ARCHIVED - Evaluation of the Grant Program

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In 2002 NRC created the Grant Program to Enhance Canadian Science and Technology Capacity (Grant Program). The Program consists of two sub-programs, namely the Graduate Student Scholarship Supplement Program (GSSSP) and the Herzberg Memorial Prize and Fellowship. The purpose of the GSSSP is to provide scholarships to students who wish to pursue graduate studies while at NRC. Recipients are selected through a competitive process. The Herzberg Memorial Prize and Fellowship allows NRC to receive a distinguished researcher to come conduct research at NRC.

An evaluation of the Grant Program, or more particularly its sub-programs, was conducted to respond to requirements in the Treasury Board Policy on Transfer Payments, as well as the Federal Accountability Act, which require that such programs undergo review every five years. The evaluation was also undertaken in order to provide insight on the relevance and performance of both the GSSSP and the Herzberg Memorial Prize and Fellowship as an aid to NRC senior executives in their review of the ongoing need for them.

The evaluation covers the period 2002-03 to 2006-07 inclusive. It addresses issues related to program effectiveness, performance and relevance.

General Conclusions and Recommendations – Overall Grant Program

The evaluation found that both the Graduate Student Scholarship Supplement Program (GSSSP) and the Herzberg Memorial Prize and Fellowship have met the majority of the objectives they were designed to fulfill. Both have been administered adequately, although some improvements to administrative processes would ensure that they are being delivered even more effectively. As these sub-programs are managed independently of one another, as well as of all other awards offered by NRC, efficiency could be improved by having all awards administered by a central area of NRC. 

An area where both sub-programs could improve is in their general reach. An opportunity exists to improve the ability to attract the very best students and potential Fellows by increasing awareness of each of the sub-programs among relevant clients. This would help to ensure new relationships are developed, which is an objective of both sub-programs. The impacts of the Herzberg Memorial Prize and Fellowship, in particular, could be increased by ensuring it is awarded annually. In addition, raising the profile of each of the sub-programs would also help to raise NRC’s profile among Canadian students and in the international research community. 

The Grant Program has performed well against most of the objectives it was designed to address. With some modifications, it could achieve greater impact and benefit NRC more broadly. The Program, specifically the Herzberg Prize and Fellowship, cannot work optimally, however, if not administered consistently and on a continuing basis. 

When considering its future, NRC senior management may wish to consider whether the contribution that the Grant Program can make to overall objective achievement is deemed relevant enough to warrant its continuation, which representatives from Institutes and beneficiaries would support.

The following recommendations were made following the evaluation process and relate to the overall Grant Program. 

Recommendation 1: In light of generally positive findings about the Grant Program, most particularly the GSSSP, that each sub-program be renewed providing that the objectives they were designed to achieve remain priorities for NRC.

Management Response: NRC supports continuation of the GSSSP to honour existing commitments made to students and possibly allow for future recipients over the short term under the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) Transfer Payment framework while a broader examination of other student program options takes place. Based on feedback received by the SEC on inherent restrictions presented by the Transfer Payment Framework, NRC-HRB will research complimentary student programs that mirror the advantages of the GSSSP which exist currently but which may offer the NRC greater direct benefit flexibilities not permitted under the current TBS framework.

NRC does not intend to seek authority to continue the Herzberg Prize in its current format and will review the program's objectives, delivery mechanisms, and structure against NRC's future priorities and recommendations 6, 7, and 8 of this report before considering a renewed initiative.

Recommendation 2: Examine options to increase the efficiency of the program administration such as having the Program administered in conjunction with other existing awards offered by NRC.

Management Response: Accepted. NRC will review this recommendation with the understanding that dedicated resources would be required to develop guidelines and administer awards in a consistent fashion and that there would be a need to identify an appropriate responsibility centre.

General Conclusions and Recommendations – Graduate Student Scholarship Supplement Program

GSSSP was successful in achieving most of the objectives for which it was established. More than two thirds of students who responded to a survey indicated that they completely or somewhat agreed that it would have been more difficult for them to complete their degree had they not received the GSSSP. They also were clear that access to NRC researchers, facilities and resources contributed positively to their research activities. 

Among evaluation participants, recipients of the Supplement are viewed as being of the highest quality. The competitive process by which applicants must abide, including a pre-screening by the Institute, and consideration of applications and ultimate selection by a Selection Committee, have helped to ensure that the most deserving students are recognized. Although there are other programs at NRC that may provide students with access to financial support (e.g., Visiting Workers Program), these programs have generally been designed to support students with their living costs while studying or working at NRC. Program stakeholders indicated that the GSSSP is of benefit and provides NRC with an opportunity to recognize excellence, an opportunity not necessarily provided by other available programs. 

Contributing to the development of young, promising researchers is identified as a priority in NRC’s Strategy: Science at Work for Canada and that is the primary objective of the GSSSP. Other departments and agencies, such as the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), Environment Canada and Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC), have similar programs that provide like opportunities for students in other fields. 

