The National Research Council Canada Opening Doors in Germany for Transatlantic Science and Technology Collaborations
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)?
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
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
and the Canada-Germany network connected to the Embassy and
Consulates in Germany.
"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
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)
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?
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
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
is the exchange and engagement of students and early-career
GCC: Which circumstances made the cooperation in a
German-Canadian project particularly easy or complex? Where did you
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.
Canada-Germany relationship is fortunate to count on many
organizations working and bringing researchers
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
In my opinion,
there are three ways the GCC can support:
trusted connections with networks that include many levels,
stakeholders and diversity will benefit coordination, and in turn,
- Leveraging relationships and resources
will provide the most solid basis for consortia; and
- 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.
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
© 2021 Canada Meets Germany Network e. V. All rights reserved.