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The Value of SHRF to Saskatchewan's Health Research Ecosystem

Updated: Jan 7, 2022

A Message from CEO Patrick Odnokon

Reflecting on the work of those funded by SHRF over the past 16 years, it’s clear to see that the health and well-being of our citizens has been positively impacted by the discoveries, collaborations and health care advances achieved through research. SHRF is proud to be a contributor to the growth of a high-performing health system, culture of innovation and the improved health of citizens. As a research funding agency our support goes well beyond the dollars invested in research. We possess unique insights and in-depth knowledge, an unbiased view and expertise not always realized by our stakeholders.

I’d like to take this opportunity to demonstrate how SHRF adds value to Saskatchewan’s health research ecosystem as a provincial funder.

Funding excellence in health research starts with a rigorous process of reviewing and evaluating applications to our funding programs. The strength of our review process ensures the quality and relevancy of the research being supported in our province. SHRF’s peer review practices also support growth and capacity for excellence in our reviewers’ as we see Saskatchewan experts reviewing for national agencies.

At SHRF, our funding programs set scientists up for further success. Through a range of offerings, from grants for the development of new ideas to supporting researchers in establishing their research in Saskatchewan, or in being the main source of matching funds on federal opportunities, we help build the skills and capacity of the Saskatchewan health research community and increase their competitiveness nationally and internationally. For example, SHRF’s investments in patient-oriented research have not only leveraged additional federal dollars for research in Saskatchewan but have also helped our researchers successfully engage patients and collaborate with health system and Indigenous community partners to tackle regional and community health concerns.

Provincial funders ensure that their programs complement the needs of our stakeholders and partners to maximize efficiencies, reduce duplication and increase impact. SHRF partners with several provincial health charities, many of whom rely on our infrastructure and expertise to fund high-quality research of importance to their constituents. SHRF’s partnership with the Lung Association, Saskatchewan and the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation are great examples of how a research funding agency provides a service to our not-for-profit organizations where application intake, peer review, project administration and reporting are not their areas of expertise. Our targeted partnerships also catalyze research in priority areas for our government and health care systems, filling gaps in knowledge and responding to urgent issues. For example, SHRF partnered with the Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovations (CABHI) to support the development, testing and adoption of new aging and brain health innovations for seniors. The projects are aimed at improving the quality of life for older adults living with dementia, and their families and caregivers.

SHRF has significant expertise in measuring the impact of health research. SHRF measures research impact for two reasons: public accountability, since research is funded by taxpayers; and learning, ensuring stakeholders, partners and government know the impact and importance of these investments. Based on a framework developed by Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, SHRF focuses on impact in five areas: advancing knowledge, building capacity, informing decision-making, health outcomes, and broader social and economic outcomes. We have also adopted a return on investment (ROI) methodology that has shown for every dollar SHRF invested in its Collaborative Innovative Development grant program, direct attributable returns of $2.62 and indirect returns of $3.16 were achieved. There were several non-monetary benefits coming out of this CID program including: increased capacity of students, research labs and research infrastructure; contribution to advancing knowledge and potential scientific advancements; participation of non-academic collaborators and the potential to bring new knowledge into practice; and potential health and socio-economic benefits. Although this is an ROI for one cohort of research projects from one research program, we know this is a fraction of the impact of SHRF funded research.

Finally, in the competitive system that drives research success, provincial funders are trusted, neutral convenors of multiple stakeholder groups with diverse and sometimes conflicting needs and opinions. These stakeholders, influential and important players in Saskatchewan’s research ecosystem, include researchers themselves and leaders within our universities, government, health care and not-for-profit agencies, as well as industry. Patients and the public are also important stakeholders, and increasingly interested in understanding and contributing to the research enterprise. SHRF is uniquely positioned to facilitate inter-ministerial work to tackle the big issues governments are dealing with. Given the complexity of our provincial health system and the broad sectors it seeks to serve, agencies like SHRF that bring stakeholders together to discuss the issues, identify ways to work together and inform decisions are essential.

Provincial investments, when combined with our local and regional capacity-building activities and our focus on provincial health and research priorities, are catalytic and integral to the research, innovation, and health systems in several ways. With the continued support of our provincial government and our provincial and national partners, SHRF will continue to work towards strengthening Saskatchewan research capacity and competitiveness, increase investment in research and innovation and align those investments with provincial needs.

Happy Health Research Week!

- Patrick Odnokon, CEO

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