ARCHIVED - Evaluation of NRC's Institute for Aerospace Research

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As Canada’s national aerospace laboratory, NRC Institute for Aerospace Research (NRC-IAR) undertakes and promotes research and development in support of the Canadian aerospace community in matters affecting the design, manufacture, performance, use and safety of aerospace vehicles. The Institute has, for over 50 years, helped the Canadian aerospace industry develop globally competitive products and services through partnerships and collaborations with industry, government, universities and clients from around the world.

This report presents the results of the 2010 evaluation of NRC-IAR. The evaluation was led by an independent evaluation team within NRC’s Planning and Performance Management Directorate (NRC-PPM) in partnership with external consultants.

Evaluation Scope

The evaluation period covered 2004-05 to 2008-09 inclusive, with data for 2009-10 presented when available. The evaluation was designed to address the core evaluation issues stipulated in the Treasury Board Policy on Evaluation, which fall within two broad categories: relevance and performance. It was also designed to meet information requirements of future Strategic Review exercises.

Evaluation Methodology

The methodology developed for this evaluation included multiple lines of evidence, as is standard practice in evaluation. The following methods were used to address the evaluation issues:

  • review of internal documents;
  • review of external documents and literature;
  • review of administrative, financial, and performance data;
  • review of secondary data;
  • key informant interviews (n=41);
  • industrial survey (n=111);
  • assessment of NRC-IAR Scientific and Technical Competencies (39 experts consulted); and
  • 10 impact-focused case studies of NRC-IAR projects.

Summary of Evaluation Findings

NRC-IAR Financial and Client/Collaborator Profiles

Overview of NRC-IAR resources from 2005-06 to 2009-10
2005-06 2006-07 2007-08 2008-09 2009-10 Total
A-Base Budget 19,181,000 19,213,000 20,618,000 20,414,000 20,044,000 99,470,000
B-Base and Other Appropriations Budget 4,498,000 9,424,000 11,074,000 3,713,000 7,024,000 35,733,000
Revenue (1074 - Private Sector) 15,492,644 19,240,965 14,995,978 18,336,266 17,826,809 85,892,662
Revenue (1009 - Public Sector) 835,576 428,706 297,470 365,867 1,272,059 3,199,678
Income (1076 - Private Sector) 891,297 778,342 3,269,345 3,216,010 3,684,058 11,839,052
Income (1086 - Public Sector) 9,511,058 11,016,050 8,366,434 8,406,226 8,419,776 45,719,544

The analysis of NRC-IAR financial information shows that: 

  • the total resources (i.e., A-base, B-base/Other Appropriations, Revenue and Income) available to the Institute has increased by almost 16 percent since 2005-06. However, when numbers are adjusted for inflation, the increase drops to just over eight percent;
  • the Institute has seen its A-base decrease by about two percent over the past five years (when adjusted for  inflation);
  • the total amount of revenue and income generated by NRC-IAR has increased by close to 17 percent since 2005-06 (or just over nine percent when inflation is accounted for);
  • in 2009-10, the Institute generated close to 20 percent of the total revenue/income of NRC and was the highest revenue/income generating institute within the organization;
  • for each dollar of A-base invested in NRC-IAR, the Institute has generated an average of $1.48 in income/revenue from the public and private sector; and
  • the overall number of human resources has increased by almost 16 percent since 2004-05.

With respect to the client profile of NRC-IAR, the results of the analysis of the Institute’s administrative data show that:

  • since 2004, NRC-IAR has entered into over 1,300 agreements with over 400 unique Canadian and international clients/collaborators. Canadian clients/collaborators represent 64 percent of the total number of unique clients/collaborators;
  • over the past five years, close to half of the agreements (or projects) into which NRC-IAR has entered have been for standard services (i.e., contracted research, testing, certification, and/or regulatory requirements) provided to industrial clients;
  • between 2004-05 and 2008-09, the number of industrial clients/collaborators represented an average of 77 percent of the total number of clients/collaborators;
  • the vast majority of NRC-IAR’s industrial clients/collaborators fall within the category of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SME). While the Institute does business with a greater number of SMEs, the number of agreements per SME is lower than the number of agreements per non-SME.

