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3.1 Annual Performance Statement

Introductory statement

I, as the Accountable Authority of the Australian Research Council (ARC), present the 2019–20 Annual Performance Statement of the ARC, as required under paragraph 39(1)(a) of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act) and the Australian Research Council Act 2001. In my opinion, this Annual Performance Statement is based on properly maintained records, accurately reflects the performance of the entity, and complies with subsection 39(2) of the PGPA Act.

Professor Sue Thomas

Chief Executive Officer

Purpose

The ARC’s purpose is to grow knowledge and innovation for the benefit of the Australian community by funding the highest quality research, assessing the quality, engagement and impact of research and providing advice on research matters (Outcome 1 from the ARC Portfolio Budget Statements (PBS)).

A statement is provided for each of the three key activities that support the ARC’s purpose, as follows:

  • Key Activity 1: Funding the highest quality research
  • Key Activity 2: Assessing the quality, engagement and impact of research
  • Key Activity 3: Providing advice on research matters.

The ARC’s activities are primarily directed towards the achievement of a purpose that is fundamentally long- term in nature—the growth of knowledge and innovation in Australia. The following statement outlines the ARC’s performance within a single financial year, reflecting a cross-sectional snapshot of the effectiveness of the agency in achieving its purpose.

To highlight the benefits being generated by ARC-funded research, and how these will be shaping Australia over coming years, case studies from the ARC’s Making a difference—Outcomes from ARC supported research 2019–20 booklet have been included. These case studies demonstrate how ARC-funded research is delivering economic, environmental, social, health and/or cultural outcomes to Australia.

Approach

For each key activity, the Annual Performance Statement includes:

  • a description of the key activity
  • a description of the key deliverables
  • a description of performance against each indicator including a description of why it is important, the result(s), an analysis of the result(s) and additional context if appropriate
  • a performance summary or overall analysis of performance against the key activity.

The Annual Performance Statement reports against the full set of performance indicators outlined in the ARC’s PBS for 2019–20 and the ARC Corporate Plan 2019–20. The broad level logic model underpinning the ARC’s performance framework is outlined in Figure 4. A report on the ARC’s performance against the full set of indicators is provided on pages 29–43 for Key Activity 1, pages 43–46 for Key Activity 2 and pages 47–53 for Key Activity 3.

Figure 4: Performance measurement framework (ARC Corporate Plan 2019–20, page 10)

Key Activity 1: Funding the highest quality research

Description

The ARC administers the National Competitive Grants Program (NCGP), which comprises the Discovery Program and the Linkage Program. Each program includes a range of research funding schemes. In 2019–20, the ARC administered the following schemes (see Appendix 1 for description):

  • Discovery Program: Australian Laureate Fellowships (FL); Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA); Discovery Indigenous (DI); Discovery Projects; and Future Fellowships (FT)
  • Linkage Program: ARC Centres of Excellence (CoE); Industrial Transformation Research Program (ITRP) (which includes Industrial Transformation Research Hubs (ITRH) and Industrial Transformation Training Centres (ITTC)); Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities (LIEF); Linkage Learned Academies Special Projects (LASP); Linkage Projects; Special Research Initiatives (SRI); and Supporting Responses to Commonwealth Science Council Priorities.

During the reporting period, the ARC administered the SRI: Per- and Poly-Fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Remediation Research Program. This program funds research to: minimise PFAS in the environment; develop technologies that can be applied to remediate PFAS contaminated soil, waterways, waste, debris and/or large volumes of groundwater; and support the application of these technologies in the field. In 2019–20 the ARC announced funding for the second round of the SRI: PFAS.

In 2019–20, the ARC administered the SRI in Excellence in Antarctic Science (SRIEAS). The research funded will support some of Australia’s best researchers and scientists to conduct world-leading research to transform environmental forecasting, optimise decision-making and support biodiversity in Antarctica.

In 2019–20, the ARC sought applications for the SRI for Australian Society, History and Culture. This program will support research on Australian and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander society, history, culture, literature, art, music, politics and geography. Research under this scheme will advance understanding into the formation, development and standing of Australian society, history and culture; and increase research capacity in Australia.

By supporting excellent internationally competitive research through NCGP funding schemes, the ARC aims to deliver outcomes of national benefit and to build Australia’s research capacity.

Deliverables

The key deliverables for the NCGP, as identified in the PBS 2019–20 (pages 119–122), were that the ARC:

  • awards research grants through a competitive peer review process
  • manages the administration of ARC-funded research grants
  • provides strategic policy advice on research, research training and research partnerships.

In 2019–20 the ARC:

  • conducted selection processes that considered 5,586 applications for NCGP funding and awarded 1,200 grants for research projects (Figure 5), involving 2,916 researchers (Chief Investigators), worth $1 billion
  • administered 4,610 new and ongoing grants under the NCGP, providing $707 million to administering organisations (based on planned allocations recorded at the time of grant award)
  • undertook a range of NCGP-related policy development activities (page 48).

Figure 5: Applications received and projects funded, 2016–17 to 2019–20

Performance

Key indicators of the NCGP’s success in meeting the ARC Corporate Plan 2019–20 (pages 12 –14) strategies relate to:

  • the sustainability of Australia’s research workforce
  • engagement between universities, industry and other research sectors
  • support received from the university sector
  • ongoing international engagement
  • the extent to which research projects address Australian Government research priorities
  • providing economic, environmental, social, health and/or cultural benefits to Australia.

Explanatory notes

  • Some measures relate to matters which are outside the ARC’s influence, potentially impacting the agency’s ability to achieve the targets identified. For instance, economic conditions may impact both the capacity of partner organisations to financially contribute to research projects, as well as the realisation of research benefits.
  • Measuring performance against a target of maintaining or increasing certain performance levels is done in the context of multiple year trends rather than single year results.
  • Figures used in Part 3.1 to assess performance outcomes reflect data collected on the basis of grants awarded, and do not directly correspond to financial statement information provided elsewhere in this report.

