SSHRC Manual for Adjudication Committee Members 2017-18

I. Purpose of the Manual

II. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council

III. SSHRC’s Principles for Merit Review

IV. Principles and Guidelines for Adjudicators

V. Adjudication Committee Roles and Functioning

VI. Evaluation and Adjudication

VII. Reviewing Budget Proposals and Determining Grant Size: Grant Applications Only


I. Purpose of the Manual

Merit review plays a vital role in the operations of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). Committees adjudicate applications to the various SSHRC funding opportunities that provide support for research, research training, research communication and knowledge mobilization.

This manual:

  • provides merit review committee members with summary information on SSHRC’s mandate, objectives, structure, policies and funding opportunities;
  • sets out policies and procedures for the adjudication of applications submitted to SSHRC funding opportunities; and
  • encourages uniformity and consistency in the application of SSHRC’s policies and principles.

Complete information for all SSHRC programs and funding opportunities—including funding opportunity descriptions, eligibility and evaluation criteria, application instructions, guidelines for using funds, and submission deadlines—is available on SSHRC’s website.


II. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council

1. SSHRC’s Mandate and Objectives

SSHRC is the federal agency responsible for promoting and supporting research and training in the social sciences and humanities. Through its programs and policies, SSHRC enables the highest levels of research excellence in Canada, and facilitates knowledge-sharing and collaboration across research disciplines, postsecondary institutions, and all sectors of society.

SSHRC was created by an act of Parliament in June 1977 with a legislated mandate to:

  • promote and assist research and scholarship in the social sciences and humanities; and
  • advise the minister with respect to matters relating to such research as the minister may refer to the Council for its consideration.

In an increasingly globalized world, SSHRC programs aim to develop the talent needed across the public, private, not-for-profit and academic sectors. They help generate insights about people, ideas and behaviour, and build connections within and beyond academia to address the needs and perspectives of all sectors of society.

Through its Talent, Insight and Connection programs, SSHRC fosters the development of talented and creative people who become leaders across all sectors, and who are critical to Canada’s success in the rapidly changing 21st century. In turn, SSHRC encourages the participation of experts from across these sectors in some of its adjudication processes.

Three ambitions characterize SSHRC’s vision:

  • to enhance the quality of, and support for, research and research training in the social sciences and humanities;
  • to enable connections among disciplines, including those in engineering and the natural and health sciences;
  • to increase the impact of research and research training for the benefit of society.

SSHRC obtains its funds through an annual parliamentary appropriation and reports to Parliament through the minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. SSHRC’s total estimated budget for the support of its funding opportunities in the 2016-17 fiscal year was $380.2 million (excluding the Research Support Fund). SSHRC functions as a departmental corporation and has full authority to determine its priorities, policies and programs, and to make funding decisions.

2. Governing Structure

SSHRC is governed by a council consisting of SSHRC’s president and not more than 21 members, who are appointed by the governor-in-council. The membership reflects the complexity and diversity of Canadian society. The president is normally appointed for a five-year term and is SSHRC’s chief executive officer. Council members are normally appointed for three years. Both the president and council members are eligible for reappointment.

The vice-president and chair of council calls and chairs meetings of the executive committee and of council. Council members elect the vice-president and chair of council, subject to approval by the governor-in-council.

SSHRC’s governing council is mandated to advise the president of SSHRC on strategy, risk management, performance management and stakeholder relations, with the goal of ensuring that SSHRC’s priorities and programs support high-quality research, training and knowledge mobilization, as well as enable a strong, vibrant research community in the social sciences and humanities.

The governing council’s role strengthens the president’s ability to lead the organization with the conviction that comes from independent advice and, with the support of council, to confidently account to the minister and to Parliament for the decisions made, the resources expended and the results achieved.

3. SSHRC Structure

SSHRC’s Research Programs Directorate is responsible for administering independent grant, scholarship and fellowship funding opportunities. The Tri-agency Institutional Programs Secretariat (TIPS) is responsible for administering the Canada Research Chairs and Canada Excellence Research Chairs programs, the Research Support Fund, and the Canada First Research Excellence Fund on behalf of SSHRC, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

This manual applies to SSHRC grant, scholarship, and fellowship funding opportunities only, and not to those programs managed by TIPS or the Vanier-Banting Secretariat.

SSHRC Structure

III. SSHRC’s Principles for Merit Review

Committee work is predicated on the ideals of collegiality and mutual respect for diversity of viewpoints across sectors of society.

