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Examples of Social & Policy Research Projects

Over the years, we have done research projects for over 20 Government of Canada departments and agencies.

Below are just some of the social & policy research projects we have undertaken:

Communication & Advertising

  • Sage Research prepared a report commissioned by the Government of Canada on best practices for pre-testing Government of Canada advertising. The report's recommendations spanned research design and planning, fieldwork and reporting.
  • On behalf of Justice Canada, we conducted qualitative research to provide input to development of communication strategies to promote public understanding and support regarding benefits and obligations for non-traditional relationships such as same-sex couples.  To help understand the issues and provide considered judgments, participants were given background information on government benefits and legal obligations for different types of couples to read prior to group discussion

  • For Human Resources and Social Development Canada, we undertook focus group research to assist in developing a communication approach to meet the employment information needs of youth-at-risk and of community-based organizations and service providers that help youth make a transition to the labour market.

  • Land Force Atlantic and Land Force Central (Department of National Defence) undertook a review of internal communication with two target audiences -- Regular Forces and Reserve Forces personnel.  We conducted focus groups and in-depth individual interviews with these target audiences in order to determine level of satisfaction with existing communications, and to identify their unmet needs and wants in terms of information and their preferred sources and types of communication.

  • Survey research by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) indicated interest by the public in learning more about how charities are regulated, but relatively low awareness of the CRA's role as regulator and the information it provides to donors. Focus groups with regular donors to charities were conducted to learn more about the information needs of donors, and to explore reactions to various CRA communications products on giving to charities, including a pamphlet and the CRA website for donors.

  • The Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) Business Client Communication System sends various statements and forms to business clients.  We held focus groups with small business, bookkeepers and accountants to identify opportunities to eliminate redundant or nonessential information by reformatting, repackaging, and decreasing the volume of communication items sent to business clients.

  • The Public Health Agency of Canada and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade developed a travel health booklet over 30 pages long directed at Canadians planning to travel abroad.  We conducted focus groups with Canadians who had traveled internationally to identify areas of potential change and improvement to the draft booklet, and to assess whether and how people would use the booklet.
  • In recent years, many new non-refundable tax credits (NRTCs) have been implemented for the personal tax return, and it is expected more may be added in the future.  Because of the growing number of NRTCs, it had become increasingly difficult to place them on the then-existing federal and provincial tax forms.  The CRA commissioned Sage to conduct qualitative research to get taxpayer feedback on two alternative approaches to redesigning the relevant sections of the federal and provincial personal income tax forms.
  • Revised application packages consisting of an information sheet and application form were developed for the Old Age Security pension and the Allowance/Allowance for the Survivor.  We held focus groups with older adults to assess ability to understand and complete the application forms.

  • The Canada Border Services Agency had developed a Code of Conduct for its employees.  Prior to issuing it to all employees, Sage conducted focus groups with employees to explore their reaction to the contents of the document and to identify any changes required.

  • For more examples of communication & advertising research, click here



  • Infrastructure Canada was developing a corporate branding design system which could be incorporated into its own materials and into collateral materials used by project partners.  Communication objectives for the corporate branding design system included conveying the importance of infrastructure to a successful community, and communicating federal government involvement.  Several alternative branding concepts were developed, and we held focus groups with the public to explore their reactions and determine which concept best met the communication objectives of Infrastructure Canada.
  • The Office of Energy Efficiency (OEE) was selecting a logo.  We conducted individual interviews with representatives of target group organizations such as utilities, associations, and government to assess reactions to alternative logo designs.
  • As part of its communication planning, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) identified a need to create a common look and feel for its communication products.  Three alternative corporate graphic design concepts were developed, and we conducted focus groups with the public to identify which concept best communicated the multi-faceted roles and priorities of the RCMP.
  • The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) was developing a new “corporate look” graphic design.  Sage conducted focus groups with the general public and with senior business executives to explore reactions to alternative design concepts.