Data notes

  • Unless otherwise stated, data for the Discovery and Linkage Programs for 2019–20 relate to new funding from the following scheme rounds:
    • Discovery Program: FL (2019), DECRA (2020), DI (2020), Discovery Projects (2020) and FT (2019)
    • Linkage Program: CoE (2020), ITRH (2020), ITTC (2020), LIEF (2020), Linkage Projects (2018, 2019) and SRI (2020).
  • Data and information are drawn from Final Reports that have been submitted to the ARC for research projects commencing in 2014 (noting that most ARC projects involve multi-year funding).
  • Key Activity 1 performance measurement data identified as incorporating ‘new and ongoing’ funding includes all projects that received funding in 2019–20 (that is, projects commencing in 2019–20 as well as projects that commenced in a previous year and continued to receive funding in 2019–20).
  • In the below performance reporting against Key Activity 1, a number of Key Performance Indicator (KPI) performance figures are different to those previously reported in the ARC 2018–19 Annual Report. As noted in last year’s Annual Report, some of the 2018–19 figures did not include ITRP data. This was due to the outcomes and data of ITRP rounds not yet being finalised and available for inclusion in the report. The ITRP data has now been included in the 2018–19 figures reported in the current 2019–20 Annual Report. The inclusion of this data now shows an accurate reflection of the ARC’s performance in 2018–19 and provides comparable data to assess against this year’s performance.

Extent to which ARC-funded research results in improved engagement between universities, industry and other research sectors

Why is this important?

The Linkage Program promotes national and international research partnerships between researchers and business, industry, community organisations and other publicly funded research agencies. By supporting the development of partnerships, the ARC encourages the transfer of skills, knowledge and ideas as a basis for securing commercial and other benefits of research.

Volume/efficiency of activity and outputs – as indicated by:

KPI 1.1

Length of Linkage Projects scheme application and assessment process

Metric/Outcome

Immediate

Methodology

ARC data collection.

Source

Corporate Plan (CP) 2019–20 page 12, PBS 2019–20 pages 121–122

Target

100 per cent of recommendations are made to the Minister within six months of submission.

Results

2019–20

2018–19

2017–18

2016–17

99.1%

100%

n/a

n/a

Analysis of results

In 2016, the ARC introduced a continuous application process for the Linkage Projects scheme. This was announced as part of the Australian Government’s 2015 National Innovation and Science Agenda Initiative, and aimed to shorten the duration of the assessment process. In 2019–20, 99.1 per cent of applications received under the relevant selection rounds for the Linkage Projects scheme had recommendations made to the Minister within six months of submission. One batch of recommendations was delayed due to the 2019 election caretaker period. In response to recommendations from the Evaluation of the implementation of the continuous Linkage Projects process final report, in December 2019, the ARC introduced three assessment rounds per year. The commencement of the first of three rounds opened for applications on 20 December 2019—Linkage Projects for funding applied for in 2020.

Extent to which ARC-funded research is recognised for excellence

Why is this important?

The NCGP contributes to the growth of knowledge and innovation in Australia by funding excellent research and researchers, research training and career development, international collaboration, and research in areas of priority. It produces outcomes that improve our fundamental understanding of the world and/or provide economic, environmental, social, health and/or cultural benefits to Australia.

ARC funding supports excellent researchers – as indicated by:

KPI 1.2

External recognition of the achievements of ARC-funded researchers

Metric/Outcome

Immediate/intermediate outcome

Methodology

Qualitative—Development of prizes and awards database by ARC.

Source

CP 2019–20 page 12

Target

Prizes and awards are won by ARC-funded researchers.

Results

2019–20

2018–19

2017–18

2016–17

Met

Met

Met

n/a

Analysis of results

The ARC has determined that KPI 1.2 has been met because external acknowledgment is considered to be a proxy indicator of the excellence of the researchers supported by the ARC. The metric is a qualitative one. The agency’s rigorous peer review processes provide assurance that funding is directed to high quality researchers and research. The ARC has developed in consultation with the learned academies a comprehensive database of prizes and awards that key research sector stakeholders regard as demonstrations of research excellence. ARC-funded researchers have a strong record of winning prizes and awards and this continued in 2019–20 (see Appendix 3).

The criteria the ARC uses for this performance indicator are:

  • prizes and awards are awarded within the relevant financial year
  • awardees have been previous recipients of ARC-funding (over the last 5 years)
  • prizes are not necessarily for ARC-funded research
  • fellowships/scholarships/grants are not included
  • awards must meaningfully and convincingly demonstrate the excellence of ARC-funded researchers.

Extent to which ARC-funded research supports the sustainability of Australia’s research workforce

Why is this important?

Research performance is critically dependent on access to highly qualified and skilled personnel. The ARC’s aim is to foster research training and career development opportunities through its funding schemes, including opportunities under its Linkage Program for researchers to spend time in industry organisations.

ARC funding supports research training and career development – as indicated by:

KPI 1.3

Proportion of Discovery Program funding allocated to support early career researchers under the DECRA scheme

Metric/Outcome

Immediate/intermediate outcome

Methodology

Takes into account new and ongoing funding for DECRA and the Discovery Program. Data extracted from the ARC NCGP administrative database.

Source

CP 2019–20 page 12, PBS 2019–20 pages 119–120

Target

Maintain, ±5% of the three year rolling average.

Results

2019–20

2018–19

2017–18

2016–17

16.1%

16.4%

16.3%

16.0%

ARC funding supports research training and career development – as indicated by:

KPI 1.4

Proportion of Linkage Program funding to support industrial research training under the ITTC scheme

Metric/Outcome

Immediate outcome

Methodology

Takes into account new and ongoing funding for ITTC and the Linkage Program. Data extracted from the ARC NCGP administrative database.

Source

CP 2019–20 page 12, PBS 2019–20 pages 121–122

Target

Maintain, ±5% of the three year rolling average.

Results

2019–20

2018–19

2017–18

2016–17

11.2%

11.5%

8.1%

5.8%

Analysis of results

In 2019–20, 16.1 per cent of Discovery Program funding (new and ongoing) was allocated to the DECRA scheme and 11.2 per cent of Linkage Program funding (new and ongoing) was allocated to the ITTC scheme.

The proportion of DECRA funding allocated under the Discovery Program has been maintained over the past four reporting periods. The ARC has a range of mechanisms to support early career researchers. The agency’s Research Opportunity and Performance Evidence (ROPE) assessment criterion ensures that the research output of funding applicants is assessed within the context of their career stage.