The following describes SSHRC’s merit review principles:

Publish the criteria for assessing proposals, as well as details of the review process, defining how the assessment process will operate and be managed, before applicants submit proposals.
Due diligence and appropriateness
Use a merit review process that is appropriate to the type of proposed research and in proportion with the investment and complexity of the work.
Managing interests
Ask all participants to declare interests when carrying out review activities, so that any conflicts can be identified and managed.
Treat proposals in confidence, and ask those who advise us to do the same.
Expert assessment
Use appropriate expert reviewers to assess the individual merit of all proposals against the published criteria.
Separation of duties
Separate the merit review of proposals against the assessment criteria from the making of funding decisions. Those acting as adjudicators will not also be responsible for authorizing the funding decision, the responsibility for which lies with SSHRC.
No parallel assessment
Avoid assessing the merit of the same proposal more than once.

IV. Principles and Guidelines for Adjudicators

The principles set out in the following sections apply to all adjudicators, and are vital to maintaining the well-established tradition of integrity and transparency in conducting SSHRC business and adjudication.

1. Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality

SSHRC, in concert with NSERC, CIHR and the Canada Foundation for Innovation, has developed the harmonized Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality Policy of the Federal Research Funding Organizations, with a view to centralizing and making this policy more accessible.

Under the policy, individuals under investigation for a breach of agency policy (SSHRC, NSERC or CIHR) must temporarily withdraw from participation in agency merit review processes. An individual under investigation must immediately inform SSHRC program staff responsible for the competition of their temporary unavailability, although they do not need to reveal to agency staff the reason for their withdrawal. The individual must also decline further merit review invitations from any of the agencies. The individual may resume or commence their participation in merit review if, following completion of the investigation, the agency president determines they are eligible to participate.

Managing Conflicts of Interest

SSHRC recognizes that real, perceived or potential conflicts of interest can and do arise in the adjudication of grant, scholarship and fellowship applications. SSHRC’s position is that these situations must be managed in an open and transparent manner in order to maintain the community’s confidence and trust, and to ensure accountability.

While SSHRC cannot anticipate all potential conflict of interest situations, SSHRC staff members make every effort to avoid any conflicts of interest before assigning applications to committee members for review.

Before reviewers access their assigned applications, they must read and agree to the Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality Agreement for Review Committee Members, External Reviewers, and Observers. It is the program officer’s role to advise the committee in cases where conflict of interest appears difficult to determine or falls outside the examples listed in this agreement.

In accordance with the Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality Policy of the Federal Research Funding Organizations, committee members are responsible for identifying and declaring any conflict of interest, real or perceived, related to an application, and for informing SSHRC staff of the conflict as soon as they become aware of it.

In adjudication meetings or teleconferences, a member in a real or perceived conflict of interest must withdraw from the room or conference call during the committee’s discussion of the application in question. In cases where the chair of a committee withdraws because of a conflict of interest, the committee will designate an alternate chair for its review of the particular file(s).

If an Aid to Scholarly Journals adjudication committee member is employed at the same institution as the editor-in-chief of an applicant journal, this constitutes an institutional conflict of interest. Aid to Scholarly Journals committee members will also be asked to declare whether an existing relationship between themselves and either an applicant journals’ editor-in-chief or a member of its editorial board—or a strongly held view regarding an applicant journal—would prevent them from offering an unbiased assessment of the application. A committee member will also be considered to be in conflict with an application if he or she has previously served on the editorial board of the applicant journal.

Access to Information Act and Privacy Act

All information provided to SSHRC is subject to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act. These acts govern the collection, use and disclosure of information under the control of the federal government and certain federally funded organizations.

The purpose of the Privacy Act is to protect personal information about identifiable individuals held by government institutions, and to provide individuals with a right of access to that information. Without the consent of the individual to whom it relates, personal information obtained shall not be used except for the purpose for which it was collected or for a use consistent with that purpose. To ensure SSHRC is compliant with the Act, adjudication committee members sign an agreement whereby they agree to protect and keep confidential the information in all applications for funding. As part of this agreement, members also agree to keep all review materials secure and use them only in a manner consistent with the purpose for which they were collected—namely, to review applications and to make funding recommendations.

Members must be aware of how materials are accessed and used (e.g., opened, downloaded or saved) and of the potential consequences of working with documents in unsecure sites. Members are strongly discouraged from downloading material onto public computers. Member should ensure that review material downloaded onto a computer, whether public or private, is deleted from the computer after use. Failure to follow this procedure may result in an inadvertent privacy breach for the agency.

Committee members should direct any questions or concerns about the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act to SSHRC’s Manager, ATIP and Corporate Operations, at 613-992-8639 or

SSHRC Grant, Scholarship and Fellowship Applications

Information in applications should be considered confidential and handled in a secure fashion. In handling applicant/application information, committee members must adhere to these requirements:

  • Information placed in the custody of committee members is to be used only for the purpose for which it was collected—the evaluation of SSHRC applications. No other use is permitted.
  • All copies of documents must be secured to maintain confidentiality. In addition, material that a committee member no longer requires must be destroyed in a secure manner, i.e., burning or shredding. All electronic and hard-copy files and assessments must be left on SSHRC premises at the conclusion of the meetings. For adjudications by teleconference, committee members should ensure that the documents are destroyed after results have been announced. Similarly, any member’s work that has been saved as a computer file or on an electronic storage device must be securely and permanently deleted.
  • Access to a SSHRC extranet is limited to the committee members and observers. Members must not disclose their ID or password.

