Chapter 10: Evaluating cooperative research centers: a strategy for assessing proximal and distal outcomes and associated economic impacts
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This chapter describes a methodology, refined during a recent feasibility study, for capturing economic impact data from private sector firms involved in cooperative research with universities. We focus on a specific science, technology and innovation (STI) programmatic initiative – cooperative research centers (CRCs) – and explore a possible approach for overcoming barriers to gathering return on investment and other financial data from CRC member firms. Building on the foundation laid by the ongoing evaluation of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Industry/ University Cooperative Research Centers (IUCRC) program, our study had two objectives: first, to assess the existing program evaluation protocols with regard to capturing estimates of economic outcomes generally; and second, to pilot test an interview-based approach for gathering credible and persuasive data on more distal economic outcomes. We first analyzed archival data sources and concluded that the existing IUCRC evaluation strategy does a good job of addressing the program’s explicit partnership and capacity-building objectives, and at measuring outputs and proximal outcomes like publications and patent applications based on center research. While these instruments do capture economic outcomes to some extent (for example, cost savings or cost avoidances), they do not consistently capture more distal (and likely more significant) economic outcomes derived from process, product and service innovations. Most respondents to these existing evaluation instruments appeared either unable or even unwilling to disclose these types of outcomes.

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