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Evaluation of the Research Support Fund: Management Response

Context

Each year, the federal government invests in research excellence through the Research Support Fund (RSF) (known as the Indirect Costs Program [ICP] before 2015). This institutional grant program is intended to reinforce the federal government’s research investments by helping institutions ensure that their federally funded research is conducted in world-class facilities with the best equipment and administrative support available. The annual grant helps institutions pay for a portion of the central and departmental administrative costs related to federally funded research. The RSF is an ongoing program, with an annual allocation to eligible institutions. The total funding amount available to institutions has grown from $332.4 million to $369.4 million during the evaluation period and has maintained a budget of $369.4 million since 2016-17.

The scope of the evaluation covered the five-year period from the last evaluation (2013-14 to 2017-18) and focused on: the impact of changes in the research environment on the need for the RSF; the extent to which the RSF has contributed to effective use of direct federal research funding; the cost-efficiency of program delivery; and the assessment of how performance measurement information could be collected given the contributory nature of the program.

Comments from management

The evaluation confirms that the RSF continues to contribute to defraying a portion of the indirect costs incurred by institutions in managing the research funded by the three federal research granting agencies. Program management believes that support for indirect costs is a key element of the federal suite of programs that supports postsecondary research. The evidence presented in the evaluation report aligns with previous evaluation reports and the 2017 Fundamental Science Review, which found that there had been significant increases in direct federal research funding; this created the need for additional federal investments in the RSF to maintain suitable coverage of a portion of postsecondary institutions’ indirect costs of federal research. The RSF reinforces this research investment by helping institutions ensure that their federally funded research continues to be conducted in world-class facilities, with the best equipment and administrative support available.

The evaluation confirmed that the RSF continues to play an important role in the wider research landscape. Nevertheless, as found in previous evaluations, challenges remain in measuring the program’s contributions to its expected outcomes given the unique contributory nature of the program. Particularly, it found that it is difficult to find quantitative measures of outcomes beyond the immediate term that are readily available from all institutions and show the contributory nature of the RSF. Consequently, program management has initiated a review of the program’s logic model to represent more accurately the contribution to expected intermediate and long-term outcomes. This exercise will also inform revisions to the program’s performance reporting tools to further align them with the unique (contributory) design of the program and to better deliver on the performance measurement and accountability requirements of the federal government, while also minimizing the administrative burden on institutions. This review will also aim to ensure that adequate measures of success are collected and that the communication of these results is efficient. Management recognizes that, should challenges remain following the review of the program’s logic model, a review of the program design may also be necessary. These endeavours align with recommendations from the program evaluation.

The following provides a brief description of the recommendations in the evaluation report:

  1. Continue to contribute financially to defraying the indirect costs associated with federal investments in academic research.
  2. Refine the program logic model to make it clearer that the program is only expected to make a partial contribution to the expected intermediate and long-term outcomes.
  3. Implement institutional reporting that is appropriate for the contributory nature of the program, the risk associated with the program and the performance information needs of program management.

Program management wishes to thank the representatives of the institutions who participated in the interviews and surveys conducted by the evaluation team, and notes that the feedback received will be used to inform the review of the program’s logic model and updates to the program’s performance measurement tools.

We are pleased to present the attached action plan, which provides specific information on the management response to the recommendations contained in the evaluation report.

Valérie Laflamme, PhD
Associate vice-president
Tri-agency Institutional Programs Secretariat
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council

Dominique Bérubé, PhD
Vice-president
Research
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council

Action plan

Recommendation Management response

Agree/ Disagree
Proposed action Responsibility Priority Target date for completing proposed action
Recommendation 1:
Continue to contribute financially to defraying the indirect costs associated with federal investments in academic research.
Agree
  • Research Support Fund (RSF) will maintain its process and timelines while considering changes that would support other recommendations.
Director, Institutional Programs, Tri-agency Institutional Programs Secretariat (TIPS) Medium Ongoing
Recommendation 2:
Refine the program logic model to make it clearer that the program is only expected to make a partial contribution to the expected intermediate and long-term outcomes.
Agree
  • Review the RSF Logic Model and Performance Information Profile (PIP) to clarify intermediate and long-term outcomes.

Director, Policy, Performance, Equity and Diversity, TIPS

High February 2021
  • Develop a communications plan and outreach activities to improve the communication of the program’s goals and to highlight its results.

Director, Institutional Programs, TIPS

Director, Communications, SSHRC

April 2021
Recommendation 3:
Implement institutional reporting that is appropriate for the contributory nature of the program, the risk associated with the program and the performance information needs of program management.
Agree
  • Revise and adjust the institutional reporting needs of the program, in alignment with the Policy on Transfer Payments, and develop a new outcome reporting tool that incorporates some of the suggested measures and improvements recommended in the course of consultations with institutions during the evaluation.

Director, Institutional Programs, TIPS

High April 2021
  • Engage with institutions to provide feedback on the reporting tool.

Director, Policy, Performance, Equity and Diversity, TIPS

April 2021