Relevance – Continued Need for NRC-IAR

The contribution of the aerospace sector to the Canadian economy was found to be critical, especially in certain provinces (i.e., Quebec and Ontario), and the importance of the sector has also been confirmed through statements made by Industry Ministers since 2006. Based on the evaluation evidence, the Institute has demonstrated a strong alignment with the needs (i.e., increase R&TD skills, strengthening of the local supply chain, productivity) of the aerospace community as a whole, including the private and public sectors. The Institute has also demonstrated its ability to adapt to a rapidly changing environment along with a capacity to provide services that are valued by its clients. The main factor that contributes to the alignment of NRC-IAR is the significant involvement of the Institute’s staff in key industry initiatives and committees such as the Aerospace Industry Association of Canada’s (AIAC) Future Major Platforms (FMP).

Concerns were raised by key informants that NRC-IAR may not be sufficiently aligned with the needs of the aerospace firms outside Ontario and Quebec. Moreover, the evaluation evidence highlights that challenges (i.e., industry capabilities, cost of NRC-IAR services, access to funding for R&TD projects) remain in developing the Research and Technology Development (R&TD) skills and capabilities of lower-tier suppliers to help them connect to global supply chains. This particular challenge was also identified in the two previous evaluations of the Institute that date back to 1988 and 1998.

Relevance – Alignment with Government Priorities

The evaluation evidence indicates a strong alignment between the activities and strategic objectives of NRC-IAR and the needs of the aerospace community, the key federal government strategies in support of research in the aerospace sector, and NRC’s Strategy. Moving forward, some opportunities for improvement were identified:

  • With respect to the alignment of the Institute with the Federal Science and Technology (S&T) Strategy, it was found that more synergies could be established between NRC-IAR and NRC Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP). This was found to be particularly important as access to funding appears to be one of the main barriers that affect the ability of aerospace SMEs to conduct R&TD projects.
  • The external experts were concerned that some of the work conducted within laboratories was not well aligned with the strategic objectives of the Institute. In fact, several experts had difficulty relating the research being carried out in each of the NRC-IAR’s groups to the Institute’s Strategic Plan (i.e., Institute and NRC level goals were not seen as being supported through the NRC-IAR groups’ research priorities). In order to counter this risk of fragmentation, external experts identified the need for an Institute-level strategic research agenda, which is one of the key factors associated with the few organizations identified as having higher competency mastery than NRC-IAR.

Relevance – Alignment with Federal Roles and Responsibilities

Based on the evaluation evidence, the role that the Institute plays in the Canadian aerospace sector is appropriate for a federal organization and similar to that played by public organizations in other industrialized countries (e.g., National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA] in the US, Office national d'études et recherches aérospatiales [ONERA] in France or DLR in Germany). While NRC-IAR’s role continues to be concentrated around technology development, the organization’s influence extends to almost the full length of the R&TD continuum. This is consistent with NRC-IAR’s mission, which requires the Institute to both maintain national excellence in the aeronautical sciences and support aerospace R&TD through the major national facilities under its care. No other organization in Canada brings together the resources, competencies and facilities required to fulfill this mission. At the same time, the necessary synergy among the players that undertake and support activities along the R&TD continuum does blur the lines between partners, collaborators and competitors, particularly in a context of industrial globalization and increasing involvement of universities, colleges and technology transfer centres in bridging the gap between knowledge and innovation. Given this reality, NRC-IAR has to consistently strive to balance its role against that of others.

External experts considered the Institute’s competencies and services for the most part to be unique or complementary to those of universities and industry, both within Canada and internationally. According to NRC-IAR, competition between the Institute and other actors is limited to specific services or niche areas of expertise. The service of the NRC-IAR Flight Research Laboratory (IAR-FRL) within its accident/incident analysis competency was the only example of potential for perceived competition with Canadian industry that was noted by external experts.

NRC-IAR’s role involves balancing its mission of maintaining national excellence in the aeronautical sciences and supporting aerospace R&TD through the major national facilities under its care. While none of the experts consulted disputed the appropriateness of NRC-IAR offering 'fee-based services', they expressed concern that over time, if an appropriate balance is not found, this will lead to a weakening of its understanding of the science, which will then result in the services being offered as being outdated and unattractive to clients. Some experts attached importance to the Institute generating revenues from ‘fee-for-service’ activities with specific clients as providing it with a capacity to invest in new equipment and facilities that are then applied to broader research activities (leveraging one activity to support or subsidize another).

