Formative Evaluation of the Language Industry Initiative
The Language Industry Initiative (LII) was created in 2003 under the Action Plan for Official Languages, announced the same year, with its accountability framework and three axes for development (education, communities and the public service). The language industry involves three main sectors: translation, language training and language technologies.
When it was launched, justification for the LII was based on the assumption that the language industry's capacity to meet future increases in demand caused by the Action Plan would be at great risk because of the following four problems or challenges: the fragmentation of the industry, a lack of visibility, a shortage of human resources, and a lack of research and development (R&D) and language technology skills. These problems/challenges were identified by the private sector during consultations on the language industry held as part of the Innovation Strategy prior to the LII's launch.
Under the Action Plan, Industry Canada received a total of $10 million to implement the component of the LII that focuses on networking and coordination activities as well as marketing and branding for a period of five years (2003–2008). These two aspects include a secretariat that is responsible for coordinating and conducting activities that focus on development of the industry (studies, trade missions, etc.), the Language Industry Program (LIP) and a transfer payment to operate the Language Industry Association (AILIA). The LII includes an additional $10 million to improve R&D and skills in the language technologies sector. This component of the Initiative is administered by the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and is not part of this evaluation.
Industry Canada requested a formative evaluation of the LII. The evaluation focussed on issues regarding the Initiative's relevance, design and delivery, progress and success and cost-effectiveness (summary analysis). Evaluation issues and their respective items for consideration (18 questions in all) were identified beforehand in the Results-based Management and Accountability Framework (RMAF) and clarified by Initiative staff for purposes of this evaluation.
The methodology used for this formative evaluation included the following elements:
- review of the documents and information available on the Initiative;
- interviews with 17 key respondents;
- survey of selected LIP beneficiaries and companies that withdrew or whose application was denied (38 respondents in all);
- integrated analysis of the information from the preceding three elements.
The evaluation covered the three sectors of the language industry: translation, language training and language technologies. Although the technological innovation component of the LII, which includes the role and operation of the Language Technologies Research Centre (LTRC), is the responsibility of the NRC and is not part of this evaluation directly, the complementary relationship and coordination between the NRC/technological innovation component, on the one hand, and the LII/building the capacity of the language industry component, on the other, were included in this study.
Details of the main conclusions of the evaluation and its recommendations appear in the following section. In order to simplify the actions the LII must take to respond to the recommendations, they have been classified in three categories:
- critical to the success of the Initiative (critical);
- strongly recommended to improve management of the Initiative (strongly recommended); and
- recommended to correct minor weaknesses noted (minor).
Generally, respondents feel that the Initiative is relevant and the federal government's investment should continue. However, the review team notes that the relationship between the LII and the Action Plan for Official Languages needs to be redefined. At first, the relevance of the LII as an element of the Plan was based in part on expectations of an increase in national demand for language products and services in the four sectors of the industry. The evaluation has shown that there is no formal data to support the Action Plan's effect on this demand. The review team also notes that the Initiative puts greater emphasis on the idea of multilingualism than on bilingualism, a central element of the Action Plan that includes development of the official language minority communities. Therefore the relevance of the LII in terms of the Action Plan could be affected.
Recommendation: That the LII clarify elements related to its positioning with respect to the Action Plan for Official Languages, particularly with respect to demand for language goods and services and support for official language minority communities, and that it redefine this position if necessary. (Critical)
The LII's relevance is also based on its capacity to meet the four challenges that characterize the language industry (fragmentation, shortage of human resources, visibility and R&D). The evaluation has revealed that, although most respondents agree that these challenges exist, fine distinctions regarding their nature, impact and applicability to the various sectors go largely unnoticed. This knowledge gap could be attributable in part to insufficient study by the LII of the circumstances surrounding these four challenges.
Recommendation: That the LII further develop and support information regarding definitions and characteristics by sector and impacts of the four challenges of the language industry, and that it communicate this information to key players in the industry. (Critical)
Design and Delivery of the LII
Although the design and delivery of the LII are satisfactory overall, both minor and major improvements still need to be made.
The review team has noted that, unlike its components, the LII is not clearly perceived as a separate entity by key respondents. This fact tends to diminish understanding of the overall cohesion of LII activities and of its strategic positioning.
Recommendation: That the LII increase its visibility with key players in the language industry by effectively communicating its mandate, objectives, strategic positioning, activities and expected outcomes in order to increase understanding of the overall cohesion of its activities and its strategic positioning. (Strongly recommended)
With respect to all the secretariat's activities, the evaluation shows that the team was behind numerous studies, activities and tools designed to increase understanding of the Canadian language industry's problems, increase its visibility and improve its positioning abroad (trade fairs and missions). The only deficiency in this regard is that there is little documentation of efforts made to develop official language minority communities, particularly language industry businesses originating in these communities.
Recommendation: That the LII document more clearly the importance it lends to developing official language minority communities, particularly language industry businesses originating in these communities. (Strongly recommended)
Despite the merits of trade missions and participation in trade fairs, there is no clear documentation of a strategic direction intended to illustrate all international activities, past and future.
Recommendation: That the LII take action to better document the strategy regarding development of foreign markets for the Canadian language industry (government trade priorities, etc.), as well as basic information (background, indicators, etc.) for each target market. (Strongly recommended)
Lastly, everything indicates that the secretariat should increase effective monitoring of the use of financial contributions paid to LIP beneficiaries without making the process overly cumbersome, and that it should provide more details in its annual reports.
