Tenth-Year Evaluation of the Indirect Costs Program: Management Response

Covering Memo

The Steering Committee is pleased to note that the Tenth-Year Evaluation of the Indirect Costs Program found that the program is aligned with federal roles and responsibilities. Indeed, the program plays a central role in fostering a research environment that enables universities and colleges to progress towards research excellence, and represents a significant federal investment.

The report put forward three recommendations, which the Steering Committee has carefully considered. Over the next several months, program management will explore mechanisms to respond to the evaluation’s recommendations, as discussed below.

The Steering Committee would like to take this opportunity to thank institutions and stakeholders for their dedicated collaboration during the first 10 years of the ICP, and looks forward to this continued partnership as the program moves forward.

Management Response Matrix

Evaluation Recommendations Program Management Response
Theme or category of recommendation Recommendation Response
(Action Items)
Responsibility Priority Timeline
  Recommendation 1: It is recommended that the program be continued. There is a clear demonstrable need for the program. Offsetting the indirect costs incurred as a result of direct federal research funding is consistent with government/ tri-agency priorities and is an appropriate role for the federal government.


The Steering Committee is pleased to note that the Tenth-Year Evaluation of the Indirect Costs Program (ICP) found that there is a continuing need for the program and that the program is meeting its intended outcomes. The Committee agrees with the evaluation’s conclusion that the ICP contributes to helping institutions and researchers optimize the direct federal research grants awarded for research conducted in their institutions. The Committee believes that the ICP is a key element of the federal suite of programs that support post-secondary research, and was pleased to note that the Economic Action Plan 2014 confirmed the Government’s commitment to the program and provided it with additional resources.

The evidence presented in the evaluation report indicates that many contextual shifts have occurred that put pressure on institutions’ ability to cover the indirect cost of federally-funded research. However, the evaluation also found that there is no clear evidence of the precise amount of the indirect cost generated by federally-funded research. The Committee understands that institutions face challenges in capturing and quantifying the indirect costs of research.  The Committee applauds the efforts of some institutions to measure the indirect costs of research, and encourages the community of post-secondary institutions to work together to adopt consistent mechanisms for measuring the indirect costs of research and for raising awareness, among the research community, of the nature and magnitude of indirect costs, and of the ICP’s contribution to the reimbursement of these costs.







  Recommendation 2: It is recommended that the performance measurement strategy be updated to revisit the theory of change in order to better reflect that ICP funding contributes to improvements/ increases in the eligible areas of expenditure (rather than being directly responsible for these improvement/increases).


The Steering Committee supports this recommendation.

The program management will revise the program’s logic model to address the challenges identified in the evaluation report. It will also update the performance measurement strategy of the program to reflect the fact that ICP funding helps maintain capacity and even contributes to improvements/increases in the eligible areas of expenditure, but that these improvements/increases cannot be attributed solely to ICP.

The Steering Committee agrees that the concept that ICP funding is causing an incremental impact is misleading and problematic. The recommendation of the current evaluation supersedes the recommendation made in the previous evaluation to develop baseline measures to assess the incrementality of the program.  As such, the program management will not pursue the Baseline Metrics project, which was launched in response to the 2009 summative evaluation of the program.

The program management wishes to thank representatives of the postsecondary sector who participated in the Baseline Metrics project, and wishes to note that the results of the project will be used to inform updates to the logic model, performance management strategy, and outcomes reporting structure, as outlined in this response. 


Recommendation 3: It is recommended that the program identify a small number of reasonable and achievable key indicators that could be used to for ongoing program monitoring and to effectively support the needs of program evaluation in assessing the performance of the program. This should result in a revised outcome reporting structure. A new reporting structure for institutions would include more specificity regarding how ICP funding decisions are made and where ICP funding is spent and have less narrative reporting burden (e.g., one example of contribution in each expenditure area could be sought).


The Steering Committee supports this recommendation.

Program management will look at revising the outcomes reporting structure, taking into account the evaluation’s findings and the commitment made in Economic Action Plan 2014 to continue to work with the postsecondary sector to improve the results, awareness and performance measurement of the program. 

Responsible for implementation:

Executive Director, Chairs Secretariat


In consultation with:

Postsecondary sector



Revised Outcomes Reports forms available for institutions to complete

March 2016

While the evaluation found that “the program is extremely cost-efficient” and that “the cost of administering the program is very low”, it also indicates that there are potential areas for management consideration to mitigate the risk of some operations. “In particular, the evaluation found that the credit calculation process has been growing in complexity due to the increasingly complex research funding environment (including more and complex collaborative research and the increasingly complex nature of some research).”

The Steering Committee is pleased that the evaluation confirmed that the ICP is extremely cost-efficient. It also considers that given the changing context of post-secondary research, it would be appropriate to take a closer look at some of the program’s processes, to ensure their long term sustainability and mitigate risks. The Steering Committee and the granting agencies will support efforts to streamline/simplify processes, and in particular the credit calculation process, in order to mitigate associated risk.

The Steering Committee is composed of the presidents of the three granting agencies (SSHRC, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council), the president of the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the deputy minister (or delegate) of Industry Canada and the deputy minister (or delegate) of Health Canada.