Reviewer Identity

Applicants for SSHRC grants, scholarships and fellowships have the right of access to personal information about them stored in SSHRC files. However, this does not include the right to know the identity of the reviewer. Under the provisions of the Privacy Act, the name or identifying details of a reviewer of an application for SSHRC funding must be withheld from the applicant.

Applicants to SSHRC grant opportunities have access to the full text of any external assessments obtained for their proposal, with the exception of the assessor’s identity and any comments made regarding other applicants and their identities. In the scholarships and fellowships opportunities, the full texts of letters of appraisal, departmental appraisals and research appraisals, if applicable, are available to the applicant, with the exception of the names of the individuals who wrote the letters and any comments made regarding other applicants and their identities.

In the interest of transparency, committee membership is made available to the public on the SSHRC website.

Committee Deliberations

All matters discussed during adjudication meetings or teleconferences are confidential. Committee members must not impart, refer to or consider information about the applicant that does not appear in the application materials. Committee members must not disclose results prior to their official release by SSHRC. If approached by an applicant concerning a decision, committee members should decline to discuss the matter and advise the enquirer to contact SSHRC directly.

Release of Results

Following SSHRC approval of committee recommendations, it is the responsibility of SSHRC staff to notify applicants of the results of committee deliberations.

2. Research Involving Humans

As a condition of receiving an agency award, researchers must comply with the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS 2).

Institutions are expected to support researchers in complying with TCPS 2 by, among other things, ensuring that all research activities involving human participants have been reviewed and approved by a research ethics board prior to funds being released.

While primary responsibility for ensuring adherence to the TCPS 2 rests with the applicant’s institution, adjudication committees may raise questions for committee discussion if they have concerns.

SSHRC does not require applicants to submit a research ethics certificate with their application.

3. Responsible Conduct of Research

The Tri-Agency Framework: Responsible Conduct of Research describes the agencies’ requirements related to applying for and managing agency funds, performing research, and disseminating results. The Framework also outlines the processes that institutions and the agencies must follow in the event of an allegation of a breach of agency policy.

Committee members are invited to raise any concerns regarding potential breaches of agency policy on the part of an applicant with their committee chair or SSHRC program officer prior to the committee meeting. The concerns should not be considered nor be part of the evaluation of the scientific merit of an application. The program officer will communicate the concerns, along with all relevant information and available supporting documentation, to the Secretariat on Responsible Conduct of Research, so that it may conduct the necessary follow-up.

4. Open Access and Data Management

SSHRC believes research results produced using public funds belongs, to the fullest extent possible, in the public domain. Grant holders must comply with the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications, and are encouraged to preserve and provide access to their data as per SSHRC’s Research Data Archiving Policy. SSHRC’s expectations for research data management—including the responsibilities of researchers, research communities, research institutions and research funders in meeting these expectations—are described in the Tri-Agency Statement of Principles on Digital Data Management.

5. Nondiscrimination Policy

No persons meeting the eligibility requirements will be subject to discrimination under any funding opportunity or activity receiving financial assistance from SSHRC.

Unconscious bias

Adjudicators are also strongly encouraged to refer to an online training module as a guide for preventing unconscious bias in merit review. The short module promotes understanding of unconscious bias, how it can affect merit review, and ways to mitigate biases of different kinds. Developed by CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC, the module is part of the agencies’ commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion.

6. Official Languages

SSHRC is committed to ensuring that both of Canada’s official language communities have access to its programs and staff in the official language of their choice, and that applications submitted in either official language are treated equitably. To that end, SSHRC ensures that:

  • applications can be submitted to SSHRC in either official language;
  • program officers provide service to research community members in the official language of their choice;
  • there is balanced representation of both official language communities in the adjudication process; and
  • committee members are able to conduct deliberations in either official language.

Above and beyond these practices, SSHRC supports Canada’s official languages and the enhancement of the vitality and development of official language minority communities (OLMCs) by informing the agency’s broader community about linguistic duality and OLMCs in Canada. SSHRC is also committed to promoting and supporting social sciences and humanities research on issues related to official languages and linguistic duality, and to fostering research capacity in OLMC institutions.

Please see SSHRC's Official Languages Policy for more details.

7. Appeals

SSHRC is committed to the integrity of its merit review process. As part of this principle, an appeal process managed through SSHRC’s Executive Vice-President’s Office and Corporate Affairs Directorate provides applicants with the opportunity to seek reconsideration of a funding decision under certain circumstances.