The proportion of ITTC funding allocated under the Linkage Program in 2019–20 has been maintained and was in line with that in 2018–19. The ITTC scheme, funded as part of the ITRP, fosters opportunities for Higher Degree by Research candidates and postdoctoral fellows to pursue training in industrial priority areas identified by the ARC. These priorities reflect the six high-growth sectors established under the Industry Growth Centres Initiative. The ARC conducted a range of outreach and engagement activities with research and innovation sector stakeholders to support applications for the ITRP in 2019–20.

The more consistent results for the DECRA scheme may reflect the nature of the support provided, as the maximum number of fellowships that may be awarded is set, subject to the quality of applications.

Under the ITTC scheme, alternatively, the number of projects funded are dependent on the total funding available, the number of applications received and the quality of those applications so the results are more variable.

Additional context

In 2019–20 the ARC:

  • provided direct salary support for 321 new awards and fellowships encompassing every research career stage, from early career researchers to senior researchers
  • funded 1,200 new projects, involving 2,916 researchers across the NCGP. This funding support enabled the employment of additional research personnel and contributed significantly to the development of Australia’s research capacity.

ARC funding supports research training and career development – as indicated by:

KPI 1.5

Number of ARC-funded researchers who are fellows or awardees

Metric/Outcome

Immediate outcome

Methodology

Total number of researchers who are awarded DECRA, FT scheme, FL scheme or DAATSIA for funding commencement year. Data extracted from the ARC NCGP administrative database.

Source

CP 2019–20 page 12

Target

Maintain.

Results

2019–20

2018–19

2017–18

2016–17

321

320

309

320

Analysis of results

Under the Discovery Program, the ARC administers fellowship and award schemes supporting early career researchers, mid-career researchers, established researchers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers. The 2019–20 outcome is broadly consistent with fellow and awardee numbers from previous reporting periods.

ARC funding supports research training and career development – as indicated by:

KPI 1.6

Number of researchers (unique individuals) on ARC-funded research projects who identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Metric/Outcome

Immediate outcome

Methodology

Quantitative—Data mining from the ARC’s NCGP administrative database.

Source

CP 2019–20 page 13

Target

Maintain or increase.

Results

2019–20

2018–19

2017–18

2016–17

NCGP

33 (1.2%)

28 (1.1%)

29 (1.2%)

28 (1.0%)

Discovery

24

25

27

17

Linkage

9

3

2

12

Analysis of results

The proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers has remained constant at approximately 1.0 per cent. The ARC’s ongoing commitment to supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers and research is set out in the ARC’s Statement of Support and Action Plan for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Researchers and Research and Reconciliation Action Plan.

ARC funding supports research training and career development – as indicated by:

KPI 1.7

Proportion of researchers on ARC-funded research projects who are women

Metric/Outcome

Immediate outcome

Methodology

Takes into account the number of unique Chief Investigators who identified as female and the total number of unique Chief Investigator researchers.

Data extracted from the ARC NCGP administrative database.

Source

CP 2019–20 page 13

Target

Maintain or increase.

Results

2019–20

2018–19

2017–18

2016–17

NCGP

926 (31.8%)

794 (30.9%)

736 (29.2%)

784 (26.7%)

Discovery

598

571

530

477

Linkage

383

257

224

343

Analysis of results

Both the total number and proportion of women researchers working on ARC-funded research projects has steadily increased over the past four reporting periods. The ARC implements a series of policies and programs supporting women researchers funded under the NCGP and the research sector more broadly.

Extent to which ARC-funded research results in improved international engagement

Why is this important?

Research is a global activity with researchers seeking access to the best partners and facilities worldwide. The ARC’s aim in supporting international research collaboration is to maximise Australia’s contribution to, and benefits from, international research collaborations, partnerships, developments and policy.

ARC funding supports international collaboration – as indicated by:

KPI 1.8

Proportion of ARC-funded research projects that involve international collaboration

Metric/Outcome

Immediate outcome

Methodology

Takes into account the number of projects indicating international collaboration will be undertaken in the application and the total number of funded projects.

Data extracted from the ARC NCGP administrative database.

Source

CP 2019–20 page 13, PBS 2019–20 pages 121–122

Target

Maintain or increase the proportion of ARC research that involves international collaboration.

Results

2019–20

2018–19

2017–18

2016–17

NCGP

78.3%

81.4%

76.1%

71.6%

Discovery

82.6%

84.4%

80.0%

77.4%

Linkage

58.3%

65.0%

58.3%

54.0%

Analysis of results

Despite a slight decrease in the proportion of projects in 2019–20 international collaboration continued to be a strong feature of the NCGP. The reduction in international collaboration in the Linkage Program may indicate a greater focus on Australian outcomes.

Figure 6: Proportion of projects involving international collaboration by program, 2013–14 to 2019–20

Additional context

In supporting international collaboration, the ARC seeks to build the capacity of Australia’s research workforce by facilitating engagement with outstanding researchers overseas, as well as drawing on best practice and research developments internationally. These opportunities strengthen Australia’s research capacity, and maintain and expand upon Australia’s position as a world leader in research.

NCGP funding schemes use a variety of mechanisms to support international research collaboration, including:

  • all NCGP schemes are open to overseas researchers as long as they apply through an Australian eligible organisation. If successful, Chief Investigators, fellows and awardees must reside predominantly in Australia for the duration of the project
  • as appropriate, researchers located overseas may participate in ARC-funded projects as Partner Investigators without any residency requirements
  • project funding can be requested to support international travel by Chief Investigators, fellows, awardees and Partner Investigators associated with a project, to foster and strengthen collaborations between researchers in Australia and overseas
  • organisations based overseas (including higher education, companies, not-for-profit and government) are eligible to participate in projects funded under the NCGP, as a partner, host or ‘other’ organisation
  • international subscriptions are an eligible budget item under the LIEF scheme.

In relation to projects awarded funding commencing in 2019–20:

  • 2,210 instances of potential international collaboration were identified with 87 countries. The five countries most commonly identified were the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Germany, China and Canada
  • 841 cases of international participating organisations (comprising 506 unique international organisations) were identified (including host and ‘other’ organisations under the Discovery Program, and partner and ‘other’ organisations under the Linkage Program)
  • 60 cases of international partner organisations (comprising 58 unique international partner organisations) were identified on projects awarded funding under the Linkage Projects scheme
  • the top five fields of international collaboration were: materials engineering; pure mathematics; astronomical and space sciences; biochemistry and cell biology and historical studies.

