BC AHSN-MSFHR consolidation on track and close to launch

21 September 2021

Forward Thinking is our blog focusing on what it takes to be a responsive and responsible research funder. In this article, Bev Holmes and Stirling Bryan share an update on the consolidation between MSFHR and BC AHSN.

It’s been six months since the board chairs of the BC Academic Health Science Network and the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research announced the intent to consolidate our organizations. Since then, a transition task force representing both boards as well as staff from both organizations have been preparing the legal foundation for a new organization, reflecting on advice from key stakeholders, and — like everyone else — dealing with a pandemic.

The lessons have been many and valuable, from all these activities. Below we provide an update as we approach our launch in October, including announcing our new name, transition board and leadership team.

How could the new organization benefit BC and British Columbians? 

The impetus for consolidating MSFHR and BC AHSN was synergy — which literally means the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations (in this case) to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.

As one organization — and embracing a dual role of “doing” and “influencing” — we are in a much stronger position to work with our partners and stakeholders to strengthen research capacity across the province, support evidence-informed decision making in health care, increase the competitiveness of our life sciences sector, and maximize the social and economic benefits of health research in BC.

Our interactions with BC’s research community leaders and our organizations’ trusted advisors, and our experience of the pandemic, validate that initial thinking.

What our community said

Feedback from BC’s health research community about the consolidation has been positive, supportive and constructive. For example, a series of interviews confirmed the strength of our existing programs — which continue as currently planned — and highlighted opportunities to better connect research and practice, convene key provincial conversations about our research system, increase research talent development efforts, and institutionalize patient and public involvement in research.

As well as opportunities, our colleagues raised potential risks: for example, becoming less nimble and responsive, focusing on one type of research at the expense of others, or spreading ourselves too thinly.

Finally, we were strongly advised to acknowledge and meet the unique needs of different regions, to partner and be guided on strengthening Indigenous research capacity, and to work quickly to define our role in equity, diversity and inclusion in BC’s health research system.

We’ll take this advice to heart in building on our existing efforts in these areas: our boards and staff alike are driven by the belief that health-related decision making should be informed by high quality research that is produced and used in an equitable, diverse and inclusive research system.

What the pandemic confirmed

BC AHSN and MSFHR are active participants in the province’s research response to COVID-19, along with our partners in government, health authorities, research intensive universities, patient and public groups, funding agencies, industry, committees and advisory groups and other research support agencies.

With no single organization responsible for coordinating COVID-19 research, it has been impressive and heartening to experience BC’s research community collaborating to maximize the impact of research, and there are many success stories.

What also became obvious, though, are the gaps in our health research system.

These gaps are addressable: better coordination of funding, systems, policies and processes; streamlined and faster research and clinical trial approval processes; robust priority setting processes; more opportunities for patient and public involvement in research; increased capacity to support a truly learning health system.

Also addressable are the inequities exacerbated by the pandemic — on the research community itself, and among those who stand to benefit from research, pandemic-related, and beyond.

What’s next?

The consolidation is formal when our boards sign the final agreement at the end of September, based on a significant amount of work to determine a corporate structure, conduct due diligence, obtain regulatory approvals, standardize processes and policies, and support the transition of our people and programs.

As BC AHSN and MSFHR approach our consolidation launch in October, it’s good to know our community is not only supportive, but committed to working in partnership with us to maximize the impact our new organization can have on BC’s health research system.

Building on our existing organizations’ strengths, what we’ve heard from you, and our experiences over the last six months, we’ll be reaching out later in the year to test some ideas with the community towards developing our mission statement and strategic directions.

We look forward to engaging more formally, and in the meantime, we invite your questions and comments.

Stay tuned for further details in mid-October about the new organization resulting from the consolidation of MSFHR and BC AHSN.