When I was a very little boy, the very last bed-time story my Father would tell me went like this: “Once upon a time … the end”. That’s when I knew that I had reached the limits of his patience for telling stories (and putting off bed-time in the process). In a very real sense, the Canada Revenue Agency’s recent introduction of the short form for claiming SR&ED is just like that.
Fundamentally, I think, the CRA introduced the short form as way to force claimants to “cut to the chase”. Formerly, claimants could produce long technical claims that included reams of “business context” — there was no real limit to the length of the story you could produce. Science reviewers had to sift through the entire beach, looking for the grains of eligibility. Of course, having to do that made them unhappy.
The short form, a reviewer explained to me, imposes tight constraints. If you’ve only got 350 words to explain what your technological uncertainty was, and why it was, well then you’d better get right to it. There’s no room for “clearing your throat” or beating around the bush.
The short form imposes discipline and economy on the claim process, in certain ways, but there are probably some drawbacks that will need to be sorted through.
One of the drawbacks is that the short form makes it very much harder to create a claim at the program level – to incorporate multiple sets of uncertainties or advancements sought. It’s like trying to stage a soccer game in a phone booth. Your ability to provide essential, supporting details diminishes with each extra bit you pack in, until you reach a threshold where the reviewer “just can’t see it”. And that’s bad, because at minimum it means requests for supplementary information or follow-up interviews, and in practical terms, it creates a need to be somehow more convincing to a science reviewer whose attitude to the claim has been tipped just a bit more heavily toward doubt.
The whole aim of a short project description is to tell a story about the work done that is self-evidently “reasonable”, i.e. we encountered these technological uncertainties, we tried the following things, this is what we learned, and this is what it cost us. All of this needs to appear to be solid, linked, and “reasonable” according to both science and financial rules. Adding anything that creates doubt about any aspect of this story just triggers additional doubts about the whole fabric. In fact, I suspect that , psychologically, the accumulation of supporting evidence functions incrementally, while the deductions for doubt function exponentially. It doesn’t take that much to create doubts that could undermine your basic claim. Therefore, even in the short form, I’m suggesting that economy and efficiency will prove to be necessary. The goal is to tell the story, not too much or too little, but accurately, and “just enough”. You know – the real story, well told, in a smaller space.