ARCHIVED - Evaluation of NRC Round III Cluster Initiatives - Institute for Nutrisciences and Health

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Executive Summary

In 2003-2004, NRC received $30M over five years to support two new cluster initiatives, referred to as "Round III". The Round III initiatives target two emerging research and technology fields identified by local partners in consultations with the National Research Council (NRC). The initiatives are:

  • the Centre for Sustainable Infrastructure Research (NRC-CSIR) in Regina, Saskatchewan, part of the NRC Institute for Research in Construction; and
  • the Institute for Nutrisciences and Health (NRC-INH) in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island (PEI), part of the NRC Institute for Marine Biosciences (NRC-IMB).

In November 2006, NRC's Senior Executive Committee (SEC) approved the Terms of Reference for the evaluations of these Round III cluster initiatives. The two initiatives underwent separate evaluations and individual evaluation reports with findings, conclusions and recommendations were prepared. The Planning and Performance Management Directorate (PPM) of the Strategy and Development Branch (SDB), Corporate Services at NRC managed the two evaluations.

The evaluations were conducted at the request of NRC's Senior Executive Committee (SEC), as well as in accordance with NRC's evaluation cycle and Treasury Board Secretariat policies. The primary reasons for conducting an evaluation of the initiatives at this time are as follows:

  • to collect information on the progress of the initiatives to date, including lessons learned and best practices, to support NRC strategic program planning and on-going management of its horizontal technology cluster initiative strategy;
  • to provide an opportunity to communicate with initiative stakeholders in the communities; and
  • to provide information relevant to decisions around funding renewal of the cluster initiatives, which expires at the end of a five year funding cycle (2007-2008).

This report summarizes the background, evaluation findings and conclusions, and the recommendations for the Institute for Nutrisciences and Health (NRC-INH) technology cluster initiative.

The evaluation covered the period 2003-2004 to mid-2006-2007 inclusive. It addresses issues related to relevance; early outcomes and impacts; design, delivery and cost-effectiveness; and lessons learned and novel practices.

The key methodologies used included a review of documents; a review of administrative and performance data; key informant interviews; and a cluster measurement study.

Institute for Nutrisciences and Health Overview

Plans for NRC-INH began with an initial idea put forward in 2000 to establish an NRC Innovation Centre on the campus of University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI). Focusing on this goal, NRC, in conjunction with other federal and provincial agencies, UPEI and local businesses, began to investigate the possibility of developing a bioresources technology cluster in the province. The development of a technology roadmap was identified as the most appropriate tool to explore possibilities.

In 2001, the PEI Bioresources Technology Cluster Roadmap Steering Committee was convened to identify new opportunity areas for the sustainable growth of a bioresources cluster in PEI. The roadmapping exercise culminated in 2002 with a report which recommended a focus on research in the area of bioactives and identified several components: discovery and screening for bioactivity; evaluation of efficacy; and sustainability modeling.

Building on the results of the roadmap and NRC's cluster strategy, $20M in funding over five years was allocated in February 2003 to establish an NRC research centre in PEI. The centre would focus on health promotion that would expand on local strengths existing in the academic and industrial community. Based on this announcement, NRC-INH was launched in Charlottetown, PEI as a research program of the NRC Institute for Marine Biosciences (NRC-IMB) which is based in Halifax. This would be the first time a substantial contingent of NRC scientists would be working in the province. Prior to the establishment of NRC-INH, NRC had only a minor presence through NRC-CISTI and NRC-IRAP staff.

Scientists at NRC-INH are working to identify how bioactive compounds found in nature can be used to improve human and animal health. Research focuses on the role natural compounds play in three key areas: neurological disorders (e.g., Alzheimer's disease); obesity-related disorders (e.g., diabetes); and infection and immunity (e.g., viral infections).

Based on the evaluation study conducted from November 2006 to May 2007, the following key evaluation findings and recommendations were identified.

