ARCHIVED - Evaluation of Central and Western Cluster Initiatives
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In 2001, NRC was allocated resources to target a number of emerging research and technology fields that were identified by local partners in consultations with NRC. Under the central and western technology cluster initiatives (CWI) six initiatives were funded, each with an identified technology focus. These included:
- the development of an Aluminum Technology Centre (NRC-ATC) in support of a cluster in aluminum transformation in the Saguenay region of Quebec;
- the establishment of the Canadian Photonics Fabrication Centre (NRC-CPFC) in support of a photonics cluster in the Ottawa, Ontario region;
- the creation of the Centre for the Commercialization of Biomedical Technology (NRC-CCBT) in support of biomedical technologies in Winnipeg, Manitoba;
- initiation of the Crops for Enhanced Human Health research program (CEHH) at the Plant Biotechnology Institute (NRC-PBI) in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan with the intent of supporting a regional cluster in functional foods and nutraceuticals;
- the creation of the National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT) in Edmonton, Alberta with the purpose of supporting the development of a nanotechnology cluster; and
- the creation of the Institute for Fuel Cell Technology (NRC-IFCI) in Vancouver, British Columbia in support of a fuel cell and hydrogen cluster.
In 2005, evaluations of these initiatives were launched. The Planning and Performance Management Directorate (PPM) of the Strategy and Development Branch (SDB), Corporate Services at NRC conducted the evaluations. The primary reasons for conducting them were to:
- collect information on the progress of the initiatives to date, including lessons learned, as a means of supporting NRC's strategic direction of contributing to the socio-economic sustainability of Canada's communities, through technology clusters;
- provide an opportunity to communicate with initiative stakeholders in the communities; and
- provide information on NRC's performance to date, to be used to facilitate decision-making around funding renewal of the cluster initiatives, which expires at the end of a five year funding cycle (end of March 2007).
Individual evaluation reports with findings, conclusions and recommendations were prepared for each of the initiatives and presented to NRC's Senior Executive Committee in June 2006. This Summary Evaluation Report, as a follow-up to those reports, seeks to outline the main findings of the evaluations of the six initiatives and provides a series of recommendations that relate to the initiatives as a whole, or NRC-wide issues relating to its cluster strategy. For more detail on the findings and recommendations from the initiative evaluations, the individual report for the relevant initiative may be consulted.
NRC's overarching rationale for launching technology cluster initiatives is to support the economic prosperity of communities through science-based innovation. The evaluations found that the cluster initiatives are a legitimate means of meeting these objectives, and that these objectives are relevant for government, and for NRC. The cluster initiatives have increased the availability of, and access to, national research and development (R&D) and innovation infrastructure. They have also provided new opportunities to position NRC and Canada as significant players in emerging technologies.
Despite delays where construction of new facilities was required, the cluster initiatives are on track to have regional impacts in the coming years. However, the development of plans against which to track progress could generally be improved. The initiatives have leveraged additional resources, beyond those provided by NRC, and resulted in increased collaboration between stakeholders in the region. They have provided NRC the opportunity to explore novel and cost-effective ways of delivering R&D and innovation initiatives, through co-location with universities, joint initiatives, coordination of research programs, infrastructure purchases, and cross appointments of highly qualified personnel (HQP).
The evaluations found that the successful growth of dynamic clusters will not be the result of a single organization – clustering is a collaborative and iterative process that requires active commitment from all stakeholders. The challenge lies in articulating what NRC Institutes and programs involved in clusters can reasonably achieve, and then focusing on those areas. They must also work with other cluster stakeholders to advance the clusters more broadly. Cluster initiatives are complex and multi-faceted, and NRC must support its institutes and programs in managing for success.
Summary of Findings and Recommendations – Relevance
The launch of the NRC central and western technology cluster initiatives was consistent with federal government and NRC priorities established in 2002. The 2002 Speech from the Throne stated that the Government of Canada would work towards a number of goals related to the knowledge economy, the majority of which are relevant to the NRC cluster initiatives. As well, the Government of Canada established an Innovation Strategy to improve innovation, skills and learning in February 2002, in which it was intended that government, academia, and the private sector all participate. The main intent of this strategy was to leverage Canada's existing strengths in research, technology, and innovation to move Canada to the front ranks of the world's most innovative countries.
