Dr. R.B. (Robert) Church
Chair Emeritus, Alberta Science and Research Authority
The evolution of the interface between basic science discoveries and their application in engineering and biosciences to provide innovative products, processes and/or services has changed dramatically in the last few years. With the advances in information management and computing science, it is now possible to provide unique visual presentations of data in formats never before possible.
The peer review system is like democracy in that it has its faults but remains the best alternative for allocating scarce resources to researchers or projects in the basic sciences. It is based on the proven concept that excellent researchers, with outstanding track records, will be the most productive in a discipline. Granting agencies such as the Medical Research Council and the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council were spun out of the National Research Council in Canada to address the question of how to fund basic and applied science for the benefit of the public sector and for the development of new products and processes.
In the same time frame as new developments in information management and computing power were taking place, huge multidisciplinary science projects, from space exploration to innovative industrial processes, were being tackled globally.
Clem Bowman is a pioneer in the management of huge complex science-engineering challenges. Projects had to take new frontiers in cutting edge science through to new processes, products and services. In doing so, a "new concept of peer review" evolved which addressed the allocation of resources to the entire innovation continuum.
In the 1970s Clem, as the first Chairman of the Alberta Oil Sands Technology and Research Authority (AOSTRA), developed a strategy for a billion dollar project to develop the "tar sands" (now known as oil sands) in Northern Alberta. The challenge was to define the diverse factors and problems from the discovery of knowledge to process and product development in a remote area.
AOSTRA Research Chairs were selected by peer review to deal with such diverse basic science projects as "tailings sand biota" to anti corrosion materials. The results are bison grazing on land created from reclaimed tailings to new anti corrosion coatings and processes, which are an essential part of the "trillion dollar" oil sands operation in Alberta today.
In the 1980s, as President of the Alberta Research Council, Clem once again faced the question of how an organization charged with technology development and innovation assesses the allocation of resources to challenging proposals. The links between the discovery of new knowledge and the development of new processes and products, the drivers of economic success, were being refined.
In the 1990s, in collaboration with other experienced science and technology managers such as Ron McCullough, formerly with Spar Aerospace, Clem applied the power of data analysis with a unique language ladder, which he called ProGrid. This created a whole new type of peer review, which addressed the full spectrum of the innovation continuum.
In the last ten years, science and innovation strategies have been developed by the Alberta Science and Research Authority in a number of areas. All had in common the philosophy that excellent researchers working in an environment that promotes development of products, processes and services for the public good would yield economic success in a knowledge economy.
The problem was "how does one evaluate and rank the many challenging proposals in areas as diverse as medical discovery, agribusiness, high tech, to energy resources?"
We were fortunate in being able to work with Clem's team on an evolving ProGrid system. The case studies presented in this book reflect the impact that ProGrid has had not only in creating and developing innovative technologies but also in providing a medium for multidisciplinary communication between individuals across the knowledge spectrum.
In a rapidly developing world in which basic knowledge discoveries, global communication and product innovation are key to economic and social success, it is only fitting to also have rapidly evolving tools, such as ProGrid, for evaluating each stage of the innovation process.