Performance – Expert Assessment of NRC-IAR Scientific/Technical Competencies

Overall, the expert assessment conducted as part of the evaluation confirmed the scientific and technical excellence of NRC-IAR’s core competencies. Based on other evaluation lines of evidence, these competencies were also found to be valued by the Institute’s clients and collaborators.

In addition to providing an overall assessment of the level of development of the 18 core competencies of NRC-IAR, the experts were asked to examine three aspects of the performance of NRC-IAR at the level of its competencies:

  • The innovative nature of the work conducted was assessed as ‘Moderate’ to ‘High’ across the labs, with the NRC-IAR Aerospace Manufacturing Technology Centre (IAR-AMTC) receiving the highest rating. The research conducted in the field of icing research, friction stir welding and robotic control, and life prediction models and techniques are some examples of research projects that were considered by the experts as highly innovative.
  • The commercialization potential was generally seen as ‘moderate’ with many experts expressing concern over low numbers of patents and licenses. This led experts to suggest that NRC-IAR should plan for and place more emphasis on technology transfer to industry.
  • With respect to the quality of the research outputs produced by the Institute, the experts perceived the quality of the work of the NRC-IAR researchers to be ‘In-line with Expectations’, recognizing the small size of the groups and their generally modest levels of funding. On the question of quantity, two of the NRC-IAR’s five Laboratories were assessed as ‘Less Than Expected’. Given the available information and their own knowledge, experts viewed the ‘quantity’ of the research outputs (e.g. number of research projects, number of scientific papers published) as being low at both the group and individual researcher levels, particularly when compared to teaching and research academics and some international research entities such as NASA. In providing their assessment, the experts were cognizant of the generally larger size and budgets of these other organizations. A few experts were of the view that the perceived low output of NRC-IAR's researchers could be partly due to the Institute’s need to earn greater revenues by providing services to industrial clients, thereby lessening its capacity to perform fundamental research or write scientific papers and go through the lengthy publication process.

In closing, the expert assessment confirmed that the Institute is a generally effective and efficient policy instrument in support of its mandate to foster the growth and competitiveness of Canada’s aerospace industry and support broad public good objectives of the Government of Canada. The external experts consulted also confirmed the relevance of the Institute’s current research focus and its mastery of the right suite of scientific and technical competencies to furthering these objectives.

Performance – Visibility of NRC-IAR and Industry Awareness of its Competencies

Despite the substantial efforts of NRC-IAR to increase the visibility and awareness of its capabilities within Canada, the evaluation found that various challenges persist in terms of visibility. Although NRC-IAR is visible to Canadian aerospace companies, an important portion of the industry remains unaware of the full range of services and competencies offered by the Institute. Furthermore, the companies that did not establish a recent client relationship with NRC-IAR, as well as companies located outside of Ontario and Quebec, were found to be less likely to be aware of the services offered by the Institute. The survey data also revealed that the lack of awareness of NRC-IAR activities and services has a negative impact on the ability of the institute to become the partner of choice for the Canadian aerospace industry.

Performance – Impacts of NRC-IAR – Expected Outcomes

The Institute’s expected outcomes have been recast into three broad categories which reflect the advantages of the Government of Canada’s Science and Technology Strategy: Skilled People, New Knowledge, and Entrepreneurialism.

Contribution to the Development of Skilled People

The types of capacity-building outcomes that were observed through projects with clients/collaborators included the development of research skills, the adoption of best practices relating to testing activities and the increased ability to make use of state-of-the-art facilities. There was broad consensus across clients/collaborators that working with NRC-IAR contributed to the skills development of their staff, especially in cases where personnel worked in close collaboration with NRC-IAR employees. For instance, in projects that involved testing and certification, staff were able to learn from best practices and the high standard of rigor of test set-up, execution and reporting that was implemented by NRC-IAR.

Other Government Departments (OGD) did not necessarily experience the development of skilled people as a result of working with NRC-IAR in the same way as industrial clients/collaborators. In this context, the transfer of knowledge and skills via collaborative work resulted in additional outcomes such as an improved ability to understand industry, to make smarter decisions, and to get better value-for-money in procurement.