With regards to NRC priorities, one of the five strategic pillars under its previous Vision 2006 is related to cluster development: "NRC will contribute to the development of new, sustainable and competitive innovation clusters in at least ten Canadian communities." The initiatives continue to be aligned with federal and NRC priorities. The current government's major priorities are laid out in a policy declaration issued in March 2005. This document recognizes the importance of science and technology in stimulating competitiveness, and that regional development policies are an important part of a comprehensive strategy to assist the regions of Canada to meet the opportunities of the new global economy. On this basis, the NRC cluster initiatives appear to be aligned with current federal priorities.
The NRC Renewal Strategy document, A Strategy for Canada: Science at Work for Canada, issued in early 2006, outlines as one of NRC's three goals: "To contribute to the global competitiveness of Canadian industry in key sectors and to the economic viability of communities." Under this goal, clustering initiatives are highlighted as an effective mechanism to achieve intended results.
Legitimate Role for Government: Results from the evaluations suggest that there is a legitimate role for NRC in fostering the development of technology clusters. There is a significant body of literature that supports a legitimate role for government, and research organizations in particular, in fostering innovation and in influencing the formation and development of clusters. As well, interviewees in all the evaluations made particular note of the government's ability to address long-term strategic R&D needs through foresight exercises, strategic R&D programs, and the provision of leadership for regional and national networking, coordination, and development of supporting infrastructure and initiatives.
Finally, the technology cluster initiatives have resulted in increased access to Canada's national R&D and innovation infrastructure and have provided new opportunities to position NRC and Canada as significant players in emerging technologies.
Alignment with Other Priorities and Needs: NRC central and western technology cluster initiatives are aligned with provincial, local and other priorities, and with the broad objectives of regional development agencies. In some cases, technology roadmaps and cluster development plans were developed by groups of stakeholders, generally consisting of industry, local and regional economic development organizations, and provincial and municipal governments, and NRC activities were found to be aligned with the content of these documents.
Summary of Findings and Recommendations – Outputs and Early Impacts
Access to Research Facilities: Access to research facilities, including new laboratory space and advanced equipment available to cluster-based HQP and firms, has increased by at least 18 000 m2. The added research facilities include: the construction of the 3 000 m2 Aluminum Technology Centre on the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi campus; the construction of a 15 000 m2 building on the campus of the University of Alberta in Edmonton to house the National Institute for Nanotechnology; the addition of approximately $1M in specialized equipment to support the Crops for Enhanced Human Health research program introduced at NRC-PBI in Saskatoon; and an investment of approximately $5M in new equipment for fuel cell research and testing at the Institute for Fuel Cell Innovation in Vancouver. These facilities are being used by NRC-based staff, university students, and firms to advance knowledge and competitiveness. Of the total investment of approximately $108M in these facilities, just over 80% of funds to support the new research capacity were leveraged from stakeholders in the regions. This level of contribution demonstrates the extent to which stakeholders have bought into NRC's clustering strategy.
These facilities are already being used by members of the clusters, and linkages to the research community and the private sector can be shown. For example: the use of new welding technologies by firms in the Saguenay region; the use of a plant metabolite analysis system to support the CEHH research program; the use of NRC-CPFC's commercial grade foundry services by firms in Canada, the US and internationally, as well as by Canadian universities; and access to Proton Exchange Membrane(PEM) and solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC) fuel cell test stations that give NRC-IFCI staff and clients the capability to test fuel cells.
Attraction and Development of Highly Qualified Personnel (HQP): There has been an increase in HQP in the regions targeted by the initiatives, particularly due to the hiring of new staff by NRC, but also because of knowledge transfer (e.g., training of students). In short, five of the six initiatives included the hiring of HQP within the first five years of the initiative, thereby contributing to increased capacity. However, some obstacles to developing HQP have been identified, including challenges associated with finding and attracting people with specialized research skills; difficulties attracting people to remote cities or regions, and salary levels that are not sufficiently competitive with the private sector or universities. Further, the evaluation found a lack of clarity during early initiative implementation as to planned staffing objectives and strategies. These factors have contributed to planned staffing achievements being slightly behind schedule.
