2.1 Definition of a strategic cluster
Each strategic cluster brings together researchers, research teams and student-researchers from various disciplines, academic units and institutions. Each cluster must demonstrate that it possesses the critical mass required to reach its objectives and foster excellence in research by:
Developing platforms to exchange ideas and share research results;
Stimulating the development of joint projects;
Constituting a unique environment for research initiation and training;
Offering privileged opportunities to postdoctoral trainees;
Supporting the integration of new researchers;
Focusing on research results dissemination, transfer and commercialization whenever possible;
Cultivating links and exchanges with national and international researchers;
Carrying out initiatives geared towards the scientific community (researchers and students).
Each strategic cluster in Québec must set itself apart from the other groups in the same or related fields and demonstrate particular strengths. Clusters must also take an innovative approach to Canadian and international research trends.
To facilitate the dissemination efforts of the strategic clusters, the Fonds asks groups to register for the Documents and Data Repository Service of the Érudit Consortium, which receives financial support from the Fonds Société et Culture.
2.2 Composition of a strategic cluster
2.2.1 Regular members
A strategic cluster must include regular members with university researcher (CHU, CHUN, CRU, CRUN, CHUT), college researcher (CHC, CHCT), institutional researcher (CE), researcher practitioner (PC) and/or government researcher (CHG) status. Only university researchers (CHU) and university researcher-creators (CRU) may lead a cluster.
2.2.2 Collaborating members
Collaborating members of strategic clusters may have any of the statuses recognized by the Fonds: university researcher (CHU), new university researcher (CHUN), university researcher-creator (CRU), new university researcher-creator (CRUN), retired university researcher (CHUT), college researcher (CHC), retired college researcher (CHCT), institutional researcher (CE), affiliated researcher (CHA), collaborating practitioner (COP), government researcher (CHG), research practitioner (PC), industrial researcher (CHI), researcher outside Québec (CHH), visiting researcher (VIS), research without a recognized institutional affiliation (CHS) or postdoctoral research fellow (STP).
2.3 The two types of clusters
For social reasons, a strategic cluster may be commonly known as a centre, institute, observatory, network, etc. This program uses the terms centre and network to designate these groups.
Strategic cluster centres must include researchers or research teams working in close collaboration in a concerted and coordinated manner on a joint research program. The scientific program must explore a general research topic through projects that are interrelated and grouped into research thrusts and evolve over time with the addition of new research projects and the completion of earlier ones. The scientific program must eventually lead to the significant and collective contribution of regular members to the advancement of knowledge. In the proposal submitted to the Strategic Clusters program, the centres must demonstrate the ways in which their regular members support the integrated scientific research program, according to the following criteria:
The research program is targeted, coherent and based on research thrusts in which projects are conducted;
The research program advances the understanding of the outlined phenomena, and the separation into thrusts leads to knowledge-building;
Centre researcher consensus-building activities foster knowledge integration;
Regular centre researchers dedicate the greater part of their research activities to pursuing the centre's program;
The centre's management team ensures scientific leadership, joint research action and the development of the research program;
The centre is located in a clearly identified, exclusive facility.
Strategic cluster networks must be developed at the interface of research and practice settings in an effort to jointly shape a research topic. The group must bring together strong members in a specific field for a large-scale project involving researchers, research teams, research networks, institutional and interinstitutional centres, observatories, research institutes and other types of facilities and partners from the public, private and community sectors. This structuring initiative may be a large-scale project (scientific dissemination, promotion or exchange, research field, etc.), a collective infrastructure (development of joint services or a technical or electronic platform) or a pool of expertise for researchers (database development, etc.).
In the proposal submitted to the Strategic Clusters program, the networks must define a research method and establish the need it will fulfill (federate Québec expertise, develop and optimize methodological skills or multidisciplinary approaches, create and consolidate links between researchers and end-users, set up extensive joint research infrastructure, prototypes or broad exploratory approaches, etc.). The group must also demonstrate the ways in which the planned initiative will lead to the development of coherent and productive links between researchers based on the needs, objectives, priorities, means and activities set out in the proposal.
While networks may adopt the configuration of their choice, they must meet the following criteria:
Expertise complementarity that is relevant to the proposed research project;
Clearly-defined research priorities and activities that foster development;
Interdisciplinary and interuniversity research activities;
A structuring project that brings significant added value to the research activities of network members;
A leader who sets research and development priorities, ensures that the project is carried out (means and activities) and sees to the development of productive links between members based on the objectives;
A clearly identified, exclusive facility.
2.3.3 At the end of an emergence or operational grant, a team may choose to continue in its initial configuration (centre or network) or evolve to another structure if this configuration is more conducive to the development and structure of research in the field.
2.4 Two development stages
Each strategic cluster must be acknowledged as a research infrastructure by its home institution or a recognized funding agency and have the support of its home and partner institutions when submitting a letter of intent.
2.4.1 Emergence funding
This type of funding is meant for groups of researchers seeking to consolidate a research program or structuring project before applying for operational funding. Obtaining strategic cluster operational support is not conditional on prior emergence funding.
2.4.2 Operational funding
Operational funding is meant for:
A) Strategic clusters that are not funded by the Fonds but which have been acknowledged as research infrastructures for at least three years by their home institution or by a recognized funding agency and which have maintained a high level of scientific activity and output in at least the three years prior to submitting the application for funding;
B) Strategic clusters seeking funding following an emergence grant, as described in paragraph 2.4.1;
C) Strategic clusters seeking follow-up operational funding. Unlike the clusters described in points A and B, the evaluation criteria pertaining to the performance of clusters seeking to renew their operational funding involve a minimum score. See section 7.1 for further details.