Extent to which ARC-funded research results in improved engagement between universities, industry and other research sectors

Why is this important?

Research is a collaborative activity with successful researchers and research organisations working together, partnering and networking to generate multiplier effects. The ARC’s aim in supporting engagement between universities and other sectors is to maximise opportunities to build the scale and focus of research involving end-users, resulting in direct benefits to Australia.

ARC funding supports expanded engagement between researchers and end-users – as indicated by:

KPI 1.9

Level of co-funding from partner organisations involved in ARC-funded research projects (Linkage Projects scheme)

Metric/Outcome

Immediate outcome

Methodology

Takes into account total contributed (cash and in-kind) by Partner Organisations and total ARC funding. Data extracted from the ARC NCGP administrative database.

Source

CP 2019–20 page 13, PBS 2019–20 pages 121–122

Target

Maintain or increase the level of co-funding from partner organisations under the

Linkage Projects scheme [ ≥ $1 for every ARC dollar].

Results

2019–20

2018–19

2017–18

2016–17

Linkage

$1.64

$1.91

$1.76

$1.98

ARC funding supports expanded engagement between researchers and end-users – as indicated by:

KPI 1.10

Proportion of participating organisations satisfied with the research partnerships supported through the Linkage Program (Linkage Projects scheme)

Metric/Outcome

Intermediate outcome

Methodology

Quantitative—Data mining from Linkage Projects scheme final reports.

Source

CP 2019–20 page 13, PBS 2019–20 pages 121–122

Target

Maintain stakeholder satisfaction with the research partnerships supported through Linkage Projects scheme research [with baseline based on four year rolling average].

Results

2019–20

2018–19

2017–18

2016–17

Linkage

94.8%

96.0%

97.0%

98.0%

Analysis of results

Under the Linkage Projects scheme, the combined cash and in-kind contributions pledged by partner organisations are required to match, at least, the funding sought from the ARC. In 2019–20 this requirement was exceeded with every ARC dollar attracting $1.64 from partner organisations. This is a reduction from previous years which may be a reflection of the economic circumstances for partner organisations. In 2019–20 increased funding was provided under the Linkage Projects scheme, for more projects than previous years and a greater number of partner organisations.

A partner organisation’s commitment of funding and other resources to a research project indicates an expectation of a return from that investment. Analysis of partner organisation feedback conducted for this Annual Report showed that despite a slight decrease in the levels of satisfaction in 2019–20, a majority of partners (95 per cent) that provided feedback on final reports found that the collaborative research project had been either ‘very beneficial’ or ‘beneficial’ to their organisation.

The feedback also showed that:

  • 28 per cent of partner organisations were entering into a new collaborative relationship and 72 per cent were building on a previously established relationship
  • 87 per cent indicated that they would be willing to conduct a collaborative research project again, depending on the circumstances.
Additional context

The Linkage Program comprises a range of schemes aimed at building collaborative research partnerships between researchers in universities and other organisations. These schemes are targeted at different elements of end-user engagement:

  • the Linkage Projects scheme aims to support innovation at all levels, involving end-users from government, not-for-profit organisations and both domestic and international industry
  • the ITRP aims to support the development of solutions for industry, and train future researchers, through partnerships between universities and industry in identified industrial transformation priority areas
  • the CoE scheme aims to build linkages across all sectors including a strong international focus
  • the LIEF scheme aims to support collaborative use of infrastructure, primarily between universities, but also involving partner organisations from outside the sector where appropriate.

Extent to which ARC-funded research addresses areas of Australian Government priority

Why is this important?

Through the identification of priority areas, the Australian Government aims to focus research on areas that address challenges facing Australia. The ARC contributes to this aim by funding research in priority areas under the NCGP.

ARC funding grows Australia’s research capacity in priority research areas – as indicated by:

KPI 1.11

Proportion of ARC-funded research projects that involve research in one of the Australian Government’s Science and Research Priority areas

Metric/Outcome

Immediate outcome

Methodology

Takes into account the number of projects indicating their research is a Science and Research Priority area and the total number of projects. Data extracted from the ARC NCGP administrative database.

Source

CP 2019–20 page 13, PBS 2019–20 pages 119–122

Target

Maintain the proportion of ARC-funded research projects, fellowships and awards that involve research in one of the Australian Government’s Science and Research Priority areas [with baseline based on four year rolling average].

Results

2019–20

2018–19

2017–18

2016–17

NCGP

64.2%

61%

60.4%

66%

Discovery

61.2%

56.9%

56.1%

59.7%

Linkage

77.8%

83.1%

79.9%

85.4%

Analysis of results

Approximately 64.2 per cent of projects awarded funding commencing in 2019–20 involved research relevant to the Australian Government’s Science and Research Priority areas. This figure is consistent with the outcome achieved in the last three years.

The result recorded for the Discovery Program is lower than the result recorded for the Linkage Program, reflecting the different objectives of the two programs. The Discovery Program is aimed at supporting fundamental research, while the Linkage Program has a greater focus on supporting research partnerships between universities and organisations that will result in the applied use of research.

Additional context

The Australian Government announced the National Science and Research Priority areas in May 2015. The nine cross-disciplinary priorities are food, soil and water, transport, cybersecurity, energy, resources, advanced manufacturing, environmental change and health. These are supported by 30 Practical Research Challenges at the Practical Research Challenge level.

The ARC does not have any specific initiatives targeted at research in areas of Science and Research priorities. In applying for NCGP funding, researchers are asked to indicate if their project falls within a priority area. While funding is not specifically directed to these areas, most schemes ask assessors to consider whether the research will address or has the potential to address these areas. Individual NCGP funding schemes reference priority areas in their objectives where appropriate.