In terms of hiring patterns, the evaluation examined whether NRC hired new staff into ongoing versus term positions. This question was posed because funding was provided for a five-year period only. The evaluation found that in order to attract or retain top level HQP, most new NRC staff were either hired initially as continuing staff, or were converted to continuing positions in order to reduce the risk of losing them. The one exception is CEHH where almost all new staff were brought in on term positions.
Access to NRC Technology and Industry Support Resources: In this series of NRC technology cluster initiatives, if compared to NRC's Atlantic Initiatives which began two years earlier, NRC's Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) did not receive dedicated funds for cluster activities. However, it did receive $5M in commercialization funds in 2004-05, which it used largely in support of clustering. Given this investment, the evaluation found that, in all cases initiatives have relationships with NRC-IRAP that support elements of cluster development. These relationships vary in nature and scope across the initiatives. For example, in some cases, NRC-IRAP Industrial Technology Advisors (ITAs) played a role in developing relationships with firms and key community stakeholders prior to launch of the initiative. These relationships were instrumental in bringing the relevant initiative to fruition. Further, NRC-IRAP's contributions to firms and organizations have allowed for the use of new technologies by the private sector and an increase in networking and knowledge transfer among cluster stakeholders (via contributions to organizations).
Although information on NRC-IRAP contributions to firms was available in some instances, in most cases it was difficult to identify what firms in the cluster it has worked with because NRC-IRAP has not traditionally tracked its contributions to certain technology areas (e.g., nanotechnology, functional foods and nutraceuticals). Examples provided by NRC-IRAP for other technology areas were sparse, and in fact this might be the case because resources were not dedicated to NRC-IRAP for support to cluster firms to begin with.
Recommendation 1: Consideration should be given to providing NRC-IRAP cluster funding to support regional cluster impacts in collaboration with NRC Institutes.
Recommendation 2: NRC-IRAP should monitor its contributions to cluster development to report on its use of resources and resulting outcomes. This should include tracking advisory services and contributions to firms and organizations, by cluster.
With respect to access to NRC's Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (NRC-CISTI), it did not receive dedicated funding so the evaluations did not seek to measure its performance. However, they did outline any NRC-CISTI linkages to the technology cluster initiatives. Only one new NRC Information Centre (NIC) needed to be established as a result of these initiatives, namely at NRC-ATC in the Saguenay. Through an arrangement with NRC's Industrial Materials Institute (NRC-IMI), 4% of NRC-ATC's annual operating budget is allocated to NRC-CISTI to operate a NIC on site. For all other initiatives, existing NICs provided services.
NRC-CISTI has generally taken efforts to respond to the new technology areas by modifying and building new document collections. However, some NICs have been challenged to add appropriate materials in support of key research themes due to the lack of specific funding for that purpose.
One of the mechanisms that is being used to support information provision for cluster development is competitive technology intelligence (CTI), a service provided by NRC-CISTI to NRC-IRAP ITAs in support of their work with clients.
Recommendation 3: Review the information requirements of NRC researchers and other members of the cluster to determine whether appropriate resources are available through NRC-CISTI and its NICs.
Level of Research Activity: Four of the six initiatives (NRC-ATC, CEHH, NINT and NRC-IFCI) have research as a core element of their program activity. NRC-CCBT was created to support firms and to link them, where appropriate, to NRC's Institute for Biodiagnostics (NRC-IBD), but not to do research. NRC-CPFC supports the research activities of its clients, but does not undertake research in its own right. However, these initiatives do have the potential to contribute to research activity in the cluster by supporting clients or by helping firms grow.
