Important considerations for institutions with decentralized model

October 28, 2016

To properly manage CFI-funded projects, an institution must have adequate structures and functions in place as well as sufficient and appropriate resources. Some institutions have adopted a decentralized model, where certain controls and responsibilities related to the administration of CFI awards are delegated to departmental units. One advantage of decentralization is that it brings the administrative functions closer to the individuals directly involved in the project. The institution can also benefit from the resources in each department.

An institution operating in a decentralized environment must ensure that each departmental unit is knowledgeable, and has a proper interpretation, of institutional policies and procedures including CFI guidelines and requirements. This is critical to ensure that their application is adequate and consistent.

To achieve this, some institutions operating in a decentralized environment have implemented the following practices:

  • Clear communication of roles and responsibilities;
  • Established financial and administrative guidelines for all individuals involved in the administration of contributions, including those at department levels;
  • Provision of training and support to departmental representatives on a regular basis;
  • Established means to rapidly and effectively communicate changes in guidelines and requirements, or issues that have been brought forward;
  • A support group and point of contact for questions when they arise;
  • Regular monitoring of the compliance with key policies, controls and requirements at the department level, recognizing the increased risk of non-compliance due to the involvement of several individuals in many departments.

Here's how one institution has implemented these practices.

University of Toronto

At the University of Toronto, some of the administrative and oversight activities are decentralized and performed by the project leaders and/or the administrative support staff within the academic divisions, while others are performed centrally. For example, the review of personnel costs or purchase requests to ensure compliance with approved budgets is performed by the administrative support staff within the divisions. These staff also review financial reports to ensure accuracy of the information presented to the CFI.

Oversight is also provided by various central administrative divisions such as the Division of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation (VPRI), Procurement Services, University Operations and the Internal Audit department. These central divisions provide leadership, strategic direction and guidance, and also manage some of the processes to ensure compliance with institutional requirements. Examples include:

  • Leading the internal research project selection process and the application and award finalization processes;
  • Performing a high level review of project account activity, and preparing and submitting financial reports to the CFI;
  • Reviewing and managing the competitive bid process for high value purchases;
  • Monitoring construction and renovation projects.

The roles and responsibilities of the project leaders, the academic divisions, and the central administrative divisions are clearly defined and acknowledged through a number of policies and procedures. The central administrative divisions work closely with the project leaders and the administrative support staff within the academic divisions, and promote compliance with CFI and institutional policies. The VPRI communicates changes in guidelines and requirements, and acts as a point of contact for questions. Training and information sessions are made available by the VPRI office, and meetings are held with the project teams and administrative support staff to discuss processes and expectations in managing CFI awards. Various initiatives have been implemented in recent years to help ensure consistent interpretation and compliance with institutional policies and procedures, as well as those of the CFI.

One of these initiatives is a VPRI-sponsored professional development and training program for divisional staff involved in the administration of research called Strengthening Administration of Research (STAR). The STAR initiative, launched in 2015, offers conferences (on all three campuses) geared toward sharing of new and important information on the administration of research funds. It also provides additional resources through various communication channels to ensure central-divisional sharing of best practices.

A second initiative is the Research Expenditure Compliance Assessment Program (RECAP), a joint initiative of the VPRI and the university’s Internal Audit Department (IAD). Through RECAP, IAD performs audit activities in the academic divisions, where they audit expenditure transactions on a sample basis to assess compliance with sponsors, including CFI, and institutional guidelines and procedures. The results are communicated on a regular basis to the academic divisions, the Division of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation and other key stakeholders. Action plans are developed to address recommendations, and are monitored by the Internal Audit Department.


MayLiza Baak
Director, Institutional Initiatives
Research Services Office 
Phone: 416.978.7605
Email: m.baak [at]

Related topics

Clear definition of roles and responsibilities, and collaboration from key stakeholders at all stages of a CFI project
Training and information sessions for individuals involved in the administration of CFI awards