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The Networks of Centres of Excellence programme is perhaps Canada's most dramatic science policy innovation since the First World War. This article traces its development, using documentary analysis and interviews with the policy actors responsible for conceiving and implementing the programme. Established in 1989, the networks were explicitly designed to change the norms of science. The intention was to instil an approach to long-term fundamental research that considered possibilities of use from the start. Of equal importance was the idea that management was essential to produce knowledge in a network structure.