Ascertaining the level of research activity to be achieved by the initiatives was difficult for the evaluation because clear plans for research programs and activities were not well established at the outset. What could be determined is that initiatives have employed a variety of mechanisms in order to identify research priorities and to select research projects. One such approach is technology roadmapping, which has proven instrumental in providing direction for some initiatives. Technology roadmapping formed the basis on which NRC-ATC and CEHH established their priorities. In the case of NINT, its research programs are under development, and evaluation results suggest that research activity has been slower to materialize than expected because of limitations imposed by the temporary facilities NINT staff were housed in until June 2006. For its part, a NRC-IFCI draft business plan outlined that the Institute would focus its research on next generation PEM and SOFC. These directions were set as a result of consultations with local firms and national networks.
Three out of the four research-oriented initiatives have established R&D memoranda of understanding (MOUs). All four of these now have formal collaborative research agreements in place. Initiatives have had success in establishing agreements with a variety of stakeholders, including research MOUs with universities (e.g., the University of Saskatchewan, the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, the University of Western Ontario, Simon Fraser University, the University of British Columbia, the University of Victoria, the University of Alberta), provincial governments (e.g., Province of British Columbia, Saskatchewan Agriculture Development Fund), various research institutes (e.g., Institute of Applied Energy), service providers (e.g., BC Hydro), as well as large and small firms (Alcan, Ballard Power Systems, Hewlett Packard, Nissan, Valent Biosciences, REMAC Innovateur Industriel).
Level of Cluster Networking: NRC has generally been successful in strengthening cluster networking. NRC-IFCI, in particular, has played a key role in bringing firms together in a 'neutral space" and is now acting as a catalyst for inter-firm collaboration on common technical problems. In the Saguenay, NRC-ATC is considered to be a critical contributor to cluster networking, in conjunction with industry associations TransAL and the Aluminum Valley Society, and Canada Economic Development (CED). In Winnipeg, stakeholders are committed to establishing life sciences as a regional strength, and consider NRC-IBD senior management to play a critical role as cluster champion. However, in earlier stage clusters such as Saskatoon functional foods and nutraceuticals and Edmonton nanotechnology, stakeholders would like to see more outreach in the future. It was found that in Edmonton, NINT did not have the capacity for cluster networking as it operationalized the joint initiative. In Saskatoon, the focus on research meant that little outreach took place. In more developed clusters such as Ottawa photonics and Vancouver fuel cells and hydrogen, NRC clustering efforts extended beyond the local cluster to build national and international linkages.
Recommendation 4: Ensure adequate networking and outreach through NRC cluster initiatives in early stage clusters.
Level of Industry Development: It was too early to expect the NRC initiatives to have generated significant industry impacts such as spin-offs, new products and new firms since these initiatives are only in their fourth year. Many of these initiatives are involved the construction of new research or industry development facilities as well as the establishment of new research programs, and most are in emerging technology areas. Nonetheless, NRC cluster initiatives are beginning to contribute to industry development and they appear poised to contribute more broadly in the medium term.
The provision of specialized infrastructure (e.g., hydrogen safe labs at NRC-IFCI, Industry Partnership Facility space at NRC-IFCI and NRC-IBD, equipment at NRC-CPFC, NRC-IFCI and NRC-ATC) was found to be a critical enabler of industry development, solving technical problems and facilitating product development.
Interviewees across all initiatives noted that intellectual property (IP) policies are a critical determinant of the potential for technology transfer from public labs to industry, but most view the NRC IP policy as a strong disincentive to adopting NRC technologies or applications. Firms recognize and support the principle that the Crown should benefit from the successful exploitation of publicly funded R&D. However, they found the NRC policy inflexible in achieving this end, due to factors such as the provision that the Crown must always own the IP, that licensing payments appear inflexible, and that it can be difficult to obtain exclusive licenses. However, the study team found uneven levels of understanding regarding the NRC IP policy within the Institutes and among stakeholders of the cluster initiatives. Some do not appear aware that certain flexibility in licensing payment structures may be permissible, whereas others may be interpreting the policy too loosely.
The technology cluster initiative evaluations, and in particular, the cluster studies undertaken alongside the evaluations, emphasized the finding that success of cluster networking and industry development is not solely dependent on NRC. NRC is one player in these regional innovation systems, where other players such as capital providers, other levels of government, services suppliers, and industry development organizations also play critical roles in supporting the development of cluster industries. Ultimate success in cluster development will be dependent on the coordinated activities of all players.