SSHRC’s Appeals of Decisions Based on Merit Review policy can be found on SSHRC’s website.

V. Adjudication Committee Roles and Functioning

1. Committee Composition and How Members are Chosen

SSHRC strives to ensure that the collective knowledge, expertise and experience of its adjudication committees are best suited to reviewing those applications received in a given competition.

Individual reviewers may participate in the SSHRC merit review process in one of the following roles: external reviewer, committee member or committee chair. For information on the selection criteria used in recruiting reviewers, please see the Merit Review section of SSHRC’s website.

Reviewers may be from Canada or from abroad, and may come from postsecondary institutions or from other organizations across the public, private and not-for-profit sectors, in response to expertise required for adjudication within the specific funding opportunity.

In structuring adjudication committees, SSHRC takes the following primary considerations into account:

  • the overall competence and credibility of the committee;
  • the scholarly and/or professional stature of the individual nominees;
  • diversity of perspectives, based on areas of expertise, university or sector, region, language, and gender; and
  • appropriate knowledge of official languages (in order to participate in discussions without simultaneous translation).

Committee composition and the number of committees involved in the adjudication of applications may vary between funding opportunities, in order to:

  • take applicant wishes into consideration where a funding opportunity allows the applicant to state a preference between disciplinary versus multidisciplinary adjudication;
  • reflect the objectives of a given funding opportunity (e.g., Partnership Grants and Partnership Development Grants committees include representatives from the private and not-for-profit sectors with the necessary research expertise to evaluate intersectoral, collaborative projects);
  • accommodate the volume of applications received in a given competition; and
  • respond to trends, or to higher numbers of applications in a particular area of research.

Information specific to each funding opportunity’s evaluation and adjudication is also available on SSHRC’s website, particularly in the relevant funding opportunity description.

2. General Responsibilities

Committee Chair

The adjudication committee chair is responsible for ensuring that the committee carries out its work with fairness, thoroughness and integrity. The chair is also responsible for managing the committee’s time efficiently, so that applications can be adequately discussed. In the case of grant applications, committee chairs should be broadly familiar with the applications in the competition. For some funding opportunities (e.g., for fellowship and scholarship applications and Connection Grants), committee chairs also act as readers for specific applications.

The committee chair plays a vital role in ensuring that SSHRC’s policies and procedures are observed, including that potential or actual conflict of interest situations involving committee members are avoided. The chair works closely with the program officer, from whom he or she seeks guidance, as appropriate, before and during the adjudication process.

The committee chair also:

  • guides the committee’s discussion of applications;
  • ensures that the committee’s final recommendations accurately reflect the consensus of its members;
  • officially approves the final scores; and
  • may lead committee members in a policy discussion in order to provide feedback to SSHRC on the adjudication process and procedures, and other questions related to the opportunity.

Committee Members

Prior to the adjudication committee meeting, committee members must—except in cases of conflict of interest—read and provide preliminary scores for all applications assigned to them. Applications must be scored in accordance with the funding opportunity’s evaluation criteria and with the scoring table provided by the program officer for the opportunity. Committee members are encouraged to use the full spectrum of the evaluation scale in assigning scores, as this helps establish rank.


Readers will be provided evaluation tools to help them prepare for the adjudication and for use in assigning preliminary scores. In cases where the full range of expertise required to judge an individual application is not available from within the committee, SSHRC may seek additional expertise. Readers will also be provided with a form on which to note the strengths and weaknesses of each of the applications to which they have been assigned. These notes will serve as the bases for discussing applications during the committee meeting.

Where grants are likely to be recommended, readers may be asked to suggest, for each year of funding, an amount to be awarded that would be sufficient to successfully conduct the research and/or related activities.

Program Officers

Program officers serve as both resource people for committee members and SSHRC’s representatives during the adjudication process. Officers are responsible for ensuring that, throughout the competition, all concerned understand fully and apply consistently all relevant SSHRC policies, evaluation criteria and regulations, and treat each application equitably and fairly.

Program officers ensure that all applications meet SSHRC’s eligibility requirements by verifying:

  • the eligibility of applicants, and, if applicable, co-applicants and collaborators, as well as, if applicable, the applicant’s status as an emerging scholar (full details on eligibility can be found within the relevant funding opportunity description); and
  • the application’s subject matter eligibility.

Program officers assign applications to the committee members who will act as readers of these applications. Once the members have completed their initial, or “preliminary,” scoring of applications, the officers prepare a provisional rank-ordered list of applications to help guide the group discussions.

During the committee meeting, the officers serve as secretaries to the committee, recording scores and funding recommendations. Officers will intervene whenever necessary to guide and advise the committee and to help interpret SSHRC policy. If needed, the program officer also alerts the committee to any problems with specific applications or recommendations, and suggests possible solutions.