The ability of NRC-IAR to support the development of skilled people through projects was attributed to the well-established, world-class expertise of the NRC-IAR staff, as well as their interpersonal and communication skills.

Contribution to the Creation of New Knowledge

Overall, collaborative research activities enabled clients/collaborators to conduct more lower Technology Readiness Level (TRL) research than they would carry out independently, as they were able to leverage their sometimes limited research budgets with NRC-IAR and other project collaborators’ research funds. Collaborative projects with NRC-IAR have allowed firms to conduct research that they would not have been able to undertake with only their internal research budgets, or to conduct on a larger scale than would be possible on their own. This increased the amount of early-stage research available to be pulled to higher TRL in future years. Companies will have technology available to draw upon for future product improvements. Technologies developed in conjunction with NRC-IAR have been used by collaborating firms, as well as licensed to third-party organizations for commercialization.

The development of new knowledge was not limited to collaborative activities with industry; it also included collaborative and testing projects with OGDs. These projects allowed OGDs to leverage the facilities and expertise available at NRC-IAR in order to fulfill their departmental mandates. A number of outcomes of this leveraging were identified by OGD interviewees, including the demonstration of leading-edge technologies, the development and testing of criteria that can result in changes to rules and regulations and the development of better techniques for atmospheric sciences. One example was the Joint Winter Runway Friction Measurement Program led by Transport Canada. The findings of this Program have been incorporated into over forty publications, many of which were co-authored by NRC and Transport Canada researchers. Over the course of the project, there have also been four international meetings held to disseminate the results of the Program.

Contribution to Entrepreneurialism

With regards to the impact of NRC-IAR on lower-tier companies, it has to be noted that one of the key objectives of the industrial survey conducted as part of the evaluation was to compare the performance of NRC-IAR clients with the performance of non-clients. The intent of this comparative analysis was to determine whether NRC-IAR contributed to the growth and competitiveness of aerospace companies and to measure the impact of NRC-IAR on the performance of aerospace companies in Canada. However, the findings of the survey were inconclusive and did not demonstrate statistically significant differences between clients and non-clients. Based on the analysis of the survey data, it is not evident whether this is because there is no difference or because of low response rate. While the study was not successful in capturing a quantitative difference between the performance of companies that had worked with NRC-IAR and those that had not, it was successful in amassing a wealth of qualitative data demonstrating the Institute’s ability to help its clients and collaborators build capacity, generate knowledge and gain an entrepreneurial edge.

NRC-IAR clients identified several ways in which NRC-IAR activities contributed to their achievement of this expected outcome. These were primarily the result of the collaborator or client organization applying the new knowledge and skills developed in conjunction with NRC-IAR to achieve the outcomes identified in the conceptual framework. These included improved supply chain management, new intellectual property, reduced manufacturing costs, and improved product design and materials. In fact, many of the projects reviewed through the Project Impact Profiles included the development of intellectual property, some of which was informally maintained internally for client use and some of which was patented and licensed for future use. These findings were found to be consistent with the results of the industry survey, which revealed that the development and improvement of products and technologies was reported by the most respondents as having been achieved as a direct result of the services and collaboration with NRC-IAR.

In the case of OGDs, key informants were asked to speak about the degree to which the goals of their department/agency had been met through working with NRC-IAR. Key informants were unanimous in stating that their goals had been met, and provided examples of outcomes of working with NRC-IAR such as increased safety and national security as a result of more efficient and effective technology, greater understanding of the circumstances and causes of aircraft failure, and stronger policies and regulation grounded in high quality research.

Performance – Impacts of NRC-IAR – Long-term Impacts on Canada

By helping build and maintain the three advantages of the S&T Strategy through its work with the private sector, universities and other government departments, NRC-IAR was found to have contributed to the achievement of broader economic, social, and environmental impacts. All of the impacts presented in this section stem from the impact-focused case studies, the review of documentation and the key informant interviews.

The evaluation identified the following economic impacts:

  • Ability to retain aerospace manufacturing jobs in Canada as the additional skills required for the more advanced manufacturing processes and specialised equipment required reduce the incentive to transfer manufacturing from Canada to international locations with lower labour costs;
  • Attraction of foreign firms that make direct investments in the Canadian aerospace sector given the support available through NRC-IAR; and
  • Improved competitiveness of Canadian aerospace firms through advancements in product development and reductions in manufacturing costs.