Recommendation 5: NRC should review the application of the NRC IP policy across initiatives to ensure the policy is clearly understood and consistently applied. As well, NRC should consider reviewing the IP policy to develop an analysis of its effects on innovation.
Recommendation 6: As a catalyst for cluster development, NRC should continue to champion increased involvement by other key stakeholders (e.g. industry, provincial and municipal governments, industry associations, other federal departments, etc) towards the success of the cluster.
Other Outcomes or Early Impacts: There were several other key short-term impacts of note. These include:
- An increase in horizontal activity across NRC, particularly between NRC Institutes and Programs, but also across NRC Institutes – NRC cluster initiatives have facilitated coordinated activity between NRC Institutes and programs, such as NRC-IRAP, NRC-CISTI, NRC's Fuel Cell Program and planned nanotechnology program, and other Institutes.
- The addition of facilities at NRC's Institute for Information Technology in Ottawa – The addition of facilities at NRC's Institute for Information Technology (NRC-IIT) in Ottawa which occurred when the Institute saw an opportunity to partner with NRC's Institute for Microstructural Sciences (NRC-IMS) and to add much needed space by building a third floor onto NRC-CPFC. The incremental cost to do this, rather than build an entirely new wing or building for NRC-IIT, was minimal at around $1.5M. Costs to build added space for NRC-IIT had originally been estimated to be around $7M to $8M. NRC therefore realized significant cost-savings by adding a third floor to the planned building rather than constructing entirely new facilities for NRC-IIT.
- The construction of new facilities for the Institute for Fuel Cell Innovation in Vancouver – The construction of a new building for NRC-IFCI was not part of the original plans of the initiative. However, as a result of the change in focus of the Centre to fuel cells and hydrogen, NRC-IFCI began to store and use hydrogen and other gases on-site. The Universityof British Columbiathen requested that NRC move to a different site on-campus that would not conflict with the University's residential development plans. As a result, in June 2006, the Institute moved to a new facility.
Facilitating and Impeding Factors: The following were found to facilitate the achievement of initiative objectives:
- Level of stakeholder engagement and commitment to the clustering concept – The evaluations found that a key factor contributing to the success of NRC's technology cluster initiatives is the engagement of cluster stakeholders and their commitment to the cluster's growth.
- Availability of HQP locally - Within the Ottawa photonics cluster in particular, a factor contributing to the success of NRC's technology cluster initiative was the level of HQP already available in the region. The evolving technology market enabled NRC-CPFC to absorb HQP being let go from large firms in the region.
The following were found to be inhibiting success on the cluster initiatives.
- Lack of capital – In interviews and a survey undertaken for the cluster studies, stakeholders and firms generally considered that the biggest factor impeding growth of cluster firms is the lack of capital. Without capital required to grow companies, the likelihood of entrepreneurs launching start ups and spin-offs, or seeing them survive, is potentially low.
- Firm receptor capacity – Receptor capacity is another important issue in a number of the clusters – Edmonton nanotechnology, Saguenay aluminum, Saskatoon functional foods and nutraceuticals, and Winnipeg medical devices. In each cluster, the limited ability of firms to receive and develop new technologies into products increases the risk that technology transfer, innovation, and cluster growth may be slower than originally envisioned.
A number of operational issues have also constrained success. For example, in the case of NINT, the joint initiative between the University of Alberta and NRC has brought together two quite different cultures, and the evaluation found that this slowed the implementation of the initiative. At NRC-IFCI, attempts to meet broad and changing R&D needs have resulted in the perception that the Institute lacks focus and is spreading itself too thin. Finally, at NRC-CCBT, the reliance on a not-for-profit to deliver programming and effectively manage the industry partnership facility may increase NRC's risk profile as it is relying on a third party to achieve intended results.
Summary of Findings and Recommendations – Design, Delivery and Cost-Effectiveness
Initiative Implementation: For the most part the initiatives did have in place some form of plan, such as a strategic plan that defined initiative objectives. However, they generally lacked any type of operational plan that set out expectations about initiative implementation timelines, planned facilities, staffing and programming. As a result, it was generally difficult for the evaluation team to determine whether initiatives had been implemented as designed, whether funds had been expended according to initial plans, and whether they had come on line in an efficient amount of time.
