Thought-provoking? Lunch room talk? Or both?

“I find your blog thought-provoking,” was one of the most pleasing comments I received since the beginning of this blog. Another colleague wrote: “It is very easy for people to become complacent and simply accept the sorts of changes that are happening, and it is great to see someone in your position speaking out (in public, rather than just in the lunch room).”

So what’s this blog about? It is still not clear to me, but I do know that the two comments above cannot be far off the mark.

I can see why my latest “rant”, which happened to be on the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), may be a good example of a thought-provoking post, and consequently of what this blog may be useful for. It touched an “untouchable” program. It asked questions that no one –for one reason or another–had asked in public before, and it said aloud what others have been saying in lunchrooms but not in Boardrooms.

The CFI may very well have the “best press” of all government programs. Just compare their PR machine to those of the Tri-Council, and how they always come ahead in federal budgets. Kevin Lynch may of course have had something to do with it; after all, it was essentially his “baby” during the Paul Martin era. The stimulus budget that cut the Tri-council budgets by $43-million, managed to award $600 $750-million to the CFI, and in a year where the government initiated the $2-billion dollars Knowledge Infrastructure Program (KIP). Influential people – obviously unaware that they are comparing apples and oranges — like to contrast the “CFI’s record of excellence” with the Tri-council’s, the latter being a favorite punching bag for some in Ottawa.

This reminds me that a friend, who happens to be a senior administrator, wrote to say that he disagrees with my post on that subject. “The CFI saved Canadian Science”, he wrote. But my post doesn’t say the contrary. I was, however, more precise with my compliment for the CFI since I said,

“It is however important to state that — in spite of the issues flagged here –the CFI has provided a tremendous boost to certain aspects of Canada’s research infrastructure over the last 10 years. Our main premise here is that the constraints of the program have left many important research disciplines out of its potential beneficial impact.”

He listed the large number of CFI-funded projects at his university, but this is hardly surprising from a program that pumped billions of dollars into the infrastructure of Canada’s post-secondary institutions. But this begs the question of whether these large sums are coming at the expense of other equally deserving government programs, such as those that invest in human resources.

Our posts are not to repeat the stories of success pompously announced in official press releases. Our role here is to give good performance its due, to expose what is “not perfect”, but most importantly to facilitate the flow of “truthful information”, and to get people thinking.

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