General Conclusion

NRC's overarching rationale for launching technology cluster initiatives is to support the economic prosperity of communities. The evaluation found that the NRC-INH technology cluster initiative was complimentary to ongoing activities designed to foster growth in a cluster context. It is relevant to the priorities and needs of other federal departments, the provincial government as well as the research and industrial communities in the region. The creation of a research program that builds on local strengths and provides a link between fundamental research and commercial activity was viewed by industry and other stakeholders as being of preeminent importance.

To date, NRC-INH has attracted its own researchers as well as assisted in the attraction of other highly qualified people to the region. NRC's funding allocation did not include resources for new space to house the research program, however, contributions were made by Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, University of Prince Edward Island and the province to construct a new building in which NRC-INH presently resides. Despite moving into the building in October 2006, over forty percent of NRC-INH's Industry Partnership Facility space has been leased to industry.

NRC-INH staff were quick to start developing relationships with others in the region and to engage in research projects with academic and industry collaborators. There are several examples of firms recently moving to the province to take advantage of the growing activity in the area of biosciences. NRC-INH has established itself as a key participant in cluster building activities and is viewed as a critical contributor to the larger efforts.

Summary of Findings and Recommendations – Relevance

The evaluation found that the launch of the NRC-INH technology cluster initiative is consistent with federal government priorities established under the 2002 federal Innovation Strategy, the policies outlined by the new government of Canada and with the priorities of the National Research Council of Canada. There is a legitimate role for the federal government in cluster initiatives and, more specifically, a valid role for NRC-INH to be involved in research in the area of biosciences. The NRC-INH technology cluster initiative is aligned with the priorities and needs of other federal departments, particularly the priorities set out by Agriculture and Agri-food Canada (AAFC) and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), the provincial government as well as the research and industrial communities in the region.

Recommendation 1: NRC should seek renewal of funding to support the NRC-INH technology cluster initiative.

Management Response and Proposed Actions: Accepted. NRC-INH Results-based Management and Accountability Framework (RMAF) to be reviewed in first year of funding to ensure NRC-INH core competencies and indicators are aligned with cluster needs. Corporate evaluation report of NRC-INH was used to shape cluster business plan. Ongoing PEI biocluster indicators to be aligned with NRC indicators being developed through the Technology Cluster Secretariat.

Summary of Findings and Recommendations – Early Outcomes and Impacts

The evaluation focused on outputs and early impacts, recognizing that the initiative is still in its early years of delivery. The relative degree of success that the NRC-INH technology cluster initiative has had to date in the areas identified as immediate outcomes in the NRC-INH logic model were examined.

Access to Research Facilities: Access to specialized research facilities and equipment has increased as a result of the NRC-INH technology cluster initiative funding. NRC-INH is housed in a new, four-story building completed in May 2006. The building is owned by UPEI, however, ACOA and the Province of PEI contributed funds towards its construction. NRC-INH has invested over $4.3M to date in major equipment and related materials to establish its research program. Much of this infrastructure was not previously available in the region and is essential for bioactive discovery and dissemination.

Attraction and Development of Highly Qualified Personnel (HQP): NRC-INH technology cluster initiative has been successful in attracting HQP to the region. Besides a small number of NRC-IRAP and NRC-CISTI staff, there were no NRC employees in PEI prior to the establishment of NRC-INH. All six NRC-INH Research Officers were attracted from outside the province, including two outside of Canada. Three of the six ROs joined NRC-INH direct from industry. NRC-INH has also been instrumental in attracting and supporting the development of other HQPs in the region, particularly securing several Canada Research Chairs at UPEI.

Level of Research Activity: NRC-INH has increased the level of research activity related to biosciences in the region, most notably through collaborative research agreements. From the close to $1.3M that NRC-INH has provided to these agreements, it has leveraged over $3.4M from within NRC, universities, the province and industry. The largest collaboration in which NRC-INH is involved is the establishment of the Atlantic Centre for BioProducts Valuation (ACBV), with UPEI's Atlantic Veterinary College (AVC) which was announced in March 2006.