A number of the initiatives experienced delays in implementation due to construction lags that were the result of labour shortages, weather conditions and changing initiative plans due to changing cluster conditions. This was the case with NINT, NRC-CPFC and NRC-CCBT.
Recommendation 7: Develop project or operational plans for NRC technology cluster initiatives that set out expectations for timing of construction, hiring, etc., Plans should be updated on an ongoing basis as conditions change (i.e., building plans are modified, additional resources are secured, opening dates change, hiring expectations are revised, etc.).
Effectiveness of Management Practices: The evaluation found that some form of governance structure was put in place in the first four years for NRC-ATC, CEHH, NRC-CPFC, NRC-IFCI and NINT. Further, initiatives such as NRC-ATC, NRC-CPFC and NRC-IFCI benefited from early oversight structures that facilitated planning and early strategy development. As of the evaluation, oversight mechanisms had been established for all initiatives. This tended to be in the form of an advisory board that provides strategic advice on program matters relevant to the initiative, or in the case of NINT, a Board of Trustees. For initiatives that are sub-programs of Institutes, such as CEHH, NRC-CPFC and NRC-ATC, some form of steering, planning or advisory committee specific to it has also been established. However, while the agreement between NRC-CCBT and Biomedical Commercialization Canada for the development and operation of the NRC-CCBT called for a Joint Committee, the evaluation found no record of formal meetings.
Although these governance mechanisms are in place for the cluster initiatives, evaluation results suggest that their effectiveness vary due to such factors as clarity of purpose, ability to provide clear advice as to program direction and research activities, board composition (i.e., the proportion and type of private sector participation) and the extent to which they are used.
Recommendation 8: Familiarize NRC Institute Advisory Boards with NRC's cluster strategy and the role of their Institute in support of the strategy. Ensure the participation of local industry representatives on relevant Institute advisory boards.
Performance Management: The evaluation found that where a Results-based Management Accountability Framework (RMAF) had been put in place early on (i.e., NRC-ATC), where business plans and strategic plans existed (i.e., NRC-IFCI) and where there was commitment and buy-in on monitoring performance, information was available to support the evaluation and results tended to be positive. Where RMAFs had been developed later or where little effort had been made to monitor performance, there was greater difficulty in defining the program of activity and in measuring the relevant short-term outputs and longer-term impacts expected.
- Managers responsible for cluster initiatives should update their existing RMAFs in the first year of renewed funding. RMAFs should clearly support performance reporting on a yearly basis with sound indicators of medium and long-term impact.
- The Technology Cluster Secretariat, with the participation of PPM, should champion the development of a common performance measurement and reporting system.
Role of NRC Institutes, Programs and Branches: The evaluations found mixed levels of involvement by other parts of NRC in the initiatives. For the most part, NRC-CISTI and in particular, NRC-IRAP played an important role in the cluster initiatives. Involvement of other research Institutes was generally limited, but the evaluation document reviews found that relatively little emphasis was placed on collaboration across NRC through the technology cluster initiatives. This finding is thus not unexpected. Where other Institutes were involved, coordination was generally found to be good (e.g., between NRC-IFCI and other Institutes involved in the Fuel Cell Program and between NRC-PBI and NRC's Institute for Nutrisciences and Health (INH) in the area of functional foods and nutraceuticals (FFN). NINT management, in particular, was recognized for having consulted with other Institutes involved in nanotechnology research to ensure complementarity of research programs.
Joint Initiatives: NRC technology cluster initiatives have, for the most part, resulted in a significant number of joint initiatives with other cluster stakeholders. Nonetheless, the individual evaluations of the central and western initiatives found significant variation with regards to joint initiatives and involvement by other stakeholders. At CEHH, there was neither intended nor actual collaboration. At NRC-IFCI, NRC-ATC and NINT, a number of collaborative arrangements emerged with various types of agencies, departments or organizations. Joint arrangements with the following types of organizations were most common:
- Federal regional development agencies (RDAs) – Contributions towards infrastructure and specialized equipment.