Website Design & Usability

  • As part of updating its website, the Canada Revenue Agency wanted to ensure the site is accessible to people with disabilities. We conducted online individual interviews with people with visual disabilities who used a screen reader or screen magnification and with people with a physical disability impacting their computer use. Accessibilty was assessed by giving participants a variety of usage scenarios.
  • The Government of Canada was considering changing the online application process used by people interested in immigrating to Canada. Individual online interviews were conducted with participants from China, India, Mexico and the Philippines to assess ease of completion of the revised online application tool.
  • Service Canada was redesigning its website, and there was particular interest in three client target groups:  youth, working families, and seniors.  We held focus groups with each target group to (a) evaluate certain elements of the website including the look, basic content, navigation and nomenclature to ensure that individuals understand the site functions and are able to use the site intuitively and with ease;  (b) generate ideas for further improvement from the perspective of the end-user;  and (c) explore preference among some alternative graphic designs.
  • The Government of Canada provides an Employment Insurance (EI) website that allows EI claimants to access and provide information online.  We conducted focus groups with EI claimants to assess ease of use of the website with respect to claimants’ ability to get information about their claim and to provide change of address, phone number or direct deposit information.
  • As governments move to providing services online to Canadians of all ages, Sage was commissioned to hold focus groups with older adults to explore understanding and ease of use of a prototype system allowing Canadians to apply for Canada Pension Plan retirement benefits online.
  • The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) administers the Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA) initiative. This was a relatively new initiative, and experience had suggested some in the public had misconceptions or lack of understanding about TFSAs. Focus groups were conducted with people who had set up TFSAs to explore information needs, and to assess ease of finding information about TFSAs on the CRA's website.
  • To support the ongoing development of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) website, we conducted a telephone survey of the CRA’s website users to measure user interaction and satisfaction, and to provide information to assist in website development.
  • The National Occupational Classification (NOC) is Canada’s standard for classifying and describing occupations, and the Career Handbook (CH) is the counseling version of the NOC intended for use by guidance and employment counselors, and by individuals doing their own career planning.  The NOC/CH website is an interactive tool providing access to both the NOC and CH.  We conducted online survey research to develop a user profile of visitors to the website and to gauge their satisfaction with the site.
  • For more examples of website design & usability research, click here


Service Delivery

  • The Government of Canada had developed a Service Vision for Canadians with the goal of providing for a citizen-centric, whole government service delivery approach.  We conducted focus groups with a range of target groups and in a range of city sizes across the country to get input from Canadians on the key principles of the Service Vision.
  • Businesses are required to remit payroll source deduction payments to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) on an ongoing and regular basis. The PD7A is a form mailed to businesses that includes balance information and a remittance voucher to use for the next payment. The CRA mails over 10 million of these forms each year, and was exploring ways of reducing mailing costs. The purpose of the research was to get the opinions of business people from small and medium size enterprises on a potential reduction of the mailing frequency of the PD7As, and the potential impact of this reduction on payment compliance.
  • Businesses have a variety of options for making payments to the Canada Revenue Agency, including at Tax Services Offices (TSOs).  We conducted an on-site survey of businesses making payments at TSOs to profile their reasons for choosing this method of payment, and their views of other methods of payment.
  • One of Service Canada’s key methods of service delivery is the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) automated telephone system used in Service Canada Call Centres.  Sage conducted individual interviews in which participants called the IVR, using a variety of likely calling scenarios.  The results were used to identify possible changes to improve ease of use of the system.
  • The Government of Canada offers an automated touch-tone service that provides both personal and general information about the Canada Child Tax Benefit.  We undertook individual interviews to test reactions to two new versions of the service that used voice recognition technology, and to explore preferences.
  • The Employment Insurance (EI) program offers two automated telephone services to its clients:  Telemessage provides general information as well as claim-specific information, and Teledec is used to file EI claimant reports.  Common calling scenarios were identified for each service, and client success in completing the scenarios was assessed through in-depth individual interviews involving actual calls to the automated services.


Best Practices

  • The Government of Canada identified the need to develop detailed standards and guidelines for public opinion survey quality for both telephone and online research. Sage Research was commissioned to develop and manage Advisory Panels, and to provide recommended survey quality benchmarks. The report of The Advisory Panel on Telephone Public Opinion Survey quality was completed by Sage in 2007. The report of The Advisory Panel on Online Public Opinion Survey quality was completed by Sage in 2008. These reports represent the foundation for how all government departments and research firms providing services to government will conduct survey research.
  • Following completion of the Advisory Panels for public opinion survey quality, we were commissioned by the Government of Canada to address the quality of public opinion qualitative research. We conducted an extensive literature review, and then convened an Advisory Panel to recommend best practices. The report of the Advisory Panel was completed in 2012.
  • In 2014 the Government of Canada commissioned Sage Research to prepare a report on best practices for pre-testing advertising.