In addition to the National Science and Research Priority areas, in 2019–20 the ARC:

  • administered an SRI scheme to support the development of innovative technologies to investigate and remediate PFAS contaminated areas, including soil and other solid contaminated debris, groundwater, waterways and marine systems. Funding from the first round of the PFAS Remediation Research Program was announced, and the selection process for the second round commenced, within this reporting period.
  • administered the SRIEAS. This program was developed as part of the Australian Government’s response to the Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan. It funds research to examine the strategic, economic, scientific and environmental significance of Antarctica to Australia, as well as foster collaboration between Australian researchers, industry and international stakeholders.
  • began the selection process for the SRI for Australian Society, History and Culture. This program will support research on Australian and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander society, history, culture, literature, art, music, politics and geography. Research under this program will advance understanding into the formation, development and standing of Australian society, history and culture; and increase research capacity in Australia.
  • continued to support Industrial Transformation Priorities under the ITRP. The priorities for funding commencing in 2020 were advanced manufacturing, cyber security, food and agribusiness, medical technologies and pharmaceuticals, mining equipment, technology and services, and oil, gas and energy resources. These priorities are consistent with the six high-growth sectors established under the Australian Government’s Industry Growth Centres initiative.

Extent to which ARC-funded research results in outcomes of benefit to Australia

Why is this important?

In a tight fiscal government environment, it is important that the positive outcomes of the Australian Government’s investment in research can be clearly demonstrated. ARC-funded research provides economic, environmental, social, health and/or cultural benefits to Australia.

ARC funding grows knowledge and innovation – as indicated by:

KPI 1.12

Proportion of established ARC research centres demonstrating growth of knowledge and innovation

Metric/Outcome

Intermediate/long-term outcome

Methodology

Quantitative—Data mining from ARC CoE scheme annual reports.

Source

CP 2019–20 page 14

Target

100 per cent.

Results

2019–20

2018–19

2017–18

2016–17

Linkage

100%

100%

100%

n/a

Analysis of results

Each year research centres provide information on knowledge and innovation activities through an annual report provided to the ARC. These reports act as public governance mechanisms demonstrating how CoE are meeting their objectives. Copies of these reports may be found on the websites of individual centres.

The CoE annual reports that were assessed in 2019–20 were for CoE activities in 2018, reported on in 2019. The assessment quantitative data indicated that all CoE annual reports were assessed as satisfactory and all reported growth of knowledge and innovation in their highlights section of the report.

ARC-funded research produces outcomes of benefit – as indicated by:

KPI 1.13

Proportion of ARC-funded research projects that meet their objectives

Metric/Outcome

Intermediate outcome

Methodology

Quantitative—Data mining from NCGP final reports.

Source

CP 2019–20 page 14

Target

Maintain.

Results

2019–20

2018–19

2017–18

2016–17

NCGP

98.5%

99.4%

97.0%

n/a

Analysis of results

Of the final reports received for ARC-funded research projects commencing in 2014, 98.5 per cent indicated that they had either met all the objectives of their research or met over half of their objectives. The ARC’s peer review process considers methodological rigour and researcher capabilities for all proposed research projects, to ensure funded applications will be capable of successfully fulfilling their objectives.

ARC-funded research produces outcomes of benefit – as indicated by:

KPI 1.14

NCGP funded projects contribute towards the growth of knowledge and innovation in Australia and produce outcomes that improve our fundamental understanding of the world and/or provide economic, environmental, social, health and/or cultural benefits to Australia

Metric

Intermediate/long-term outcome

Methodology

Qualitative—Case studies from Making a difference—Outcomes of ARC supported research booklet.

Source

CP 2019–20 page 14, PBS 2019–20 pages 119—122

Target

Evidence of impact arising from NCGP research projects, fellowships and awards improving our fundamental understanding of the world and/or providing economic, environmental, social, health and/or cultural benefits to Australia illustrated by published case studies.

Results

2019–20

2018–19

2017–18

2016–17

Discovery

Met

Met

Met

Met

Linkage

Met

Met

Met

Met

Analysis of results

The ARC delivers a broad and diverse range of benefits to the Australian community through research funded under the NCGP. These include economic benefits through opportunities for commercialisation, the promotion of environmental sustainability and ecological responsibility, improvements to social well-being, support for positive health outcomes, and enhanced cultural and historical awareness. The ARC believes that KPI 1.14 has been met because while the full scope of the impacts delivered through ARC-funded research is difficult to quantify, case study methodologies can usefully exemplify the positive outcomes delivered through NCGP funding.

The ARC released the Making a difference—Outcomes of ARC supported research 2019–20 booklet, an annual publication that demonstrates the economic, environmental, social, health and/or cultural benefits arising from a sample of the research supported under the NCGP. A selection of case studies from this publication has been used to exemplify some of the benefits stemming from ARC-funded research (see pages 54–60). Making a difference can be accessed via the ARC website, www.arc.gov.au > News > Publications > Making a difference. Case studies from the Making a difference booklet are drawn from the ARC’s Research Highlights stories, which are published regularly on the ARC’s website and social media, www.arc.gov.au > News > Media > Research Highlights.

Performance summary

There were no changes in the ARC’s activities, organisational capability or environment that impacted significantly on its performance in delivering Key Activity 1: Funding the highest quality research.

Key Activity 2: Assessing the quality, engagement and impact of research

Description

The ARC is responsible for assessing the quality, engagement and impact of university research through the administration of two programs: Excellence in Research Australia (ERA) and the Engagement and Impact (EI) assessment. ERA is an evaluation framework that identifies research excellence in Australian universities by comparing Australia’s research effort against international benchmarks. EI assesses the engagement of researchers with research end-users and shows how universities are translating their research into economic, environmental, social, health and/or cultural and other impacts. Together these frameworks:

  • provide a unique, evidence-based resource to inform Australian Government research policy and the strategic direction of Australian universities
  • encourage researchers to produce high-quality research with real-world benefits.

Deliverables

The key deliverables for ERA and EI, as identified in the PBS 2019–20 (page 123), were:

  • administering an evaluation framework to measure and report on the quality of research conducted at Australia’s higher education institutions
  • administering a framework to assess engagement and show how universities are translating their research into economic, environmental, social, health and/or cultural and other impacts
  • informing strategic policy on research quality, engagement and impact.