Environmental impacts were also identified by the evaluation team. The following example illustrates how the efforts of NRC-IAR benefit Canadians:

  • Reduced environmental impact of production and operation of aircraft through more efficient manufacturing processes, as well as the development of lighter, more fuel-efficient aircraft.

The following social impacts were also identified:

  • Improved pilot and aircraft safety through the development of evidence-based operating standards, product improvement and ongoing research.
  • Improved performance of Canadian athletes at the 2010 Winter Olympics by studying, in detail, the aerodynamics of the human body engaged in sports where speed is a factor. A total of 19 medals were won by Canadian athletes for sports included in this research (9 of them gold) at the Olympic Games and 18 of the 19 medals won by Canadians at the Paralympics’ Games.

Performance – Impacts of NRC-IAR – Non-aerospace Impacts

Although NRC-IAR’s primary area of focus is aerospace, the Institute also supports several other sectors, including sustainable energy, environment and automotive. There is some evidence that the choice of NRC-IAR as a collaborator relates to the specific capabilities of the unique facilities and the associated skills and expertise of the staff, regardless of the sector it is serving. For example, IAR-AMTC has established a project with Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) to undertake research in the area of alternative welding techniques for shipbuilding applications, both for the Canadian Navy and, potentially, industrial shipbuilding. The project included the welding of high strength low alloy steels, which allows thinner sections to be used. These lighter ship structures lead to better fuel efficiency and reduced operating costs.

Performance – Strengthening the Aerospace Innovation System

Impact of Industrial Partnership Facility

One of the key mechanisms used by NRC-IAR to support the innovation system is the Industrial Partnership Facility (IPF) where clients/collaborators can be hosted on the premises of IAR-AMTC in Montreal. The evaluation evidence shows that the IPF space available at IAR-AMTC has been primarily occupied by not-for-profit organizations and other public organizations. It was also found that only one company had been conducting research on site and that the geographic proximity with the lab’s research team did not show a definite advantage for the client when compared with similar projects established with other collaborators. In this context, the impact of the Montreal IPF as a key mechanism to support the growth of companies in the region has been limited.

Impact on Universities

One of the ways by which NRC-IAR contributes to strengthening the knowledge, skills and capabilities of the aerospace sector is through the training of university students from Canadian and foreign universities. NRC-IAR also hosts visiting workers who are, for the most part, post-doctoral students and, to a lesser extent, industry and government researchers. Between 2005-06 and 2009-10, NRC-IAR has hosted a total of 878 students and visiting workers. Other mechanisms were also found to contribute to the training of Highly Qualified Personnel (HQP). For instance, the Institute contributes to the training of the future aerospace workforce by teaching in various universities across the country.  Between 2004 and 2008, an average of 22 NRC-IAR researchers per year had the status of adjunct professor in Canadian universities.

All of the interviewees who were asked to comment on the quality of the supervision provided by NRC-IAR staff to the students agreed on the high quality and dedication of NRC-IAR researchers to the success of the students. The ability to work in an environment that promotes industry and government collaboration was also identified as an important skill that students who are involved in external projects acquire as a result of their internship at NRC-IAR.

NRC-IAR also benefits from students and visiting workers, who add to the Institute’s human resource capacity. In fact, the involvement of students is used by some laboratories as a strategy to reduce the cost of conducting external research projects or to increase its internal research capacity.

Impact on the Canadian Innovation System

NRC-IAR is significantly involved in the vast majority of key initiatives, committees and programs led by the aerospace community at the national and international level. NRC-IAR is sharing its unique and extensive knowledge of aerospace engineering with all of the key players involved in the Canadian Aerospace system. The involvement of the Institute in these types of activities provides the industry with insight into the strategic and technological direction of the global aerospace market that allows companies to make better investment decisions.

Performance – Mechanisms that Support Efficiency and Economy

NRC-IAR has in place various mechanisms for planning, risk management and decision-making that encompass projects, groups, laboratories and the Institute. The Institute also has some risk management and life cycle management plans for major facilities. In addition to this, NRC-IAR has invested significant effort over the last year to obtain International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification for several of its laboratories. Four of the five laboratories now hold ISO 9001: 2008 certification, which require the affected laboratories to comply with process requirements, impacting the quality of services provided to its clients.

