Summary Report of Evaluation of the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP)
Established in 1962, IRAP is an NRC program aimed at providing innovation assistance to Canadian small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). The mandate of IRAP is to "stimulate wealth creation for Canada through innovation," and its mission is to "accelerate the growth of SMEs by providing them with a comprehensive suite of innovation services and funding."
To achieve its objectives, IRAP provides advisory services, funding contributions to firms and organizations and support to their government departments. IRAP is delivered nationwide by a network of over 230 Industrial Technology Advisors (ITAs) across five regions: Atlantic & Nunavut, Quebec, Ontario, Prairies and Pacific.
Total costs (contributions and operational costs)
Scope and methodology
An evaluation of IRAP was completed in June 2017. As mandated by the Financial Administration Act, an evaluation of this program is carried out once every five years. The evaluation covered fiscal years 2012-13 to 2016-17 and focused on three key areas: rationale, impact and delivery of the program. The implementation and early impacts of the Concierge service were also assessed. The evaluation was jointly conducted by NRC's Office of Audit and Evaluation and KPMG LLP. This hybrid approach ensured the capacity and required expertise to conduct all aspects of the study.
Challenges and mitigation strategies
- Small sample sizes for interviews of funded firms and interviews with Concierge clients. All findings from these methods were supported by at least three other data sources.
- Potential for response bias in the survey of unfunded advisory clients. Findings were supported by the other data sources.
- Uncertainties underlying the results of the partial cost-benefit analysis which are mitigated through sensitivity tests (providing upper and lower bounds and three discount rates).
Overall evaluation findings
The evaluation found a sound rationale for IRAP. The program addressed a need for SME innovation support and played a key role in federal government policies related to business innovation. IRAP accomplished this through the complementarity of its advisory services and financial contributions to SMEs. There is evidence of some collaboration between IRAP and NRC research portfolios; and steps are being taken to further increase collaboration. Evaluation findings suggest potential to develop a better understanding of IRAP's reach as well as potential to support new clients who face barriers in accessing IRAP.
IRAP positively impacted their client SMEs. Advisory services, funding to firms and funding to organizations all played an important role in this success. This, in turn, facilitated the growth of IRAP clients. IRAP also resulted in positive economic benefits, with the evaluation demonstrating that the benefits far outweighed the cost of the program almost 5 to 1. IRAP had structures and process in place to manage the program such as guidelines, service standards, a web-based management system and client portal. Further improvements to these could increase efficiencies. The Dialogue exercise undertaken at NRC identified similar priority areas for improvement. What significantly impacted IRAP's capacity to work efficiently was a lack of appropriate ICT tools and IT support.
The evaluation found that Concierge provided an important service to those who accessed it. However, reach and impact of the service was limited due to few resources available for its delivery. Therefore, Concierge's delivery model has evolved to make the best use of its resources while addressing current government priorities. Recently, Innovation Advisors have focused on later stage, high potential clients, in particular, through participation in the Accelerated Growth Service.
1. Develop a better understanding of the population of potential IRAP clients (SMEs that have the potential and willingness to grow through innovation.
2. Develop a targeted outreach strategy to identify new, high potential clients within this population.
3. Develop more comprehensive guidelines and consistent practices regarding the advisory services that need to be tracked (including unfunded firms) and a process for consistently tracking firms served by funded organizations.
4. Increase support to SMEs for the preparation of proposals (i.e., templates for financials and business plans).
The IRAP Innovation Portal (IIP) is a web-based tool that allows, among other functions, clients to prepare and submit their project proposal on-line.
5. Review the approvals process for projects to facilitate greater efficiencies.
6. Consult with the regions to identify and implement changes to the client management system that best meet the needs of delivery staff.
7. Implement the best service delivery model for Concierge based on evolving Government requirements.
8. Develop and implement an operational plan appropriate for the evolving needs for Concierge.
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