Summary of the Evaluation of the Research and Policy Initiatives Assistance Program

From: Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat

Internal Audit and Evaluation Bureau, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS)

Program description

Created in 2003, the Research and Policy Initiatives Assistance (RPIA) program is a departmental class contribution program used to transfer monies from TBS sectors to third party organizations. It supports policy and research initiatives that contribute to the advancement of public policy research and public service management.

Priorities and Planning (P&P) Sector and Financial Management Directorate (FMD) in Corporate Services Sector (CSS) co-administer RPIA. Sponsoring sectors across TBS fund eligible projects themselves.

RPIA’s terms and conditions will expire in June 2022. This impact evaluation will assist RPIA management to determine what can be improved as the terms and conditions are renewed.

Evaluation approach, methodology and scope

The evaluation assessed RPIA’s efficiency and design alternatives, responsiveness and performance in relation to its immediate outcomes over the period of October 2017 to March 31, 2021. Lines of evidence included a review of program documents and administrative data, key informant interviews, and a survey of sectors with enquiries or incomplete/withdrawn RPIA applications. Internal Audit and Evaluation Bureau undertook the evaluation from October 2020 to November 2021.

What the evaluation found

Program responsiveness and performance: RPIA’s reach and use are at the highest levels in the program’s history.

RPIA projects supported TBS during the COVID‑19 pandemic and enabled certain sectors to quickly scale up mission-critical activities in new and emerging priority areas. Many projects would have had no alternative or would have experienced significant negative effects without RPIA.

The program also enabled TBS sectors to support third party organizations in expanding knowledge in public sector or public policy areas. However, projects funded through RPIA levered fewer resources from external sources than expected, largely explained by the increase to the program’s stacking limit and maximum allowable TBS contribution to each project.

Efficiency: RPIA’s redesign in 2017 also hindered program efficiency. Though RPIA remains more efficient compared to the Treasury Board submission process, it is now less efficient than it was in 2017 and costlier compared to similar programs. The way the program works and its infrequent use also makes it hard to manage efficiently. At the level of use across sectors, the current resources are not adequate to administer the program.

One finding bears particular reflection: RPIA is a low-value, low-risk program and funding mechanism that performs very well in many ways but is hampered in the area of efficiency – the primary reason for its creation.

It is recommended that program officials:

  1. increase program efficiencies by:
    1. examining program resources to ensure alignment with current needs and program use
    2. posting updated tools for sponsors’ review prior to them engaging the program
  2. improve program performance by:
    1. updating the application process, including application materials, and posting processing times
    2. ensuring that post-project evaluations are received from sponsors prior to project close-out
  3. review the program’s logic model and performance indicators to better reflect the program’s primary purpose(s) and changes stemming from the 2017 re-design, including the stacking limit
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