While key informants stated that some gaps existed in terms of planning coverage for projects and facilities, this issue is expected to be addressed by the implementation of the TBS Policy on Investment Planning across NRC. From an NRC-IAR perspective, this will result in a more systematic planning and monitoring process of project and infrastructure investments, as well as a movement of decision-making up to the senior executive level.

The evaluation found that it will be important for NRC to monitor the implementation of this planning process in institutes such as NRC-IAR which, by virtue of the intensity of client service and dependence on external revenue/income, run the risk of not being able to move quickly on new opportunities and the making of emergency repairs. With regard to the latter, internal key informants noted that changes in revenue management at NRC have had an impact on the Institute’s ability to make decisions, particularly for maintenance and upkeep of equipment. In a context where institutes have limited access to revenue carry forward, an alternative risk mitigation strategy will be needed for institutes to handle emerging needs and emergency repairs on facilities and equipment. In the case of NRC-IAR, the evaluators have observed the beginnings of such inefficiencies during the site visits where equipment maintenance had been deferred (e.g., 9m wind tunnel heat exchanger, Bell 205 Refurbishment, VHF radio replacements).  Internal key informants made a case that these deferred expenditures represent a higher cost than a continuous maintenance regime. One example they provided was the mechanical failure of the 9m Wind Tunnel Drive Shaft in 2007. The emergency repair cost an estimated double the amount of continuous maintenance, taking into account the loss of revenue from the longer period of downtime for repair as well as the cost of the repairs (i.e., equipment and labour).

Performance – Evidence of Efficiency and Economy

With regards to the quality of the services provided by the Institute, the evaluation found that 83 percent of clients were satisfied with the overall quality of the services. Areas for improvement include on-time delivery of services and availability of staff. The results of the Public Service Employee Survey (PSES) and interviews with internal staff outlined some of the key obstacles that may help explain the issue related to on-time delivery of services: the numerous approval processes required and an increasing workload combined with a reduction of the resources needed to accomplish the work.

The evaluation also examined the ratio of research to administrative budget in order to determine the efficiency of the Institute. Over the past five years, NRC-IAR’s operational expenditures as a proportion of total expenditures have gone from close to 40 percent down to just over 25 percent. Over this same period, the proportion of operational expenditures paid for by external revenue/income has been relatively stable at around 80 percent. This means that the Institute’s operations have been primarily paid for through revenue/income, and that the Institute has been able to increase its operational efficiency over the evaluation period. Moreover, according to the 2010 benchmarking study conducted by NRC Central Business Support, NRC-IAR ranked highly against other national aerospace research laboratories internationally on efficiency-related indicators (where data were available). According to this study, NRC-IAR has the second highest percentage of non-administrative employees (90 percent).

The evaluation highlighted inconsistencies in administrative practices and approval processes between NRC-IAR laboratories. According to key informants, these inconsistencies have resulted in inefficiencies and are seen to result from limited or ineffective use of existing tools (e.g., SIGMA, RDIMS) and lack of consistent understanding/application of processes, which can be related to reduced administrative support.

Finally, there is also evidence suggesting that the administrative burden regarding the management of a research project is more important in the case of horizontal initiatives, especially when an external client is involved and the project generates revenue. According to one interviewee, this might deter researchers from establishing such a type of collaboration. At the same time, key informants noted that institutes have different internal processes and project criteria in place, including the cost charged to the client. Given that NRC-IAR often charges more to clients than other institutes, this can create difficulties for NRC-IAR being incorporated into an existing project where a significant amount of resources are contributed by the other NRC institute.


Overall, the findings of the evaluation of NRC-IAR’s relevance and performance support the statement that this Institute represents very good value-for-money. At the same time, the evaluation notes a number of risks (e.g., reduced flexibility, increase workload, cost of SME pull strategy, and loss of revenue caused by major equipment breakdown) that present challenges in the Institute’s ability to maintain the same level of performance in the future. These risks create tensions between the three pillars that support NRC-IAR’s ability to create value and impact: its mandate and strategy; its competencies; and its ability to generate revenue/income. NRC-IAR’s success depends on management’s ability to maintain an appropriate balance between these three pillars, with the strategy/mandate pillar representing the Institute’s fundamental imperative. However, according to external experts and key informants, NRC-IAR has reached a critical point in terms of its ability to manage and mitigate the many risks that the Institute is currently facing.