  • The Community of Federal Regulators (CFR) is an organization within the Government of Canada whose mission is to build and sustain the capacity of the federal regulatory community through learning, partnerships and best practices.  Sage Research has documented a number of “best practice” cases for the CFR.  For example, we wrote up best practice cases for “Pollution Prevention Planning” (Environment Canada), “Project Fairweb” (Industry Canada), and “Canada Shipping Act, 2001 Regulatory Reform Project” (Transport Canada).  Preparation of best practice write-ups involved a combination of review of background materials and in-depth interviews with the parties involved.


Policies & Programs

  • Justice Canada required input to the development of policy options to improve the family law system as it relates to custody and access.  Sage conducted qualitative research with men and women directly affected by custody and access issues.  To help understand the issues and provide considered judgments, participants were given background information to read prior to group discussion.
  • HRSDC required information on the decision-making process of employers with respect to employee training and development as input to policy development.  We conducted focus groups with “trainers” in small to medium-size companies.
  • In order to inform HRSDC’s policy analysis to address issues faced by older workers in the labour market, Sage held focus groups with small, medium and large employers to explore employers’ attitudes towards older employees, and their business practices related to the hiring, training, retention and retirement options for older employees.

  • The Government of Canada implemented the Career Transition Assistance (CTA) initiatives to help long-tenured workers update and acquire new skills while receiving regular Employment Insurance (EI) benefits. These initiatives included an extension of the duration of EI benefits to claimants who undertake job training, and earlier payment of EI benefits to claimants who received a severance package. Qualitative research was done with participants in these initiatives and service providers as part of the program evaluation of the CTA.
  • Some have expressed concern that the Employment Insurance (EI) system inhibits geographic mobility from high unemployment regions to low unemployment regions. It has been suggested the EI System encourages individuals to remain in high unemployment regions by providing less restrictive eligibility and longer EI benefit durations in these regions. However, it also can be argued the EI system might actually increase mobility, particularly if the income support from the EI system allows more efficient job search or helps individuals pay moving costs. Empirical research on this matter has been inconclusive. Sage conducted qualitative research with frequent EI claimants in high unemployement regions to explore their attitudes and experiences about moving as a way of getting regular employment, and the role, if any, of the EI system in shaping their attitudes.
  • The Government of Canada identified a need to further explore the issue of Foreign Credential Recognition (FCR) with the intention of better understanding the needs of newcomers to Canada and of employers, as well as awareness, perceptions and opinions among the general population. Sage implemented a comprehensive research program on FCR, consisting of three research components: focus groups with newcomers, individual interviews with employers, and a survey of the general public
  • As part of Industry Canada’s comprehensive policy review associated with small business financing, we conducted focus group research with stakeholders, including companies in the ‘profit sector’, organizations in the ‘voluntary sector’, and Aboriginal businesses.
  • The Contract Payment Reporting Systems (CPRS) requires individuals and businesses in construction to report to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) payments made to subcontractors.  This program plays an important role in combatting the underground economy in the construction sector.  We conducted focus groups with small, medium and large construction contractors to obtain input on the implementation of the CPRS and suggestions for changes that might make compliance easier.
  • The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) was in the process of examining its public consultation process, including its policies and procedures.  We held focus groups to get insight into the public’s views relating to nuclear facilities and the use of nuclear energy, and into the public’s knowledge, perceptions and expectations of CNSC’s processes for consultation, decision-making and information sharing.
  • In order to increase accessibility to post-secondary education, the Canada Student Loans Program introduced the Canada Access Grant for Students from Low-income Families (CAG-LI) in 2005.  We conducted focus groups with CAG-LI recipients to assess their experiences with, and opinions of, the program.