Access to NRC Technology and Industry Support Resources: Neither NRC-CISTI nor NRC-IRAP received specific funding to support NRC-INH. NRC-CISTI provides support to the region by drawing on funds it received from the Atlantic Initiatives. One NRC-CISTI information specialist is co-located with NRC-INH. NRC-IRAP is involved in the biosciences cluster and has made contributions to both firms and organizations in PEI. NRC-INH is presently collaborating with three of the 30 firms that have received NRC-IRAP support.

Cluster Networking: NRC-INH has established itself as a key participant in cluster building activities and is a viewed as a critical contributor to the larger effort. As well, NRC-INH staff are involved in a number of networking and outreach activities with the biosciences community and the public at large.

Industry Research and Development: The issue of intellectual property (IP) is an important one in terms of industry development within a cluster. There is a perception on the part of industry that NRC's intellectual property policy only allows for Crown ownership. Another aspect of industry development is the issue of incubation space. Despite moving into the building six months ago, NRC-INH has attracted four industry tenants to its Industry Partnership Facility.

Other Impacts: NRC-INH is well regarded and the expertise and infrastructure that it brings to the region is seen as a positive addition to the biosciences landscape in PEI.

Recommendation 2: NRC-INH should ensure its collaborators and clients have a clear and consistent understanding of NRC's Intellectual Property (IP) policy, particularly relating to options around IP ownership.

Management Response and Proposed Actions: NRC-INH Business Development Officer (BDO) to hold Research Officer workshop in 2007 to clarify any misunderstanding of NRC's IP policy. NRC-INH BDO to work with BDO from NRC-IMB and internal communications to develop in-house marketing material to be used to help explain NRC IP policy to clients. Following the NRC update of its IP policy (currently under review), NRC-INH will communicate revised IP policy to community stakeholders and clients. In order to measure impact of new policy, NRC-INH will look for acceptance of IP provisions by clients and appropriate uptake from community (2008-2010).

Summary of Findings and Recommendations – Design, Delivery and Cost-effectiveness

The evaluation examined whether the most appropriate and efficient means were used to achieve the objectives of the Institute for Nutrisciences and Health technology cluster initiative.

Initiative Implementation: NRC-INH is building on the foundation of the 2002 roadmap, developed in concert with the biosciences community.

Effectiveness of Management and Administrative Practices: NRC-INH was established on good management and administrative practices and has engaged the larger community in its planning activities. Substantial external communications have taken place and it has been continuous without being repetitive. Internal communications between NRC-INH and other NRC institutes could be increased. NRC-INH has used its financial resources effectively and has leveraged funds from other sources.

Responsibilities and Accountabilities: Responsibilities and accountabilities are understood within NRC-INH and NRC-IMB. Individuals within the cluster understand each player's role.

Role of other NRC Institutes and Programs: NRC-INH researchers are working with other NRC institutes as appropriate. The closest association to date is with NRC-PBI through the formal collaborative agreement. Future collaborations are seen to be possible between NRC-INH and the NRC Institute for Biodiagnostics, the NRC Biotechnology Research Institute and the NRC Institute for Biological Sciences, however, at this early stage of the initiative there has not yet been time to fully explore the possibility of formal arrangements with these other institutes.

Program Complementarity: NRC-INH is seen to have taken measures to ensure alignment of expertise, new infrastructure and equipment with others in the region. NRC-INH was found to be complimentary to local activities taking place in the region.

Alternatives: The NRC-INH cluster initiative makes use of novel arrangements that have resulted in increased collaborations and a more effective and efficient use of resources.

Recommendation 3: NRC-INH should maintain its inclusive planning practices both internally and externally. Within NRC, particular emphasis should be given to finding common areas to expand upon with NRC-IRAP as well as opportunities with other NRC institutes. To help strengthen the larger bioscience cluster, NRC-INH should continue to champion involvement by key stakeholders (e.g., industry, provincial governments, other federal departments, etc.) in overall cluster planning efforts.

