The Institute was founded in 1983 by Donald J. Savoie as the Canadian Institute for Research on Regional Development (CIRRD). Under the leadership of Professor Savoie, CIRRD has earned an enviable reputation nationally and internationally. The CIRRD hosted leading researchers and published a large number of theoretical and applied works on a range of issues related to economic development of regions and elsewhere.

In 2005, the Institute adopted the name Canadian Institute for Research on Public Policy and Public Administration, which emphasizes the central role of quality of governance, public policy and public administration in the welfare and economic development of our communities. The Institute stressed the importance of providing not only research but also assisting in the development of public policies based on a rigorous and objective analysis of major public policy issues.

In 2015, the Institute adopted its new name in honour of its founder.