  • Canada (led by Natural Resources Canada) planned to introduce regulated energy performance levels for residential lighting products in 2012. This will lead to significant changes in the nature and mix of lighting available in the marketplace. The regulations include a mandatory labeling requirement to standardize how package labeling identifies watts, lumens and bulb life. We undertook a two-phase research program -- qualitative research followed by survey research -- to gather information on Canadians’ knowledge, perceptions and understanding of household lighting.
  • Natural Resources Canada administers the EnerGuide Labelling program for major household appliances.  Sage Research has conducted 3 in-store audit projects over a period of years to track compliance with EnerGuide labelling regulations.  In each audit, thousands of appliances were checked for compliance in a variety of appliance retailers across the country.
  • The underground economy (UE) can lead to significant revenue losses for governments, as well as pose risks to consumers.  The Canada Revenue Agency commissioned Sage Research to explore awareness, attitudes and behaviours regarding the UE among participants in high-risk sectors -- specifically, construction and restaurants/bar/caterers.  The research examined drivers and values underlying attitudes of non-compliance in these two business sectors, and the results are being used to help direct strategies and initiatives to address the underground economy.
  • We conducted focus group research to explore whether and how the public’s perceptions about tax cheating are influenced by the awareness of (a) what the Canada Revenue Agency does to combat non-compliance, and (b) the results of its programs.
  • It is important for the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the income tax system that individuals file their tax return on time and pay any outstanding amounts owing on time. The Canada Revenue Agency commissioned Sage Research to conduct focus groups with taxpayers who usually have tax owing at filing time and who in the past 5 years had paid late at least once and been charged interest as a result. The research explored factors that can contribute to late filing or late payment.
  • People who are late with making a tax payment or filing a return are sent letters by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) informing them of their payment or filing obligation. Focus groups were conducted with people who usually owe money at tax filing time, and over half the participants had previously been late paying a tax amount and been charged interest or penalties as a result, or had filed their income tax return late. The research explored reactions to current and draft revised letters sent to late payers and late filers
  • The Office of Boating Safety had established clear regulatory targets for pleasure craft competency card compliance, but compliance levels were significantly below required targets.  Sage conducted focus groups with non-compliant boaters to explore barriers to compliance, key messages required for compliance, and the most appropriate communication approaches.


Preparedness & Safety

  • A social marketing program was being planned by the University of Guelph Child Development Centre aimed at reducing risk of injury from falls in the home among children one through four years of age. Part of the marketing plan included posters in areas where parents of young children are likely to see them, such as daycare centres, schools, doctors' offices, community centres, and so forth. Four concepts were developed for the creative design of the posters. Focus groups were conducted with parents of one through four year-olds to assist in selecting the creative design to use in the social marketing program, and to identify possible refinements to the creative.
  • A significant source of injury for teens is injury while working.  For a consortium of injury prevention specialists, we conducted focus group research to explore the perspectives of supervisors of teenage workers in the construction, food service and retail sectors, and of high school technology teachers.  The results provided input to planning of programs and communication strategies to encourage understanding and awareness of injury risks of teen workers.
  • A 20-minute video concept on the topic of parent supervision of children was developed to convey the message that parents should keep their children in view in order to keep them safe.  The video was going to be used in a research project run by injury prevention specialists assessing the impact of communication strategies on parental supervision and child injury outcomes.  We held focus groups with mothers of young children to help fine-tune the video concept.
  • For several years, Public Safety Canada has run advertising campaigns to foster emergency preparedness among Canadians by raising their awareness of the threat environment and by providing practical information on emergency preparedness.  Each year, we conducted focus groups to assess alternative creative concepts and aid in choosing the approach to use in the advertising.


Stakeholder Research

  • The Ontario College of Trades OCOT) is a new organization that is self-regulated by the trades and employers of Ontario. The purpose of the organization is to set standards, regulate and promote the Skilled Trades in Ontario. Qualitative research was conducted to get feedback from three stakeholder segments on a proposed brand logo, tagline and key messaging: tradespeople and employers of tradespeople, parents of high school age children who may be considering a career in the trades, and members of the general public who use the services of the skilled trades.
  • The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) commissioned Sage Research to do qualitative research with its various stakeholders, to provide input to the TSB business plan.  In-depth telephone conference calls were conducted with stakeholders across Canada in four transportation sectors:  air, marine, rail, and pipeline.
  • The Ontario region of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) commissioned Sage Research to conduct qualitative research with its various stakeholders in both rural and urban centres in northern Ontario to provide input to INAC’s communications strategies.  In-depth telephone interviews were completed with First Nations opinion leaders, with municipal leaders in northern Ontario communities, and with businesses in northern Ontario.
  • Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) had a contract with a particular hospital providing priority access beds for veterans.  A number of inadequacies had been identified at the hospital, and prior to addressing these, VAC commissioned Sage to conduct qualitative research to obtain input from stakeholders in the hospital’s catchment area.  A combination of focus groups and individual interviews were done with veterans residing in the hospital, families of veterans residing in the hospital, and veterans and their families who may require long term care beds in the future.


