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Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one.
The Canada Research Chairs Program (hereafter, the program) is a key piece in Canada's strategy to become a world leader in the knowledge-based economy. The program's contribution to the strategy is to enable Canadian universities to create research opportunities that will attract and retain the outstanding researchers. It is aimed at developing 2000 university chairs between years 2000 and 2005. The 2000 Budget provided $900 million over five years toward that objective — in addition to $250 million earmarked within the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) to support the program. The program is managed by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council on behalf of a management committee where the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Canada Foundation for Innovation as well as Industry Canada are also represented.
The program is based on the pre-allocation of research chairs to universities and disciplines based on funds received from granting councils in the past. Universities present nominations which are assessed through a peer-review process. The review takes into consideration both the established excellence of the researchers (for Tier I chairs, valid for seven years and renewable without limit) or the potential for excellence (for Tier II chairs, valid for five years and renewable once) and the contribution that the nominee could make to the realization of the university strategic research plan.
The program aims at producing two critical short term impacts: retaining the best Canadian researchers as well as attracting excellent researchers from other countries (or Canadian expatriates). The program also pursues a peripheral objective of ensuring the effective use of research resources through strategic planning by the institutions as well as the inter-institutional and inter-sectoral collaboration.
The establishment of a more productive research infrastructure environment is expected to contribute to offsetting "brain-drain" pressures. A series of impacts on the university research environment should flow from the reduction of pressures on key personnel: easing the construction of dynamic research teams; reinforcing the training of graduate students through inclusion in a world-class research environment; producing more and better graduate students and improving retention of highly qualified personnel in Canada.
In the long run, the goal of the program is to lead to a strengthened and more highly competitive research environment in Canada's universities as compared to our competitors in the world, and enhanced Canadian visibility in the global knowledge-based economy. Ultimately, the program should contribute to the overall government objectives of a strong economy and of a better quality of life.
This evaluation framework paves the way for ongoing performance monitoring, the mid-term review and the evaluation planned in the fifth year of program implementation. It is based on a review of program documentation, interviews with 30 key informants and a literature scan.
Evaluation issues have been identified within three groups:
Priorities have been established within the set of issues and timing of the study of the issues has been laid out. Indicators and data sources have been associated with each issue. The following data sources have been identified as requirements for a full evaluation of the program:
Ongoing performance measurement was given particular attention. It includes program activity data drawn from statistical reports produced by the program as well as information on immediate impacts from special requests to universities and annual chair and university reports.
Evaluation options were developed. They correspond to a minimal but credible package which deals with highest priority issues; a more complete package which provides more qualitative information relative to the incrementality of the program and more complete data collection on the issue of excellence; and a comprehensive package including all indicators and data sources.
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