-codes in the 1203 Design category include 120301 Design History and Theory, 120302 Design Innovation, 120303 Design Management and Studio and Professional Practice, 120304 Digital and Interaction Design, 120305 Industrial Design, 120306 Textile and Fashion Design, 120307 Visual Communication Design (incl. Graphic Design), and 120399 Design Practice and Management not elsewhere classified.

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