Over the last years, NRC-IAR has grown its competencies (staff, knowledge, and infrastructure) in order to respond to the growing needs of the aerospace community. This growth is fuelled by investments made and by revenue/income generated, which are important indicators of relevance. At the same time, this growth has made the Institute less flexible and adaptive, and more vulnerable to risks and unexpected events.


NRC is currently in the midst of a strategy development exercise that aims to create a sustainable organization that fulfills a clear and strategic role within the Canadian innovation eco-system. NRC aims to demonstrate and grow its impact on domestic prosperity through this strategy, which places a strong emphasis on bridging the gap between innovation and commercialization. Given the relevance and performance of NRC-IAR as demonstrated through this and previous studies, the Institute is well positioned to support NRC’s goals both as a key strategy instrument and as a role model for client management and revenue/income generation – both of which are critical for NRC sustainability.

The following recommendations, which are based on the findings discussed in this report, aim to best position NRC-IAR in the context of the upcoming NRC Strategy, and of the Institute’s next planning process:

Recommendation 1: NRC should develop a clear research agenda for aerospace that guides the ongoing development of competencies and their application in support of the NRC’s expected outcomes.

Management Response Action Plan: Accepted. NRC will develop a research agenda for aerospace that is consistent with the Council’s strategy currently being developed. The research agenda will be articulated in a comprehensive report and captured operationally by annual aerospace plans. Currently, the agenda is driven by the requirements of industry through technology roadmaps and collaborative and other projects. NRC will communicate the research agenda to stakeholders in comprehensive report.

Recommendation 2a): NRC should critically examine the core elements/interventions within the current NRC-IAR 2006-2010 Strategic Plan in the context of the new NRC Strategy, confirm the alignment of these interventions with the outcomes expected of NRC programs, and identify the fundamental success factors that must be addressed in order to deliver on these outcomes.

Management Response Action Plan: Accepted. As part of the planning process, NRC-IAR will review all components of the aerospace program to ensure that the suite of competencies is optimized and aligned with the new strategic objectives defined in the new NRC Strategy.

Recommendation 2b):  NRC-IAR should examine its role in the Flight Data Recorder and Playback Center (Flight Research Program) and make recommendations to NRC about its future in the context of NRC’s new strategy.

Management Response Action Plan: Accepted. NRC recognizes that the work of this group is, among all aerospace activities, least aligned with the strategy in spite of the significant revenue generated by this group’s activities. Certain government and industry clients have depended on this service in the past. A process of reorientation of this group’s activities has been started in order to create a viable research agenda on top of strong revenue activities. The process is ongoing and shows early promise.

Recommendation 3: NRC-IAR should develop a detailed risk assessment in order to identify and develop mitigation strategies for the internal and external risk factors that have the greatest potential to impact upon the achievement of the Institute’s expected outcomes. Based on the evaluation, potential risks could include higher maintenance and repair cost for equipment and facilities if maintenance is delayed.

Management Response Action Plan: Accepted. NRC will act on this recommendation as part of the upcoming strategic planning activity and an increasing focus on risk management. Some elements of risk were addressed in the 2006–2010 NRC-IAR strategy, but not as a formal risk assessment.

Recommendation 4a): NRC-IAR should develop a strategy for monitoring, measuring and reporting on the achievement of expected outcomes, including the development of valid and reliable processes to support these requirements.

Management Response Action Plan: Accepted. NRC-IAR has an active project to develop a new ‘Contracts Database’ that will enable the production of reliable reporting along these lines. Performance measure data tracking is intended to be part of this system.

Recommendation 4b): NRC should consider adding a clause to future contracts regarding the collection and reporting of evaluation and performance information. The evaluation team faced significant challenges in collecting performance and impact information due to non-disclosure/confidentiality agreements regarding access to information on clients/collaborators. This raises potential hurdles for the post-hoc collection of performance and impact information. It is recommended that legal services be consulted in the process.

Management Response Action Plan: Accepted. This issue involves a number of stakeholders including NRC Strategy and Development Branch (NRC-SDB), legal, Central Business Services (CBS) and the Institute itself. The Vice-President Engineering will work with these stakeholders to explore options for, and to reach conclusions about adding such a clause.

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