Management Response and Proposed Actions: NRC-INH to align research strategy and cluster business plan with NRC-IMB overall business plan (late 2007). NRC-INH to work efficiently and seek opportunities with other NRC Life Sciences (LS) institutes and non-LS Atlantic Canada institutes (NRC-IIT) in order to deliver single-entry services to the region and leverage its core competencies. This will be accomplished through regional Director of Research meetings (NRC-INH, NRC-IMB and NRC-IIT), through regional client opportunities and through increased interactions with the other NRC LS-based institutes (NRC-BRI, NRC-IBS, NRC-IBD). NRC-INH will ensure connections are made with emerging clusters outside of Canada in the nutraceutical and natural products industry. Recent connection and Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with Florida (marine bioactives) and North Carolina Research Campus (nutraceuticals) will be further developed. Outcomes will be measured according to renewed RMAF and dashboard-based performance measurements.

NRC-INH to work closely with NRC-IRAP to deliver an enhanced integrated marketing and competitive intelligence business development unit for the local and regional bioscience community. This new business unit (to be called BioAccess Atlantic) will be modeled on BioAccess recently created in Saskatoon. Briefly, the unit will deliver enhanced business services to the local and regional cluster via, business development officers (NRC-INH), communications (NRC-INH), industry technology advisors (NRC-IRAP), and competitive intelligence (NRC-IRAP and NRC-CISTI).

As the PEI bioscience cluster continues to grow, NRC-INH will re-evaluate its core-competencies in order to ensure its programs are of relevance to key stakeholders (industry, University and Provincial government). Re-evaluation of competencies will be completed in 2009 prior to next renewal of funding. NRC-INH will continue to work closely with PEI BioAlliance to help establish longer term strategy for the PEI biocluster.

Recommendation 4: NRC-INH should sustain its communications efforts, with particular focus on developing relationships with potential collaborators outside the immediate region.

Management Response and Proposed Actions: NRC-INH will re-new its communications plan in 2008 with particular emphasis on external communications. NRC-INH will continue its aggressive communications approach within the PEI cluster and capitalize on the close working relationship between industry, government and academia. A re-newed communications strategy will be driven by and aligned with the activities of BioAccess Atlantic in order to deliver enhanced industry based services. Communications indicators (internal and external) as outlined by Technology Cluster Secretariat will be measured during subsequent NRC-INH evaluations for on-going funding (2009).

Lessons Learned and Novel Practices

The final area examined by the evaluation was lessons learned and novel practices. The findings highlight key lessons learned that could be applied or adopted by other initiatives launched by NRC in support of technology clustering.

Lessons Learned:

  • Roadmapping – Conducting a roadmapping exercise at the beginning of the initiative established collective buy-in among all stakeholders early on in the process and ensured the initiative had a focus.
  • Community Involvement – It was essential to ensure the right people were involved in the process at the beginning and continued to have input throughout. Having the community involved was considered a factor that helped to maintain the momentum.
  • Funding Allocations Over the 5 Year Timeframe – It is unrealistic to assume that a substantial amount of money would be spent in the first years when the initiative is starting up from nothing and therefore concentrating on hiring employees. Time is needed to reach full capacity and with minimal staff in the first year or so there are less expenditures on salaries, space and equipment purchases.

Novel Practices:

  • Building Design – The physical location close to UPEI and the open concept design of the building that NRC-INH occupies were both considered to enhance the initiative. The physical layout of the laboratories and integration of meeting spaces create an inviting atmosphere that will encourage interaction and collaboration between the government, academic and industry tenants.
  • Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) – Development of this document which outlines the term of cooperation between NRC-INH, AAFC and UPEI before the organizations had started to work together will avoid future challenges and allow more efficient and effective collaborations.
  • Use of Temporary Space – As the space that NRC-INH now occupies took several years to design and construct the steps taken to find temporary space allowed the research programs to get started prior to completion of the facility.
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