- Industry and Industry Associations – Collaboration regarding specialized equipment and demonstration projects, and cluster building initiatives.
- Other Federal Government Departments and Other Levels of Government – Contributions towards infrastructure and specialized equipment and demonstration projects.
- Post-Secondary Institutions – Cross appointments, secondments and co-location.
Coordination and alignment between stakeholders and cluster initiatives is generally very good, but must be constantly and proactively nurtured.
Program Complimentarity: The evaluations found clear evidence that NRC cluster initiatives fostered greater alignment and program complementarity, particularly in decisions regarding new investments in research equipment, infrastructure and HQP. NINT, NRC-IFCI, and NRC-ATC all have coordinated investments in infrastructure and equipment with universities and regional development agencies. CEHH has aligned its research focus with most major FFN research programs across the country. While NRC-CCBT is one of three recently established incubation facilities in the region, it is differentiated from that of the local university by not requiring an NRC affiliation to firms, and from the privately owned incubator by not requiring an equity investment in firms.
Lessons Learned: The final area examined by the evaluations was lessons learned. The following ones stand out:
- Manage for delays when establishing new infrastructure – Evaluation results suggest that NRC initiative construction projects were well overseen by management and key project staff. However, external factors such as changes in cluster conditions, availability of labour and weather influenced the completion date of projects and thus the ability of the initiatives to begin their planned activities.
- Support senior management new to NRC – The evaluations found that where existing Institutes and management supported the development of cluster initiatives, implementation tended to be smoother. Directors General, management teams and staff new to NRC and located away from NRC headquarters in Ottawa, faced challenges in familiarizing themselves with NRC systems and procedures.
- Clustering initiatives provide novel and effective ways of delivering on NRC's strategy and vision – Cluster initiatives have provided opportunities to try new approaches to delivering R&D and innovation initiatives within a region, through collocation with universities, joint initiatives with universities, coordination of research programs, and infrastructure purchases. They are a means of reducing duplication and increasing cooperation with other stakeholders. However, it is critical that NRC cluster initiatives build on local strengths and strategies that are supported locally and provincially.
- Manage risk by building trust and establishing appropriate supporting documentation – The use of novel funding and delivery arrangements increases NRC's risk exposure, but if these risks are identified and addressed from the outset, these arrangements can be successful. By way of example, NINT has been successful to date, despite delays, because of relationships, trust, and commitment by all parties, and because the relationship was expressed through a series of successive formal agreements.
- As one player in dynamic innovation systems, NRC can only influence certain aspects of cluster development – Interviews, cluster studies, literature and document reviews undertaken in support of the evaluations have shown that NRC cannot directly influence all conditions within a cluster. Therefore, it will not be able to influence all aspects of a cluster's performance. This has implications for the scope of NRC cluster plans and objectives, and the nature of impacts expected. Attribution of a cluster's success or failure can therefore not entirely be given to NRC.
- NRC's role in cluster development has varied across the clusters - In some cases, NRC Institutes have demonstrated leadership in bringing cluster stakeholders through roundtables, technology roadmapping exercises, regular meetings, etc. In others, NRC has acted as a champion for the cluster without necessarily being the lead. In the remainder, NRC has not been particularly active in engaging with stakeholders.
These findings point to the need to share information across NRC Institutes and programs regarding the expectations of NRC for its cluster initiatives, in order to share experiences in cluster building – best practices and lessons learned and to support initiative management in meeting their objectives. Use of the NRC Technology Cluster Secretariat provides an opportunity to facilitate the exchange of information and to support the initiative Institutes and programs in defining and implementing their cluster initiatives, and in supporting strategic planning at the cluster level with other stakeholders.
Recommendation 10: Plans and performance measures for NRC cluster initiatives should clearly articulate where and what impacts NRC can realistically achieve, and how NRC will work with other stakeholders at the broader cluster level for success.
Recommendation 11: The NRC Technology Cluster Secretariat should continue to support cluster Institutes in exchanging information and best practices, with planning and ongoing implementation, and support strategic planning at the cluster level.
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