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Evaluation of SSHRC’s Institutional Research Capacity Grants

Management Response and Action Plan

The two funding opportunities under review are found within a subprogram that falls under the Insight program in SSHRC’s program alignment architecture. The opportunities are titled SSHRC Institutional Grants (SIG), and Aid to Small Universities (ASU). They constitute SSHRC’s institutional research capacity grants.

This was a routine evaluation of SSHRC’s institutional research capacity grants. The last evaluation of the SIG and ASU funding opportunities was approved in January 2011. Therefore, the current evaluation was required as per the evaluation coverage requirements stipulated in Section 42.1(1) of the Financial Administration Act, and the Treasury Board Policy on Evaluation (2009). The evaluation was designed to address the five core evaluation issues stipulated in the Treasury Board Policy on Evaluation (2009), which fall within two broad categories: relevance and performance. The current evaluation also addressed specific issues related to the design and delivery of the funding opportunities.

The evaluation was a useful exercise. It confirmed a number of problematic areas, as well as brought to light new and useful data regarding the large number of research projects supported, the relative distribution of funded projects across social sciences and humanities disciplines, and the levels of researchers supported (early career vs. established scholars). In effect, the evaluation confirmed that SSHRC institutional support for small-scale research activities was filling a need.

The evaluation found the following:

  1. There is a need for flexible institutional funding to support small-scale research and research-related activities that does not appear to be met elsewhere.
  2. The funding opportunities are aligned with the federal government’s science, technology and innovation strategy, and with SSHRC’s strategic outcomes. However, the fit of the SIG and ASU funding opportunities within SSHRC’s program architecture is less clear.
  3. There is a role for the federal government in delivering the SIG and ASU funding opportunities, and they are being delivered in a cost-efficient manner. However, the reporting forms used are not meeting SSHRC’s information needs in an efficient manner.
  4. SIG and ASU funds are being used for small-scale research projects, travel for dissemination purposes, and for the training of students and postdoctoral researchers. The proportion of humanities scholars supported is higher than the proportion of social science researchers. The number of early-career researchers supported is also greater than that of the more senior scholars supported.

The recommendations made in the evaluation were very useful. One area where there remains a scarcity of information is regarding the issue of unspent funds. Although the evaluators interviewed several universities a second time in order to obtain more information regarding this question, further follow-up with the institutions is required before making any changes to the funding opportunities, in order to ensure that SSHRC has a more complete understanding of the challenges facing the institutions. For example, the local allocation process may result in funds being distributed to researchers who then have insufficient time to spend it within the SSHRC grant cycle.

The timeline for the action plan is influenced by the cycles of the funding opportunities. Both opportunities are on three-year cycles, with current ASU grants ending March 31, 2017, and current SIG grants ending March 31, 2018. Our goal is to tackle the end-of-grant form in Q4 2015 and Q1 2016, followed by additional consultation and further investigation of the unspent funds issue in Q2 and Q3 2016. Any modifications to the program objectives and design/delivery will be in place for the next funding cycle.


Tim Wilson, PhD
Executive Director
Research Grants and Partnerships Division
Research Programs

Dominique Bérubé, PhD
Vice-president
Research Programs



Contact information

Programs: Lorraine Anderson, Manager, Research Grants and Partnerships Division
Management response: Tim Wilson, Executive Director, Research Grants and Partnerships Division
Evaluation: Susan Morris, Director, Corporate Strategy and Performance




Program Management Response Implementation Tracking
Theme or Category of Recommendation Recommendation Response Responsibility Priority/Timeline

Program objectives

Recommendation #2: It is recommended that program management review the objectives of SSHRC’s institutional research capacity grants (SIG and ASU), with specific emphasis on defining the current expected result (intermediate outcome) of developing, maintaining or strengthening institutional research capacity. 

Agree.

Program management will revise program objectives to better reflect the important niche filled by SSHRC institutional research capacity grants in SSHRC’s continuum of funding support. It will also explore mechanisms to improve the visibility of the funding. In addition, clearer parameters around the possible uses of grant funds will be developed.

Accountable: Evaluation Division, Research Grants Partnerships Division

Responsible: Manager, Research Grants and Partnerships Division

Consult: Corporate Strategy and Performance Division

Priority: High

Timeline: September 2016

 

Program design and delivery

Recommendation #4: In line with SSHRC’s program architecture renewal exercise, it is recommended that program management consider whether efficiencies could be gained by streamlining
and combining the budgets of its two current institutional research capacity grants funding opportunities (SIG and ASU) into one funding opportunity—SSHRC Institutional Grants.

Agree.

Program management has already begun to assess the feasibility of combining the SIG and ASU funding opportunities for the next funding cycle, given that efficiencies would be gained for both SSHRC and the institutions supported.

Program management is cognizant that consideration must be given to the level of support provided to small institutions.

Internal review and consultation with internal and external stakeholders will be conducted during Q2 and Q3 2016, with recommendations going to the Senior Management Committee by October 2016, and to SSHRC’s governing council for information by November 2016. Any changes will be implemented for the next funding cycle.

Accountable: Evaluation Division, Research Grants and Partnerships Division

Responsible: Manager, Research Grants and Partnerships Division

Consult: Corporate Strategy and Performance Division

Priority: High

Timeline: November 2016

 

Financial monitoring

Recommendation #1: It is recommended that program management continue to monitor institutions’ use of SIG and ASU funds, with particular attention to the amounts that remain unspent after the three-year grant period.

Agree.

Program management will look at program parameters to determine whether they are creating barriers to spending. Program management will also look at mechanisms to create incentives for institutions to spend funds within the timeline of the grant.

Consultation with internal and external stakeholders will take place during Q2 and Q3 2016.

Accountable: Evaluation Division, Research Grants and Partnerships Division

Responsible: Manager, Research Grants and Partnerships Division

Consult: Awards Administration Group

Priority: High

Timeline: November 2016

 

 

Reporting

Recommendation #3: It is recommended that program management revise the application and end-of-grant reporting forms currently used for SSHRC’s institutional research capacity grants (SIG and ASU).

Agree.

Work has already begun on a revised end-of-grant report. A new form is to be approved by the Business Integration Committee before implementation. The application form will be modified for the next granting cycle, based on the results of decisions made in relation to
recommendation #4.

Note: ASU is further advanced in its current cycle; therefore, a change of report for this opportunity may not be feasible.

 

Accountable: Evaluation Division, Research Grants and Partnerships Division

Responsible: Manager, Research Grants and Partnerships Division

Consult: Corporate Strategy and Performance Division

SIG: September 2016