After the committee meeting, SSHRC staff forward to applicants the results and any available feedback. Officers also respond to applicants’ queries and/or complaints about competition results.

SSHRC Observers

Observers, appointed by SSHRC, may be invited to attend adjudication committee meetings. The observers make recommendations to SSHRC management regarding SSHRC policies, procedures, evaluation criteria, etc. Observers attend the committee meeting, but do not participate in the discussion of the applications.

VI. Evaluation and Adjudication

1. Adjudication Process Milestones Dates for Scholarships and Grants

Available on
Available to
Members Chairs
Doctoral Awards (preselection) November 7, 2017 Early December 2017 Mid-December 2017 Week of January 15, 2018 N/A January 22 to 26, 2018 N/A
Doctoral Awards (national competition) January 9, 2018 Early February 2018 Mid-February 2018 Week of March 12, 2018 N/A March 19 to 30, 2017 End of April 2018
SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowships September 20, 2017 Mid-October, 2017 Mid-October, 2017 Week of November 27, 2017 N/A December 4 to 8, 2017 February 2018
Insight Development Grants February 2, 2018 Mid-February 2018 N/A Late March 2018 Early April 2018 Early May 2018 Early June 2018
Insight Grants October 15, 2017 December 2017 N/A December 2017 Late January / Early February 2018 Early March 2018 Mid-April 2018
Partnership Development Grants November 30, 2017 December 2017 / January 2018 January 2018 January 2018 February / March 2018 April 2018
Partnership Engage Grants September 15, 2017 Mid-October 2017 N/A N/A N/A November 1, 2017 Mid-November, 2017
Partnership Engage Grants December 15, 2017 Mid-January, 2018 N/A N/A N/A February 1, 2018 Mid-February, 2018
Partnership Engage Grants March 15, 2018 Mid-April 2018 N/A N/A N/A May 1, 2018 Mid-May, 2018
Partnership Engage Grants June 15, 2018 Mid-July 2018 N/A N/A N/A August 1, 2018 Mid-August, 2018
Partnership Grants—Stage 2 November 1, 2017 November 2017 January/February 2018 February 2018 End of February 2018 April 2018
Partnership Grants—Stage 1 February 15, 2018 March 2018 April 2018 April 2018 Early May 2018 June 2018
Connection Grants November 1, 2017 Late November 2017 Week of November 27, 2017 N/A Week of December 11, 2017 January 8, 2018
Connection Grants February 1, 2018 Late February 2018 Week of February 26, 2018 N/A Week of March 12, 2018 March 31, 2018
Connection Grants May 1, 2018 Late May 2018 Week of May 28, 2018 N/A Week of June 11, 2018 June 30, 2018
Connection Grants August 1, 2018 Late August 2018 Week of August 28, 2018 N/A Week of September 10, 2018 September 30, 2018

2. The Adjudication Process

SSHRC program officers support committee members and chairs throughout the adjudication process by providing information and guidance on policies and procedures. Committee members are encouraged to contact their program officer at any point during the process should they require additional information.

Reading and Assessment

Committee members are asked to do a preliminary check of their assigned applications and immediately inform the program officer of any conflicts of interest, so that these applications may be reassigned to another committee member (see “Managing Conflicts of Interest” in section IV).

Committee members submit their preliminary scores to the program officer before the adjudication committee meeting. The officer compiles all scores, translating them into an initial overall ranking. This ranking is used during the committee meeting to identify where members differ in their assessments. Depending on the volume of applications, and at the discretion of the committee chair, it may also be used as a tool to determine the order of discussion of applications. Committee members are asked to submit their preliminary scores in a timely manner, so that program officers can send the initial overall ranking to all members prior to the adjudication and allow the members enough time to further review applications for which there are variations in scores. In cases where there are significant discrepancies among the scores assigned by members to an application, the file may by assigned to an additional reader.

Committee members may be asked to provide written comments on applications. The committee’s program officer will provide further information, if applicable.

Committee Chair Orientation

For some competitions, committee chairs are asked to participate in a pre-adjudication discussion with program staff. The purpose is to discuss chair roles and responsibilities, and to ensure consistency between committees in the application of SSHRC policies, practices and evaluation criteria.

Committee Orientation

Committee members may be asked to participate in a brief orientation call. Program staff will share important information and explain specific details about the adjudication process, timelines, relevant materials, and the review of applications. Committee members can take the opportunity to pose questions to staff, and to discuss any issues with their committee colleagues.

Calibration Teleconference

Most committees conduct a calibration teleconference, led by the committee chair, several weeks prior to the adjudication. The teleconference offers an opportunity to discuss the consistent use of evaluation criteria and the scoring system, as well as time-management strategies for the adjudication meeting, and provides a simulation of committee deliberations.

