An Agency for Integration and Innovation in the CIHR

Introduction

The Federal Government has set the Interim Governing Council of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research a daunting challenge. Without any real precedents or models, especially for the sort of ‘virtual’ structures that are required, it must invent a set of institutions and processes that can continue the work of the existing funding agencies while at the same time accommodating a new, and much broader, vision of the scope and nature of health and health research. The Federal Government has also enjoined the IGC to place a high premium on openness to new ideas, approaches, and fields of inquiry, and on interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary collaboration and integration. In the words of the 1999 Federal Budget Plan, the IGC must “forge an integrated health research agenda across disciplines, sectors and regions that reflects the emerging health needs of Canadians and the evolution of the health system.” We might call these two challenges “the challenge of integration” and “the challenge of innovation”.

This paper proposes a design idea – the creation of a special agency within the CIHR specifically charged with promoting innovation and research integration – that can provide the CIHR with the capacity to realize these twin goals. What we are proposing is a special ‘Agency for Integration and Innovation’ (the A. I. I.) that will be charged with funding and coordinating research on the dual methodological challenges confronting the CIHR. In order to do so effectively, it will also be given responsibility for a small, rotating portfolio of research fields specially chosen for their pertinence to these methodological challenges. For reasons we will present in some detail towards the end of this paper, we will be suggesting that the field of Rural and Northern Health is an ideal candidate for a place within that portfolio at the outset.