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The National Research Council Canada Opening Doors in Germany for Transatlantic Science and Technology Collaborations
Interview with
Dr. Jennifer E. Decker, Consul, National Research Council Canada, Germany

In her role as Consul at the Canadian Consulate in Munich, Dr. Jennifer E. Decker is the representative of the National Research Council Canada in Germany. As a researcher and Alexander von Humboldt Fellow, Dr. Decker has already worked in German-Canadian collaborations. Through her role as Science and Technology Counsellor at Canada's Embassy in Berlin and various managerial functions at the NRC in Canada and Germany, Dr. Decker has become the management expert for German-Canadian science and technology cooperation.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of science and technology cooperation between both countries, we invited Dr. Decker for an interview to share with us what makes the German-Canadian partnership so special in her view.
Team Work to Advance the Research and Innovation Agenda
GCC: Dear Dr. Decker, The German-Canadian science community celebrates in 2021 fifty years of fruitful collaborations. During most part of your professional career, you have been directly connected to the development of research partnerships connecting both countries. Could you tell us about your experience of German-Canadian collaboration in science, technology, and innovation (STI)?

JD: My experience has been overall positive! My personal journey with Canada-Germany research and development (R&D) cooperation began as an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at the Physikalisch Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) national measurement laboratory in Braunschweig in the field of precision length metrology. As a metrologist, I contributed to international ISO standards development in nanotechnologies, and those international teams included Canadian and German researchers working closely on pre-normative standards in measurement and characterization.

Later on, in my role as a Science and Technology (S&T) Counsellor at the Canadian Embassy in Berlin, I fostered broader science and technology collaboration, working directly with governments, academia and industry in many forms – hosting events, assisting with partnering missions, encouraging participation in conferences, organizing and facilitating meetings, as a few examples. Opening doors and connecting people and organizations are some of the main functions of international representations. Networking conference events hosted by the German Canadian Concourse provide a valuable platform for highlighting key topics, learning about the state-of-play in the topic area, opportunities, and developing relationships between attendees.

Teamwork is crucial for success. The team including Canadian Trade Commissioners, Investment Advisors, regional, research and innovation stakeholders (connectors) together build partnerships by providing counsel and facilitating communication between various levels – from grass-roots researchers to high-level leadership. Our team at NRC Germany, launched in December 2019, is co-located with the Canadian Consulate in Munich, thereby facilitating close collaboration with NRC labs and their partners, innovative SMEs in the NRC IRAP (Industrial Research Assistance Program) network and the Canada-Germany network connected to the Embassy and Consulates in Germany.

Dr. Jennifer E. Decker

"Opening doors and connecting people are some of the main functions of international representations, and so the networking events hosted by German Canadian Concourse provide a valuable platform for highlighting key topics."

GCC: We would be interested to learn about your success stories of partnerships with a German or Canadian partner, respectively. What was the added value of working in transnational STI projects?

JD: Some advantages of working in transnational partnerships includes staying connected about trends, recent technical developments and funding calls, leveraging each other's networks and layering funding sources, and access to a larger pool of intellectual property – particularly for consortia with mixed academic, government and industry participants. It also benefits the development of standards and regulations for new technologies as it brings awareness of policy development and priorities, particularly considering global value chains. Technologies developed with applications or use-cases included in a broader vision contributes to success in commercialization and socio-economic benefit.

A good example is the GC-MAC collaboration in hydrogen technologies officially launched in spring 2021 focusing in on a topic of strategic importance for both Canada and Germany. Both countries released federal strategies articulating similar priorities at around the same time. Many of the researchers in this consortium have worked together for years. The current constellation and funding mechanism for this partnership emerged recently.

Early in the COVID pandemic when usual in-person events were curbed, the Embassy of Canada in Berlin and Global Affairs Canada (GAC), in partnership with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) hosted a virtual panel discussion and science slam on clean hydrogen technologies within the Berlin Science Week 2020 platform. This was our first foray into producing virtual events, and we learned a lot! The introduction included a showcase of the Material Acceleration Platform (MAPS) concept at both the NRC's advanced materials research facility in Mississauga and the NRCan CanmetMATERIALS facility in Hamilton. The panel included Canadian and German experts from industry, government, and academia, speaking on the promise of a hydrogen-powered low-carbon future. The event was effective in raising awareness and providing information about the high-level strategies, as well as providing opportunity for interested technology experts to learn about labs and SMEs involved. Panelists shed light on how policy development supports scale-up, including standards, tax systems and incentives. Supporting a hydrogen vision in what is built now including retrofitability of existing systems is of key importance so that systems are compatible with hydrogen in future. It was concluded that the most likely scenario of future energy systems will include a mosaic of technologies.

Importance of Research Networks, Engagement of Young Researchers
GCC: What in your view makes German-Canadian STI cooperation meaningful and what is the unique value of collaboration between Canadians and Germans?