Recommendation: That the LII identify an effective way to better monitor use of financial contributions paid to LIP beneficiaries. (Minor)
Recommendation: That the LII increase the level of detail in its annual reports so that outcomes, challenges, strategic priorities and other aspects are clearer. (Strongly recommended)
Since its start-up, the Association has placed a great deal of emphasis on activities designed to promote the concept of one industry that groups together three sectors, as well as on increasing its membership. It is also quite involved in activities intended to push forward on human resources issues. However it seems that AILIA's positioning and its potential benefits are not clear enough and have not been explained well enough to key industry players and target organizations. Additionally, the review team wonders whether AILIA's resources are adequate. According to Association staff, there are not enough resources to meet the objectives the Association has set for itself. Lastly, it does not appear that AILIA will be able to be self-financing at the end of its agreement with Industry Canada.
Recommendation: That the LII encourage AILIA to develop a clearer definition of its positioning and the benefits it provides for its members and to communicate that definition appropriately. (Strongly recommended)
The LII steering committee is not yet meeting the expectations previously set, namely proactively directing and monitoring activities. Like key Initiative staff, the review team thinks that if there were better representation of the private sector and language industry experts on the steering committee, greater emphasis would be placed on the mandate. However a change like that can only be implemented gradually.
Recommendation: That the LII gradually increase representation of the private sector and language industry experts on the steering committee and subsequently ensure that this committee meets expectations previously set. (Minor)
Interviews with key respondents, a survey of a sample of LIP participants and a review of the results of consultations held by the LII during the summer of 2005 clearly indicate, to the review team, that the Program must undergo certain changes. The most significant finding is undeniably the markedly higher level of participation by companies in the language training sector. For reasons that are not completely clear, eligibility criteria, eligible activities and financial incentives (50% of eligible expenses to a maximum of $10,000) are much more suited to this sector than to translation and language technologies. The people consulted have suggested several corrective measures to improve the program. That being said, a survey of a sample of beneficiaries revealed a high level of satisfaction.
Recommendation: That the LII take the necessary measures to improve the LIP in accordance with suggestions made during the two recent consultation processes, including achieving a more balanced rate of participation by businesses in the different sectors. (Critical)
Interdepartmental Cooperation and Partnerships:
In general, key respondents said that they appreciated the effectiveness of interdepartmental cooperation and of the partnerships. However, they would like further partnership within the language training sector as well as with the Translation Bureau and the Asticou Centre in order to reduce industry fragmentation and facilitate the testing of new technologies. In this regard, the review team notes that the LII has not clearly communicated its achievements and objectives regarding desired partnerships.
Recommendation: That together with key industry players, the LII identify and define partnerships that are considered important for the development of the language industry. (Minor)
Significant Factors for Achieving Outcomes:
Three factors have been identified that have had or could have a major impact on the outcomes achieved by the LII. First of all, the considerable delay in launching the language industry portal has undoubtedly reduced the visibility of the concept of a single industry and the LII's role within this industry. The portal should be launched soon. Additionally, the recent failure of the attempt to harmonize national specifications and standards in the language training sector should be interpreted as reluctance by this sector to meet the challenges that characterize the language industry and to recognize the LII's role in this regard. Lastly, the precarious funding situation of the LTRC and its inability to influence decisions made by the Initiative's Research Centre are major threats to achieving the LII's medium- and long-term outcomes. In fact, the situation could compromise the relationship between the research conducted and the actual needs of the industry.
Recommendation: That the LII work with its partners, the NRC and the Translation Bureau, to find a long-term solution to the challenges experienced by the LTRC. (Critical)
Progress and Outcomes Attributable to the LII
The LII's Results-based Management and Accountability Framework (RMAF) presents the immediate, intermediate and final outcomes to which the Initiative is committed. The evaluation has shown that, in general, there is a delay in achieving these outcomes. Study of immediate outcomes indicated that some of these outcomes have not been measured or that the measuring tool does not exist or is inadequate. In the case of intermediate outcomes, most have not been achieved. This situation can be explained by the lack of time LII staff have devoted to this activity, by the slow start-up of certain activities, and by over-ambitious expectations for achieving certain outcomes. However, the review team is aware that these findings are common with new programs such as the LII, since performance management is rarely a priority during the first few years of operation.
Recommendation: That the LII update its RMAF to include current outcomes and performance indicators and ensure that it has a performance management system that functions properly. (Critical)
The review team noted other points for improvement with respect to performance management. Compared to its initial objective, AILIA is behind in membership growth. In the case of the LIP, it seems to be difficult to obtain information from beneficiaries on the impact of the financial contributions. There is also little information to be able to evaluate the rate of increase in access to national and international markets and their development. The same is true for the level of awareness of the LIP on the part of representatives of official language minority communities.
Recommendation: That, in updating its performance management system, the LII establish performance indicators that make it possible to measure the rate of increase in access to national and international markets and the level of awareness of the LIP on the part of representatives of official language minority communities. (Strongly recommended)
The review team feels that it is too soon to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of the LII precisely. Although overall findings do not cast doubt on the long-term cost-effectiveness of the Initiative, some issues are cause for concern. It seems that AILIA's financial self-sufficiency expected for the end of the LII's first term, must be reconsidered. Measurement of the cost-effectiveness of the LIP, the missions organized by the secretariat, and the various studies and activities conducted or funded by the LII is largely dependent on the outcomes achieved with each. In this context, the performance management system requires correction, as previously discussed.
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