Special Client Segments

  • As part of updating its website, the Canada Revenue Agency wanted to ensure the site is accessible to people with disabilities. We conducted online individual interviews with people with visual disabilities who used a screen reader or screen magnification and with people with a physical disability impacting their computer use. Accessibilty was assessed by giving participants a variety of usage scenarios.
  • An advertising campaign was developed to create awareness of the Registered Disability Savings Program (RDSP), the Canada Disability Savings Grant, and the Canada Disability Savings Bond, and to inform target audiences of (a) their benefits and (b) where to access more information. Qualitative research was undertaken to pre-test the effectiveness of three creative concepts, each consisting of radio and print. We conducted focus groups with: caregivers to persons with disabilities, disability organizations, and people with disabilities. People with disabilities included people with a hearing impairment (focus group conducted with the help of ASL interpreters), people with physical/mobility impairments (3-day online discussion boards), people with visual impairment (in-depth telephone interviews), and people with a mental disability (group discussion with staff support from a disability organization).
  • Health Canada’s Tobacco Control Program had determined a need for self-help cessation programming for young adults.  We conducted a series of focus groups to aid Health Canada in the development of a new cessation resource based on the unique needs and preferences of young adult smokers.
  • Health Canada had developed a number of print ads as part of a communication plan to promote a healthy lifestyle before and during pregnancy.  Sage undertook focus groups with women currently pregnant and women planning to become pregnant, to assess the relative communication effectiveness of five alternative ad concepts.
  • Health Canada had identified a need to develop and provide resources to help individuals and families who are caring for aging family members.  Prior to developing these materials, we held focus groups with formal and informal caregivers as well as organizations providing support to caregivers, exploring a wide variety of topics including the aging process and family violence prevention.

  • Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) was reviewing services and programs it provides to its clients, and research was commissioned to provide input to ensure VAC clients receive the care and support they require now and into the future.  We conducted focus groups with VAC Canadian Forces clients, defined as those who served or are still serving, and who were entitled to a disability pension.  We held another set of focus groups with spouses and representatives of Canadian Forces clients meeting the above requirements.
  • The Government of Canada was considering changing the online application process used by people interested in immigrating to Canada. Individual online interviews were conducted with participants from China, India, Mexico and the Philippines to assess ease of completion of the revised online application tool.
  • Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) was planning to conduct a client satisfaction survey with refugees who receive assistance or attend RAP programs.  We conducted individual depth interviews with refugees who had recently completed their RAP sessions in order to pre-test and fine tune the survey questionnaire.
  • Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) had developed a 30-minute video for newcomers to explain the various obstacles they may face in looking for employment and how they can overcome these obstacles.  Sage undertook focus groups with newcomers to Canada, NGOs working with newcomers, and employers in order to assess the responsiveness, acceptance and understanding of the content, theme, and messages presented in the video.
  • The Labour Market Information (LMI) service, located in Service Canada, provides information on local labour markets across Canada.  Two of the user groups for the LMI website include immigrants and organizations providing services to newcomers to Canada.  We conducted focus groups with both immigrants and service providers to identify possible modifications and additions to LMI products and services.


Sensitive Issues

  • A 30-second public service announcement (PSA) about wife abuse and its impact on children had been developed jointly by Canadian Heritage’s Multiculturalism Program and a television network.  The plan was to produce the PSA in 14 languages, to reach members of ethnic communities who may not be fluent in English or French.  The purpose of the research was to assist in finalizing the PSA.  We held a series of mini-groups , using translators, with five different ethnic groups.  Separate sessions were conducted with men and women, and younger vs. older people, to ensure greater homogeneity and comfort for participants when describing their reactions to the message of the PSA.
  • People applying for the Disability Tax Credit (DTC) are sent a letter indicating whether or not they are eligible, and if not, explaining the reasons why not.  The research focused on the templates for letters sent to those being told they are not eligible for the DTC.  We conducted focus groups with people who had applied for the DTC and potential applicants.  The research explored comprehension of the letters, and the perceived sensitivity of the text, where sensitivity includes using terminology that conforms to community standards, and acknowledging an individual’s disability, even if that disability does not meet the criteria for the DTC.