ERA and EI are periodic exercises that were last conducted in 2018. The next round of ERA is scheduled for 2023 and the next round of EI for 2024. Therefore, the priorities for the ARC in 2019–20, as identified in the PBS 2019–20 (page 112), in relation to ERA and EI were:

  • analysing and disseminating data and insights arising from the ERA and EI exercises for the benefit of Government, universities and other stakeholders
  • reviewing the ERA and EI exercises.

In 2019–20 the ARC:

  • released the report, Gender and the Research Workforce: Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) 2018, which presents fine grained information from longitudinal data about gender and the university research workforce across employment levels, employment type and research discipline
  • conducted extensive outreach—visiting all 42 of Australia’s universities and a range of other stakeholders—to discuss the outcomes of ERA and EI 2018, the data available and hear feedback that shaped the ERA and EI review
  • commenced a comprehensive review of ERA and EI which included establishing an external, expert Advisory Committee comprising leaders from the university and research end-user communities
  • publicly released EI engagement and approach to impact narratives that received a ‘high’ rating, to demonstrate how universities are engaging with the end-users of their research and how they are facilitating research translation into impacts beyond the university sector
  • provided policy advice on a wide range of research matters relating to research quality, engagement and impact.

ERA provides assurance of the quality of research in Australia

Why is this important?

The ERA program informs stakeholders about the performance of each university by discipline and helps promote Australia’s research strengths on the world stage. It incorporates both the ERA and EI frameworks and provides assurance of the quality, engagement and impact of research through the transparent reporting of performance. This assists universities with their strategic planning and the Australian Government with policy development. The ERA program contributes to the strengthening of Australia’s research capabilities.

Outcomes–as indicated by:

KPI 2.1

Use of ERA program data to inform Australian Government Policies

Metric/Outcome

Immediate/intermediate outcome

Methodology

Qualitative—Information gathering. Items are included where they provided input into policy matters relevant to other government agencies.

Source

CP 2019–20 page 16, PBS 2019–20 pages 123–124

Target

ERA program reports and activities inform Australian Government policy.

Results

2019–20

2018–19

2017–18

2016–17

Met

Met

Met

Met

Analysis of results—ERA informs Australian Government policy

The ARC has determined that KPI 2.1 in the above table has been met because, in 2019–20, the longitudinal data from ERA and the new data on the engagement and impact of university research were used in a wide range of material to inform Government policy, as demonstrated by the key examples listed below. In 2019–20, there were also two new major releases of ERA and EI program data—the Gender and the Research Workforce: Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) 2018 report and the publication of high rated EI 2018 engagement narratives and approach to impact studies.

The Gender and the Research Workforce report has been a particularly important release that provides fine-grained information about gender and the university research workforce across employment levels, employment type and field of research. A major use of this report for Government has been the inclusion of the data in the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Equity Monitor, which provides a “national data report on girls’ and women’s participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)… [and] a baseline for measuring change and trends over time in key sectors and career phases of girls’ and women’s engagement with STEM.”1

Other contributions of ERA and EI program reports and activities in 2019–20 include:

  • A submission on regional university research quality, workforce, engagement and impact data for ‘Enhancing research outcomes from Australia’s regional, rural and remote universities’, a review conducted by the Australian Council of Learned Academies, and commissioned by the Department of Education, Skills and Employment. The aim of the review is to better understand the opportunities and barriers to improving research potential and outcomes at universities in regional, rural and remote areas.
  • A submission on university research quality, workforce, engagement and impact data as it related to the Agricultural and Rural Research and Development Corporations (RDCs) as part of a Department of Agriculture (now the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment as of 1 February 2020) review on Modernising the RDC system.
  • Policy data for the 2019 European Commission–Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Survey.
  • Information and links to data resources for the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources ‘Partnering with Australia on Innovation, Science and Research’ publication.

ERA encourages excellent, internationally competitive research

Why is this important?

Improvements in research quality lead to a better social rate of return on research.2 The ARC’s aim is to ensure these outcomes can be realised for Australia through the conduct of a best practice assessment of the engagement, impact and quality of research at Australian universities.

12

Outcomes–as indicated by:

KPI 2.2

Use of ERA program data to inform the strategic planning documents of eligible Australian higher education institutions

Metric/Outcome

Immediate/intermediate outcome

Methodology

Quantitative/Qualitative—Desktop survey and analysis of Australian university strategic plans, annual reports and websites. These documents were examined for their use of ERA/EI program data, and whether university strategic planning aligned with or referred to ERA/EI program objectives.

Source

CP 2019–20 page 16, PBS 2019–20 pages 123–124

Target

ERA program reports and activities inform strategic planning at eligible Australian higher education institutions.

Results

2019–20

2018–19

2017–18

2016–17

Met

Met

Met

Met

Analysis of results

To determine whether KPI 2.2 in the table above was met, the ARC conducted a desktop survey of the publicly available strategic plans, annual reports and websites of all 42 universities that were eligible to participate in ERA and EI 2018. The results from this survey, as described below, show that the ARC met the KPI target as in 2019–20 ERA program reports and activities informed strategic planning at eligible Australian higher education institutions.

The survey found that 95 per cent of universities listed their ERA results or referred to ERA as a measure of success in either their websites, strategic plans or annual reports. This included 62 per cent of universities making such references in their strategic plans or annual reports alone. The survey also examined whether the universities made general reference to their research strengths, building and identifying opportunities relating to research excellence, or use of research excellence as a key performance indicator—these being behaviours that are consistent with the ERA objectives. There were 86 per cent of universities that made such references in their strategic plans or annual reports. This increased to 98 per cent when websites were also considered.

In terms of EI, the survey found that 76 per cent of universities listed their EI results or referred to EI as a measure of success in either their websites, strategic plans or annual reports. This included 26 per cent of universities making such references in their strategic plans or annual reports alone. When considering the more general reference to strengths in engagement and impact, building and identifying opportunities relating to engagement and impact, or using engagement and impact as a form of performance indicator—that is, behaviours that are consistent with the objectives of EI—the survey found that 62 per cent of universities made such mentions in their strategic plans or annual reports. This increased to 98 per cent when websites were also considered.

Key Activity 3: Providing advice on research matters

Description

The ARC’s commitment and contribution to policy development plays an essential role in facilitating excellent research outcomes for Australia. The ARC takes an active and collegiate approach to identifying and responding to emerging issues and challenges within Australia’s research sector.

