The Advanced Technology Program was established by Congress to help spur this economic growth. Congress created a mechanism to encourage and nourish economically valuable technologies that might otherwise go untried—or be exploited by our global competitors—because the R&D risks were too high to be supported entirely by the private sector. The ATP practices a sort of economic jujitsu, applying relatively small, highly leveraged investments against the potential for major economic impacts.
Can it work? Well, sure. The classic existence proof is the Internet—the relatively modest early investments by the Department of Defense (DoD) and universities are utterly dwarfed by today's economic impact.
Yet this raises another set of questions:
The ATP measurement challenge emanates from the program's mission to create long-range, broad-based economic benefits. Long-range means sometime out in the future. Although, ultimately, we will perform retrospective analyses, we cannot wait until then. Broad-based economic benefits mean tracking and measuring impacts that go well beyond the individual company or companies that did the original work. We need to measure or credibly estimate the macroeconomic effects of a fundamentally micro-economic program. Finally, we need to make credible predictions based on those measurements and estimates.
So how do we assess our work in the intervening time between the short and the long-term? At NIST, measurement and evaluation have been part of the ATP from the beginning. The first major report appeared in 1993, a survey examining the early impacts on participating companies of the first 11 ATP projects after a year of work. The ATP established its Economic Assessment Office to oversee a wide range of data-gathering and analysis efforts including basic data collection, case studies, surveys, and macroeconomic modeling. The ATP's business reporting system, for example, uses an innovative electronic survey form to gather quarterly information on active projects and follow-up data after completion, tracking their progress toward achieving business and economic goals.