In terms of ongoing relationships, recipients indicate that following their experience at NRC, they are more interested in participating in other NRC programs, such as the Research Associateship (RA) Program. Given that the program has only been in place for five years, and that only now are GSSSP recipients completing their degrees and becoming available for ongoing relationships, little evidence was available in order to assess ongoing relationships between NRC and GSSSP students. 

In terms of building new relationships between NRC and universities, the Program has generally helped to strengthen existing ones rather than develop new ones as had been outlined as one of its objectives. Access to the Supplement is generally by students and university supervisors who have an existing relationship with NRC. As a result, opportunities exist to broaden familiarity with the Program in order to enhance reach. 

With respect to delivery of GSSSP, overall it has been administered in a thorough manner. However, the delivery, review and renewal of such a Grants and Contributions program necessitates added costs and use of existing NRC resources. Further, the current design of the GSSSP, which includes limitations as to the maximum number of awards that may be granted, as well as the maximum total value of GSSSP resources, tends to result in under utilization of the Program (i.e., not all funds being used for GSSSP each year). There are opportunities to revise these limitations and expand use of the Program. Finally, the issue of non-ownership of intellectual property (IP) by NRC under the GSSSP was raised as a concern. Given the nature of the GSSSP as a G&C program, with all benefits accruing to the recipient, ownership of resulting work, or IP, vests with the student. To date, all challenges relating to this matter have been in ensuring that all parties understand the Policy and are willing to sign the agreements. 

Based on the above and under the assumption that the GSSSP would be renewed, the following recommendations were made: 

Recommendation 3: Consider revising the limits surrounding the maximum number of GSSSP awards so as to allow all funds to be used on more awards if there are more qualified candidates. 

Management Response: Agreed. Should Grant Program renewal move forward, NRC-HRB intends to reflect this in revised Terms and Conditions, and a consolidated RMAF-RBAF. 

Recommendation 4: Publicize GSSSP more widely outside of NRC and among a broader range of universities. 

Management Response: Agreed with the understanding that additional resources would be required to administer increased applications for GSSSP grants. This would constitute a shift away from the present approach where Institutes, Branches and Programs (I/B/Ps) identify, inform and support potential candidates. Increased promotion of GSSSP has already begun through the recruitment office conducting outreach presentations and providing information at graduate fairs to foster greater knowledge of NRC and its programs, such as GSSSP. 

Promotional activities should be balanced with NRC’s ability to meet demand and to avoid unrealistic and/or unanswered expectations (limited resources in terms of program budget/availability and coordination to respond to requests). 

Recommendation 5: Mechanisms for creating new relationships between NRC supervisors and students should be examined. 

Management Response: Agreed with the understanding that this is a shared responsibility and additional commitments/resources might be required by the Institutes, Branches and Programs (I/B/Ps) to assist in acting on this recommendation. 

General Conclusions and Recommendations Herzberg Memorial Prize and Fellowship 

Recipients of the two fellowships examined were well-known researchers who were already advanced in their careers. While at NRC institutes, they were identified as having applied their expertise in different areas of research than those in which they normally work. In both cases, Fellows were active in mentoring young researchers and graduate students, as well as encouraging some networking activities between different research groups and institutes at NRC. All representatives from institutes interviewed felt that the research had been improved through the collaboration and that the ability to benefit from such expertise on longer term projects was of value. Institutes’ representatives indicated that their relationships with Fellows have been ongoing, beyond completion of the fellowship. Researchers and Directors General felt that the relationship allowed NRC to leverage the expertise of others while developing the competencies within their institutes. 

The process outlined to select Herzberg Fellows was appropriate; however, it may not have been administered in a consistent manner. As the Fellowship and associated Prize was not given out every year, the full potential benefit of the program has not been realized. The reason why the Fellowship and Prize were not awarded in the past three years stemmed from decisions made by NRC Senior Executive in the face of other priorities at the time. In order for the program to have achieved its full potential impacts, award in all years would have been necessary. 

Flexibility in the parameters for the Fellowship, such as allowing fellowships of shorter duration, or allowance for shorter stays at NRC, or even multiple recipients in one year, could also improve the practical implementation of the program. Not only would it be easier to attract potential recipients to the process, researchers who would not be able to leave their home organization for a full year could then be candidates for Fellowship. 

Recommendation 6: Processes including the call for nominations and ensuring receipt of activity reports should be reviewed to determine how they may be administered in a more consistent manner.

Management Response: Agreed. This recommendation will be considered when reviewing options for a future initiative of this kind.

Recommendation 7: To increase the reach of the program, give awards annually.

Management Response: Agreed. This recommendation will be considered when reviewing options for a future initiative of this kind.

Recommendation 8: Consider allowing flexibility in the duration and number of fellowships awarded in a given year.

Management Response: Agreed. This recommendation will be considered when reviewing options for a future initiative of this kind.

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