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Staying Ahead of the Curve: Supporting Privacy Research in Canada

Remarks at the Pathways to Privacy Research Symposium organized by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

May 2, 2012
Ottawa, Ontario

Opening remarks by Patricia Kosseim
Senior General Counsel and Director General, Legal Services, Policy and Research Branch

(Check against delivery)

Now this is why we love our jobs at the OPC. Having heard such a wonderful and inspiring vision by our Commissioner, we then get to play in the sandbox and create beautiful things in that image—which is what we have done with the Contributions Program, through a renewed strategy we developed last year and have now set into motion. To put today’s initiative into bigger context, I’d like to speak to you a few minutes about our new research strategy going forward.

The first element is to leverage impact through partnerships.

While $500,000 annually is a generous and much needed allotment to help support research on emerging privacy issues, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a drop in the bucket particularly considering the increasing complexity of new information technologies. This program has served the country extremely well in past years to help build research capacity and has provided seed money for many researchers to explore important ideas and spark constructive debate. Going forward, if we wish to support researchers to take their work to the next level, by funding larger more impactful projects, the only viable way to do that is through partnerships with others. By leveraging our money and our efforts with other funders, we can all get a “bigger bang for our buck” —or in economic speak, a bigger return on investment. The Commissioner has reached out to other major federal funding partners to propose working together. This year, we have the great pleasure of collaborating with SSHRC and Industry Canada. We look forward to pursuing further partnerships with them, and other funders, in the years to come.

The second element of our renewed strategy is enabling knowledge translation and application.

This is really the core. Rather than let research results sit and collect dust on the proverbial shelf—or in more modern terms—evaporate mystically into the virtual web somewhere, many clicks away, Canadian expect to be able to do something with them. We need to bring research results closer to relevant end- users and engage a two-way conversation about their relevance in the real world; how they can be applied concretely to protect Consumers’ privacy rights and help organizations manage privacy risks in practical, common sense ways; and most importantly, identify some of the outstanding research questions that have yet to be addressed. Today’s initiative is precisely about bringing researchers together with end-users and helping that two-way conversation take place on a particular theme.

The third element of our new strategy is to invite outside experts to help with the peer review of the funding applications we receive.

In March, six éminences grises in the field of privacy protection from across Canada joined the OPC’s internal experts to evaluate funding applications in order to identify the best projects.

They brought with them added rigour and analytical skills, which provided another critical perspective on the proposed methodology, the relevance of the research and its feasibility. This enhanced process helps measure the likelihood of a project’s success and enables us to reach a level of excellence that Canadians—our investors—deserve.

Fourth, as part of our effort to more carefully assess the success of the Contributions Program, we recently asked a firm that specializes in evaluating research activities to conduct a bibliometric study to measure and analyze the program’s performance.

Their evaluation report gives us a base measure from which to assess program improvement in the years to come. The report suggests that the research generated by the program has already had a significant impact, but more importantly the report allows us to imagine completely different types of impact our research projects could have, directly and concretely, on the lives of Canadians—beyond publication in traditional academic journals.

Fifth, we plan on making significant technological improvements to make it easier for researchers and the general public to access the program.

For example, we are looking at the possibility of setting up an online funding application system to make it easier to apply. In addition, since the Contributions Program has already helped fund some 90 projects, we plan on looking at how we could set up an effective project search engine to provide easier access to the new knowledge generated by the program.

And finally, we have recently devised a new communications strategy for the Contributions Program. The strategy contains initiatives aimed at enhancing public awareness of the concrete results of the program and inviting a broader range of researchers in various fields to form new multidisciplinary teams to come up with new ideas for future applications.

As you can see, we have lots of great ideas for supporting the continued success of OPC’s Contributions Program, a real jewel in the crown of the Commissioner’s mandate. This program provides such a great opportunity to stay ahead of the curve; to better understand fast emerging information technologies that have all of our heads spinning; and to develop concrete outcomes that will better protect Canadians’ privacy and assist organizations in managing privacy risks.

Rather than wait until the end of the day, as is customarily done, I would like to take a moment now to publicly thank all the staff who have worked so hard in past months to make this day happen—with particular mention of François Cadieux, Manager of the Contributions Program, our MC today who will likely thank everyone else at the end, but himself.

I’d also like to introduce you to our new Director of Policy and Research, Kevin Chan, whom you will have the opportunity and pleasure of meeting today.

On behalf of the Commissioner and our partners SSHRC and Industry Canada, welcome to all of you and, once again, thank you for being with us today. I wish you an enjoyable symposium.

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