Scores are calibrated using a small sample of applications chosen by the committee chair and program officer. Committee members will be asked to read and score these files for the calibration exercise, although the assigned readers will lead the discussion during the teleconference, as they would during the adjudication meeting.

Members are asked to report their scores for each selected application in advance of the calibration teleconference. The standard deviations of each reader’s scores will be communicated to them. Readers should adjust their scores, if necessary, in light of the calibration teleconference. The committee may revisit the files selected for the calibration exercise during the adjudication meeting.

During the Adjudication Meeting

A) Discussing applications

During the meeting, committee members discuss applications on the basis of their preliminary scores. The first reader—or the first committee member, for those funding opportunities where all files are read by each member—briefly summarizes the proposal, identifies strengths and weaknesses, and makes a preliminary recommendation. Any additional comments deemed appropriate in accordance with the evaluation criteria for the funding opportunity can be added, either by the remaining readers or committee members.

If a committee member’s rationale for assigning a score to a particular application differs significantly from that of other readers, he or she must be prepared to briefly explain their reasons when reporting on the application at the committee meeting.

Members generally discuss in greater detail any applications for which there is a significant discrepancy between scores. Members may opt to adjust their scores in light of discussions.

For some funding opportunities, once the committee reaches agreement (either by vote or consensus) the program officer, in consultation with the committee, may prepare brief feedback for the applicant / project director.

B) Ranking applications

After the applications have been discussed, the committee reviews and finalizes the rank-ordered list of applications. The final list divides the adjudicated applications into those that are recommended for funding and those that are not. The committee chair approves the resulting spreadsheet.

Note: After this step, it is no longer possible to change the ranking of any application.

C) Policy feedback

Following the adjudication, the committee may hold a policy discussion in order to inform SSHRC staff of any difficulties encountered during the adjudication process, to discuss best practices and to advise on program policy issues. Committee members may also be invited to provide their feedback electronically (e.g., via a survey). SSHRC senior management refers to the committee members’ feedback in order to improve policies and procedures.

After the Adjudication Meeting

SSHRC senior management approves the funding of applications for the competition based on the recommendations provided by the committees and on the available budget. All applications that the committee has recommended for funding are submitted to SSHRC’s vice-president, Research Programs, for approval. As the resources available may not allow for the support of all meritorious applications, a certain percentage may be recommended by the committee but not receive funding. Those applications recommended but not funded may be eligible for support should additional funding become available.

3. Additional Information for All Committee Members

Future Challenge Areas

Through its Imagining Canada’s Future initiative, and with a focus on six future challenge areas, SSHRC seeks to advance the contributions of the social sciences and humanities towards meeting Canada’s future, long-term societal challenges and opportunities.

The six challenge areas have been integrated within SSHRC’s Talent, Insight and Connection programs, to encourage and promote research, talent development, and the mobilization of knowledge in focused challenge areas, complementing SSHRC’s support of these activities across all research areas.

SSHRC invites all applicants to its funding opportunities to review the six future challenge areas and subquestions, and to consider addressing one or more of these areas in their research proposal. However, this will not be an evaluation criterion for merit review.

Funding decisions by SSHRC are based on the recommendations of the merit review committees and on available funds. No dedicated funding is allocated for the future challenge areas.

Guidelines for Effective Merit Review of Aboriginal Research

In May 2015, SSHRC introduced its Guidelines for the Merit Review of Aboriginal Research. These were developed to ensure that the merit review of Aboriginal research upholds SSHRC’s principles for merit review (see section III). In support of SSHRC’s Aboriginal Research Statement of Principles, SSHRC provides these guidelines to merit reviewers to help build general understanding of Aboriginal research, and, where applicable, to assist committee members in interpreting SSHRC’s Challenge, Feasibility and Capability evaluation criteria in the context of Aboriginal research. SSHRC relies on a community of merit reviewers with experience and expertise in Aboriginal research to judge the extent to which the guidelines may be applied to a particular research proposal.

The guidelines further ensure that Aboriginal research incorporating Indigenous knowledge systems (including ontologies, epistemologies and methodologies) is recognized as a scholarly contribution and meets SSHRC’s standards of excellence. The guidelines are also designed to encourage that Aboriginal research be conducted with sensitivity, and only after consideration about who conducts the research and why and how it is conducted. The guidelines complement information contained in the second edition of TCPS 2, and, in particular, Chapter 9: Research Involving the First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples of Canada.

The Guidelines for Merit Review of Aboriginal Research are relevant to Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers who conduct Aboriginal research.

Guidelines for Effective Research Training

In June 2014, SSHRC introduced its Guidelines for Effective Research Training. The guidelines are applicable to research activities funded through any of SSHRC’s programs (Talent, Insight and Connection), and are designed to assist the research community in its efforts to promote effective research training and career development.