Through policy development and advice, the ARC aims to:

  • reflect current Australian Government priorities and initiatives in its operations
  • contribute to the development of national research and innovation policy
  • provide advice on research matters to the Australian Government
  • support the effective delivery of ARC programs.

Deliverables

In addition to contributing to broader policy developments, policy advice underpins the ARC’s core functions—delivery of the NCGP, ERA and the EI assessment—as identified in the PBS 2019–20 (pages 119–124).

In 2019–20 the ARC:

  • reviewed research-related policies and consulted with stakeholders regarding potential changes
  • partnered in the development of guides supporting the implementation of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research, in conjunction with the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and Universities Australia
  • continued to look for ways to increase the efficiency, comprehensiveness and timeliness of data gathering and reporting
  • continued to monitor emerging issues relevant to the research sector
  • worked with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Stats NZ, the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and relevant stakeholders to complete a review of the Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification (ANZSRC)
  • monitored, incorporated and contributed to international developments in research and research funding.

ARC policy advice contributes and responds to Australian Government policy development

Why is this important?

Integral to the achievement of the agency’s purpose, the ARC develops research policies and policy advice that support the achievement of benefits for Australia.

Volume/efficiency of activity and outputs – as indicated by:

KPI 3.1

Number of policies developed and reviewed

Metric/Outcome

Activity

Methodology

Quantitative—internal assessment.

Source

CP 2019–20 page 18

Target

n/a (1).

Results

2019–20

2018–19

2017–18

2016–17

8

6

5

n/a

(1) n/a targets cannot be identified for some activity and output metrics as they are demand or need driven.

Analysis of results

During 2019–20 the ARC:

  • continued to introduce the Australian Government’s National Interest Test (NIT) to all NCGP Grant Guidelines for grant opportunities
  • supported research addressing key challenges facing Australia through the SRI scheme, and the review of the relationship between the Australian Government’s National Science and Research Priorities and the NCGP
  • engaged with opportunities to improve the ARC’s grants administration processes, through the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) performance audit of the NCGP and the Streamlining NCGP Project.

The ARC’s administration of the NCGP is supported by a range of policy documents. During 2019–20 the ARC reviewed and updated policy documents including:

The ARC partnered in the development of guides supporting the implementation of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research. The ARC also commenced its review of the ROPE Statement.

National Interest Test (NIT)

On 31 October 2018 Minister Tehan announced a NIT to be applied to all future applications submitted for funding under the NCGP. The policy provides further assurance that ARC funding aligns with the national interest by providing economic, environmental, social, health and/or cultural benefits to Australia. All ARC Grant Guidelines for grant opportunities opening after the Minister’s announcement have been progressively updated to include the NIT. Projects funded under the following grant opportunities were subject to the NIT in 2019–20:

  • Discovery Projects 2020
  • Discovery Indigenous 2020
  • Linkage, Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities 2020
  • Linkage Projects 2019
  • SRI in Excellence in Antarctic Science 2020
  • Industrial Transformation Research Program 2020.

Outcomes – as indicated by:

KPI 3.2

ARC policy advice reflecting Australian Government priorities and policies

Metric/Outcome

Immediate outcome

Methodology

Qualitative—assessment of policy case studies.

Source

CP 2019–20 page 18

Target

ARC policy advice reflects Australian Government priorities and policies.

Results

2019–20

2018–19

2017–18

2016–17

Met

Met

Met

Met

Analysis of results

To determine whether KPI 3.2 was met, the ARC conducted an internal assessment of its policy advice and activities. The examples below show that the ARC met the KPI target in 2019–20 as the policy advice and activities provided during this period supported and reflected the priorities and policy of the Australian Government.

During 2019–20 the ARC:

  • supported research addressing key challenges facing Australia through the SRI scheme and the review of the relationship between the Australian Government’s National Science and Research Priorities and the NCGP
  • engaged with opportunities to improve the ARC’s grants administration processes, following the ANAO performance audit of the NCGP
  • undertook a review of the ANZSRC in collaboration with Australian and New Zealand government departments
  • consulted with the research sector on issues related to gender parity in research.

Special Research Initiative for Australian Society, History and Culture

On 26 January 2020, Minister Tehan announced the ARC would conduct an SRI for Australian Society, History and Culture, with grant funding totaling $12 million over three years. This new SRI will provide support for small research grants on Australian and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander society, history, culture, literature, art, music, politics and geography, as well as building Australian research capacity in these fields. The Grant Guidelines for the new SRI were published on 27 February 2020, with the application period opening 28 February 2020 and closing 6 May 2020. The outcomes of the SRI are expected to be announced in September 2020.

ANZSRC

The ARC, along with the ABS, Stats NZ and the New Zealand MBIE, completed a two-year review of the ANZSRC. The review was undertaken to ensure the research classification reflects current practice and remains responsive to change in the sector. As a result of the review, a revised classification—the ANZSRC 2020—was published by the ABS and Stats NZ on 30 June 2020. The ANZSRC is used in the measurement and analysis of research and development undertaken in Australia and New Zealand.

Increasing women’s participation in ARC grant processes

In October 2019, the Australian Government announced the ARC would take steps to address gender disparities in the ARC’s NCGP selection rounds, assessment processes and panel memberships.

During 2019–20, the ARC developed a discussion paper and undertook a consultation with the research sector regarding the applicability and implementation of a range of gender initiatives. These included institutional application targets for women early career researchers by 2023, gender parity for membership of the ARC College of Experts by 2023 and Selection Advisory Committees by 2025, and public reporting by institution on the proportion of women included in applications for ARC funding.

ARC policy advice supports best practice research

Why is this important?

Best practice research is critical for the development of the robust evidence base required to drive discoveries that will benefit Australia. It provides the basis for high quality research training and career development, and delivers assurance to those who use outcomes of research for innovation. Best research practice also helps build public confidence in the research process and its outcomes.

Outcomes – as indicated by:

KPI 3.3

ARC policy advice supporting best practice research

Metric/Outcome

Immediate/intermediate outcome

Methodology

Qualitative—assessment of policy case studies.

Source

CP 2019–20 page 18

Target

ARC policy advice supports best practice research.