JD: The general alignment of our culture and policy priorities is meaningful to the cooperation – and, as a result, many topics can be addressed through collaboration. We can leverage each other's resources to mutual benefit – filling gaps in project capacity, sharing large infrastructure, and exchanging best practices in research management.

Unique is the exchange and engagement of students and early-career researchers. The new Herzberg Network is an additional testimony to the willingness of the Canadian and German research and innovation community to stay connected and continue dialogue on visionary topics.

"Unique is the exchange and engagement of students and early-career researchers."

GCC: Which circumstances made the cooperation in a German-Canadian project particularly easy or complex? Where did you get support?

JD: One challenge of international research collaboration is coordinating work, while at the same time recognizing different funding and reporting cycles. In Canada, the fiscal year runs from April 1st to March 31st, while in Germany it runs from January 1st to December 31st. Managing the launch and progress of a funding call and research projects with the alignment to different cycles can pose challenges. Open communication and organization early in the process, combined with awareness of each partner's obligations, usually results in a project plan that suits both funders. NRC IRAP-ZIM (Zentrales Innovationsprogramm Mittelstand) funding calls are a good example of coordinated funding that supports research in SMEs. Thoughtful planning early on aids success of smooth administration so the researchers can concentrate on the project work. Ideally, participation in more complex multi-year / multi-national projects requires capability of setting aside dedicated funds that can be accessed in a flexible way, i.e., carrying over from one fiscal year to the next.

Canada is a geographically large country covered by five time zones which can also be a hurdle. Identifying a timeslot appropriate for everyone in a meeting can be a challenge, but participants are usually flexible to make it work.

"The Canada-Germany relationship is fortunate to count on many organizations working and bringing researchers together."

GCC: What particular element of the GCC format was beneficial for matchmaking with partners?

JD: Conference events are a great way to highlight priority topics, expound on key issues, challenges and opportunities and expand networks. An example is the GCC 2016 event on marine logistics and oceans. Both topics are high strategic priorities for Canada and Germany in areas of policy development, economics and research and development. These events provide a great opportunity to highlight areas for investment or research focus, combined with a chance to informally discuss how stakeholders could work together to further common goals. This is something we have missed during the pandemic, and I look forward to doing it again in the future!

Scheduling time for informal conversations between participants fosters more detailed and deeper information sharing and the chance for people to develop relationships – whether it be a 30-minute coffee break following each talk, or one hour after a morning session, or a two-hour lunch break.

Bringing People from Different Backgrounds Together
GCC: In which way could the GCC support you in reaching out to partners across the Atlantic to build your STI network?

JD: Events with a target theme and especially combination of attendees who have capacity for change, impact, implementation – reflecting a range of levels of responsibility. Bringing multiple levels of participants together in one event provides coherence in planning how to move a project forwards in an impactful way – federal, provincial and regional governments, SMEs, multinationals, industry associations, Indigenous leaders, high-level policy developers, and researchers from academia, industry and government labs. An example is the Arctic Summit conferences where all levels come together to learn about the current state-of-play, vision for future and hurdles. The opportunity for stakeholders to meet and exchange ideas, brainstorm and construct potential plans – that is important to move forward on global challenges in an impactful way. Providing access to poster sessions during breaks spurs more detailed engagement and discussions, in addition to evening reception-style poster sessions.

GCC: How could the GCC support future endeavors of German and Canadian organizations to expand their activities in and collaborations?

JD: In my opinion, there are three ways the GCC can support:
  1. Establishing trusted connections with networks that include many levels, stakeholders and diversity will benefit coordination, and in turn, enhance success;
  2. Leveraging relationships and resources will provide the most solid basis for consortia; and
  3. Understanding of the Canadian and German systems map to identify and then nurture pivotal connections that can make or break a consortia project.
There are differences in funding pathways / mechanisms; nevertheless, the success of the Canada-Germany science, technology and innovation (STI) 50 years cooperation can be attributed in part to the similarity in governance models, research program development processes and cultural factors. Three main elements are key: sharing news about calls and events in our networks; hosting events that bring various levels of people together; connecting with other networks so as to broaden and deepen our engagement. Cooperation between Canada-Germany science, technology and innovation communities is an enabler for success.

GCC: Thank you Dr. Decker for giving us insight into the successful management of German-Canadian research collaborations. We look forward to supporting future transatlantic STI cooperation together with NRC and its German partners.


The Hydrogen Strategy, National Resources Canada:

The National Hydrogen Strategy, Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy Germany:

A Carbon-Free Fuel: Hydrogen Can, Berlin Science Week

Photo Credits:

Header picture: National Research Council Canada (NRC)

Dr. Jennifer E. Decker: National Research Council Canada (NRC)

Celebrating 50 years of German-Canadian STI Cooperation
This interview is part of a series produced by the German Canadian Concourse to celebrate the advances of 50 years German-Canadian collaboration on science, technology and innovation.
50 Years German-Canadian Science Technology Cooperation
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