All SSHRC applicants proposing training plans and budgets are encouraged to use the guidelines as a tool to help identify the elements of effective research training. Applicants are asked to include in their training plans the dimensions of research training that are the most relevant to their research projects, and that can be of most benefit to all parties involved. Committee members are encouraged to use the guidelines to assist them in gauging the quality of research training activities proposed in SSHRC applications.


SSHRC welcomes research-creation as an eligible activity across its funding opportunities. See your funding opportunity’s description and SSHRC’s Guidelines for Research-Creation Support Materials for details. In addition, Insight Grants and Insight Development Grants committees may find it useful to consult the research-creation applicant resource materials specific to these funding opportunities.

Career Interruptions and Special Circumstances

SSHRC entrusts its adjudication committees with the responsibility to reach an assessment of research productivity that takes into account the impact of career interruptions and/or special circumstances, where appropriate.

SSHRC asks its adjudication committees to take into consideration both career interruptions and special circumstances that may have affected the record of research achievement of candidates. In doing so, adjudication committee members will be able to more accurately estimate the productivity of each researcher, postdoctoral researcher or doctoral student, independent of any career interruptions or special circumstances. Previous productivity is one element that may predict the success of the proposed research project.

Career interruptions and special circumstances occur when, for health, administrative, family or other reasons, a researcher is taken away from his or her research work for an extended period of time.

For grant applications, the researcher should explain the interruption(s) and ask that an equivalent period of research activity prior (but as near as possible) to the present day and leading to a total of six years be taken into consideration by the adjudication committee.

If applicable, postdoctoral researchers who received a PhD between September 2011 and September 2014 should confirm the dates of any research career interruption(s) for the purposes of maternity, childrearing, illness, or health-related family responsibilities. They should also briefly explain any interruptions or delays to their research or professional career, their record of research achievement, or the completion of degrees due to administrative responsibilities or family or health-related reasons, specifying the dates of the delay or interruption.

For doctoral award and postdoctoral fellowship applications, SSHRC asks its adjudication committees to take into consideration special circumstances that may have affected candidates’ research, professional career, record of academic or research achievement, or completion of degrees. Relevant circumstances might include administrative responsibilities, maternity/parental leave, childrearing, illness, disability, cultural or community responsibilities, socio-economic context, or health-related family responsibilities.

4. Additional Information for Committee Members: Grant Applications Only

The following sections discuss particular aspects of SSHRC grant applications, or new resources pertaining to these.

Research Contributions

Committee members are asked to consider a variety of research contributions, both traditional academic publications and other kinds of services and relevant experience. Research contributions may include, but are not limited to:

  • refereed contributions such as:
    • books, monographs, book chapters, articles in scholarly refereed journals, conference proceedings; or
    • papers presented at scholarly meetings or conferences, articles in professional or trade journals, etc.;
  • non-refereed contributions, such as: book reviews, published reviews of the applicant/co-applicant’s work, research reports, policy papers, public lectures, etc.;
  • forthcoming (submitted, revised and submitted, accepted or in-press) contributions;
  • creative outputs (to be evaluated according to established disciplinary standards, as well as creative and/or artistic merit)—examples of creative outputs may include, for example, exhibitions, performances, publications, presentations, film, video, audio recordings, etc.; or
  • other contributions to research and the advancement of knowledge to non-academic audiences (e.g., general public, policy-makers, private sector, not-for-profit organizations, etc.).

SSHRC’s Guidelines for the Merit Review of Aboriginal Research may also prove helpful to committee members assessing contributions relevant to Aboriginal research.

Capability subcriteria should be addressed in the SSHRC CV and the Research Contributions section (and, where applicable, the Relavent Experience section) of the application. Research Contributions content must address the Capability evaluation criteria listed under Evaluation and Adjudication in the funding opportunity description. Note that CVs are no longer required or accepted for collaborators.

Knowledge Mobilization Plan

SSHRC has developed new Guidelines for Effective Knowledge Mobilization to help applicants in planning these activities. The instructions that accompanied the application form are provided to committee members with their adjudication materials. Committee members are asked to evaluate the knowledge mobilization plan according to the related Feasibility subcriterion.

Open Access and Data Management

To the extent possible, and in keeping with SSHRC’s endorsement of open access forms of knowledge dissemination, research results should be made openly available through, for example, open access publications, websites, publicly accessible databases and/or institutional repositories. Grant holders must comply with the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications.

Further to its Research Data Archiving Policy, SSHRC also encourages researchers to manage and share data arising from their research in accordance with both community standards and best practices. All research data collected with the use of SSHRC funds should be preserved for use by others within a reasonable period of time.

Expected Outcomes Summary

Expected outcomes are the potential benefits and/or outcomes of the proposed project. Expected outcomes may, for example, include enhanced curriculum and teaching material, as well as graduate student supervision, enriched public discourse, improved public policies, enhanced business strategies, and/or innovations in one or more sectors of society.

