How I learned about governance at NREN conferences

Good governance is the key to success in a complex, ever-changing, multi-stakeholder environment.

Contributed by: Kathryn Anthonisen | Vice President, External Relations

End-of-year (or month, or week) reflections are always worthwhile, and recently I have been reflecting on what I learned in 2018 at conferences hosted by CANARIE’s National Research and Education Network (NREN) partners.

And I surprised myself.

What I learned wasn’t just about AI or shared services or how K-12 schools are leveraging Canada’s NREN. I learned (or, more precisely, had reinforced) that good governance is the key to success in a complex, ever-changing, multi-stakeholder environment.  Stick with me here for a minute…

CANARIE and its research and education network partners across Canada are a varied group, and their conferences reflected that diversity.

  • Back in the spring at the BCNET Conference in British Columbia, the jam-packed program reflected the organization’s focus on its member community where higher education IT professionals and technology providers converge to learn, share ideas, network, grow professionally and discover real-world solutions to everyday technology challenges.
  • Later on in the spring at the ORION THINK Conference, the focus was on sharing how ORION’s users leverage the tremendous power of the network, together with a celebration of visionaries that are using technology in innovative ways across Ontario.
  • At the Cyber Summit, jointly hosted by Cybera (Alberta), MRNet (Manitoba) and SRNET (Saskatchewan), the focus was less on technologies we are using today and more on the social and institutional impacts of disruptive technologies (like artificial intelligence) on our lives.
  • At the RISQ Colloque (Quebec), the program focused on a range of leading-edge technologies and how they can be deployed in institutions across Quebec, with participants discussing the challenges and opportunities of current and planned deployments.
  • And at the CANARIE National Summit, our focus was on broad social, legal and workplace challenges as artificial intelligence makes inroads in research, government operations, and the private sector.

Each conference program reflected the mandate and focus of that organization, resulting in widely differing experiences at each conference.

And that’s where my governance gestalt comes in.

Because while each of the partners in Canada’s NREN has different mandates, funding structures, memberships and operational priorities (reflected in the content of their conferences), these organizations come together through the NREN Governance Committee to manage and evolve the national research and education network. It’s a balancing act between local needs and national vision, but the governance structure respects this division and further, respects the funding frameworks that underlie it.

The NREN Governance Committee is comprised of the leaders of each of the research and education networks that are part of the NREN – 12 provincial and territorial members and one federal (CANARIE) member. Each member has one vote and an equal voice at the table. Despite the variability in their day-to-day operations and challenges, members work collaboratively to develop and implement initiatives critical to the evolution of Canada’s NREN. Currently, cybersecurity is at the top of the priority list and members are executing a national strategy to better secure the NREN.

As Canada looks to reinvest and reinvigorate its digital research infrastructure (DRI) ecosystem, it’s important to understand why models like the NREN Governance Committee work so well.
In a diverse and complex, multi-stakeholder, multi-funder, national environment, good governance is the essential foundation for success.