Results

2019–20

2018–19

2017–18

2016–17

Met

Met

Met

Met

Analysis of results

The ARC has determined that KPI 3.3 was met through an internal assessment of its policy documents relating to research practices. The assessment identified that the agency has continued to support best practice in research through the ARC’s suite of policy initiatives which were reviewed and updated during 2019–20, including:

Statement of Support for Assessors

The ARC acknowledges the significant contribution of grant assessors in the delivery of the NCGP. The ARC Statement of Support for Assessors within the National Competitive Grants Program outlines the ARC’s commitment to, and expectations of, assessors to support best practice in peer review for its competitive grant process.

Research workforce

The ARC Research Workforce Statement is a key part of a broader framework that demonstrates the ARC’s support for a strong and sustainable research workforce in Australia. The ARC funds the highest quality research across STEM and Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences disciplines, and supports researchers at all career stages, from Australia and overseas, as well as from under-represented groups.

During 2019–20 the ARC implemented changes to eligibility extensions for DECRA and FT schemes as part of its commitment to support the research workforce and ensure that all eligible researchers have fair access to competitive funding through the NCGP.

Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (the Code)

The ARC, in conjunction with the co-authors of the Code, has continued to develop guides to support best practice responsible research conduct. Guides on peer review, disclosure of interests and management of conflicts of interest, supervision and collaborative research were released during 2019–20.

ARC policy advice engages researchers, both national and international

Why is this important?

Involving stakeholders in policy development and evaluation processes helps to ensure policies and activities align with their expectations and needs. It increases the diversity of experience and knowledge available to the ARC in identifying relevant issues, analysing policy options and deciding on the appropriate policy instruments. Stakeholder feedback surrounding the implementation of policies gives the ARC exposure to valuable information about policy effects, resulting in more successful policy outcomes.

Outcomes – as indicated by:

KPI 3.4

Stakeholder engagement in ARC policy development activities (including international organisations and researchers)

Metric/Outcome

Immediate/intermediate outcome

Methodology

Qualitative—internal assessment and case studies.

Source

CP 2019–20 page 18

Target

Stakeholder engagement in ARC policy development activities.

Results

2019–20

2018–19

2017–18

2016–17

Met

Met

Met

Met

Analysis of results

The ARC conducted an internal assessment of Stakeholder engagement to demine whether KPI 3.4 was met. The results below show that the ARC met the KPI target in 2019–20 with significant and varied engagement of both domestic and international Stakeholders in the policy development activities of the agency.

During 2019–20 the ARC:

  • continued to engage with a broad range of national and international stakeholders on research matters, including research integrity, open research, program evaluation and gender equality
  • continued to provide evidence-based policy advice, including investigating different ways of interrogating data to help reveal trends or issues of concern
  • communicated policy changes to stakeholders in Australia and internationally
  • engaged with both national and international stakeholders to progress the review of the ANZSRC
  • through its implementation and review activities for ERA and EI, engaged with a wide range of researchers, research leaders and other stakeholders.

National engagement

In 2019–20 the ARC engaged with multiple stakeholders in relation to ERA and EI. All 42 universities that participated in ERA and EI were visited by the ARC to discuss outcomes from and seek feedback on the 2018 rounds. In addition, the ARC has engaged with government and other stakeholders in relation to ERA and EI processes and the key findings of the ERA and EI National Reports 2018. The ARC also engaged external experts and representatives from the university and research end-user sectors to commence work on a comprehensive review of the ERA and EI exercises. ARC also coordinated a national public consultation process as part of the ANZSRC Review.

International engagement

During 2019–20 there were 14 international delegations that visited the ARC to explore opportunities available to international researchers and research organisations within the NCGP. In addition, there were 19 instances where the ARC attended or contributed to meetings, interviews or engagements with international stakeholders. Engagement with international delegations and stakeholders have been impacted by external factors including COVID-19 and the 2019–20 bushfires. In addition to these delegations and meetings, the ARC engaged regularly with Stats NZ and MBIE to deliver the ANZSRC Review.

Outcomes – as indicated by:

KPI 3.5

Stakeholder satisfaction with the quality of ARC policy advice

Metric/Outcome

Immediate/intermediate outcome

Methodology

Qualitative—Case studies, informal feedback and surveys.

Source

CP 2019–20 page 18

Target

Stakeholders are satisfied with the quality of ARC policy advice.

Results

2019–20

2018–19

2017–18

2016–17

Met

Met

Met

Met

Analysis of results

To determine whether KPI 3.5 was met, the ARC considered case studies, informal feedback and survey results. Feedback from Stakeholders through the engagement measures below regarding the quality of the ARC policy advice indicate that the ARC met the KPI target in 2019–20.

During 2019–20 the ARC:

  • continued engagement with stakeholders about proposed changes to policy and programs
  • maintained an evaluation plan for key program initiatives
  • sought stakeholder feedback through forums and other external engagements.

The ARC engaged with stakeholders (both institutional and individual) through a variety of forums, webinars, seminars, inductions, surveys, evaluations and consultations throughout 2019–20 and received formal and informal feedback regarding ARC policy advice. In 2019 this included the ARC/NHMRC Research Administrators Seminar, Industrial Transformation Research Program (ITRP) forum and CoE 2020 induction.

Program evaluation 2019–20

The ARC’s approach to program evaluation, as outlined in the ARC Evaluation Strategy, is designed to support an organisational culture of continuous improvement, and ensure compliance with Australian Government standards of performance and accountability. In 2019–2020, two evaluations—examining the ITRP process and priorities and the continuous Linkage Projects process—were released publicly. Final reports from these evaluations are available through the ARC website, www.arc.gov.au > Policies & Strategies > Strategy > Evaluation.

Performance summary

There were no changes in the ARC’s activities, organisational capability or environment that impacted its performance in delivering Key Activity 3: Providing advice on research matters.

Throughout the year, the ARC actively contributed to a range of research and higher education policy development activities, supporting work being conducted across the Australian Government. The agency also continued to refine the policy frameworks underpinning the NCGP and the ERA and EI assessment.

Making a difference—Outcomes of ARC supported research


Footnotes

  1. https://www.industry.gov.au/data-and-publications/stem-equity-monitor
  2. Benefits Realisation Review of Excellence in Research for Australia, September 2013, ACIL Allen Consulting