Committee members are asked to evaluate the aspects of the expected outcomes summary according to the related Challenge subcriterion.

Guidelines for Support of Tools for Research and Related Activities: Insight Grants and Partnership Grants only

Tools for research and related activities are a key aspect of the social sciences and humanities research environment. New and existing tools support the creation and mobilization of research knowledge. SSHRC has long provided support for research tools that are routine in nature (such as a survey or questionnaire) and that are already considered eligible expenses according to the Tri-Agency Financial Administration Guide—and it continues to do so.

SSHRC’s Guidelines for Support of Tools for Research and Related Activities are intended to provide assistance to researchers submitting requests for support for tools distinct from a typical component of a grant. For example, researchers who wish to undertake a survey or questionnaire as part of their proposed project need not refer to the Guidelines; however, researchers wishing to create a clean, structured data set to be used by multiple parties in multiple contexts should consult the guidelines to ensure that their expenses are eligible.

The guidelines apply to Insight Grants (up to $100,000 in funding for tools for research and related activities) and Partnership Grants (up to $500,000 in funding for tools for research and related activities) only. Research should be an integral component of the development and/or use of the tool. Stand-alone tools are eligible only in Partnership Grants applications, and only in cases where knowledge mobilization will be the primary purpose of the tool’s use.

Applicants must provide their tools expenses in the “Other” category in the budget page, and explain the need for expenditures in the Justification section.

Committee members are asked to consider the following in their evaluation of tools funding requests:

  • Overall: The purpose/use of the tools should be directly linked to the objectives of the funding opportunity.
  • Challenge criteria: Evaluate the tool using the “appropriateness of the methods/approach” subcriterion under Challenge.
  • Feasibility criteria: Consider the budget request for the tool under the Feasibility criteria.

Should the committee determine that the proposed activities relating to tools cannot be carried out within the stated budget limit, the committee should fail the application on the feasibility criterion.

VII. Reviewing Budget Proposals and Determining Grant Size: Grant Applications Only

1. Grants Funding Budgets and Process

During the adjudication committee meetings for grant funding opportunities, committees not only determine which proposals merit funding support, but also review the budget request to determine, overall, whether the requested amount is appropriate for the project.

After the adjudication, grants are awarded based on the funding recommended by the committee and the total funds available for the funding opportunity.

This allocation process is sensitive to changes in funding requirements. It allocates funds among committees on the basis of excellence, rather than aiming to fund the largest number of applications possible.

2. Budget Review and Size of Grant

Committees will use the principle of minimum essential funding to guide their discussions of project budgets.

Adjudication committees are asked to focus on assessing the overall merit of the proposal, regardless of whether the budget size and scope are large or small. Each grant application that has received a score that is satisfactory or better for each of the three evaluation criteria (Challenge, Feasibility and Capability) can, generally speaking, potentially be recommended for funding.

SSHRC encourages a global assessment of budgets during committee meetings, rather than an in-depth discussion and review of specific budget items. Committees may consider failing a project on the Feasibility criterion if they deem that 30 per cent or more of the overall budget request is insufficiently justified and/or not appropriate to the proposed objectives or outcomes of the project.

While considering the Feasibility criterion, the committee should assess whether, overall, the proposed budget is reasonable, well-justified, and appropriate for carrying out the proposed activities. Weakness in the budget should be reflected in the Feasibility scores.

Committees may recommend budget reductions where they determine that the request is inadequately justified and/or not appropriate as described above, and where they judge that savings could be achieved without jeopardizing the project objectives. Applicants are informed of the committees’ role in this regard. A consistent approach to such cases (e.g., where the other scores are well into the fundable range) should be discussed at the outset of the adjudication meeting, or during the calibration meeting.

In considering the appropriateness of the budget, committee members may take into account factors such as the type of institution with which an applicant is affiliated, since, for example, a researcher working at a more isolated institution may assign a larger part of his or her budget to travel and communications expenses than would a researcher located in a major centre.

The committee will not be asked to make any adjustments to the proposed budget of applications that are not recommended for funding.

3. Eligible and Ineligible Expenses

Generally speaking, SSHRC program staff will indicate ineligible expenses to committee members either prior to or during the adjudication committee meeting.

The Tri-Agency Financial Administration Guide outlines both eligible and ineligible costs.

Grant applicants must justify all proposed budget expenditures.

Article processing charges (APCs) for publishing in open access journals are an eligible expense. The Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications requires that any peer reviewed journal publications arising from agency-supported research be freely accessible within 12 months of publication. This can be achieved either by paying APCs for immediate open access or through self-archiving, which publishers usually allow at no cost following an embargo period. When assessing estimated APCs in application budgets, committees should consider whether the number of proposed journal publications is realistic, the targeted journals are appropriate, and the estimated costs are commensurate with the APCs of the specified journals (when known). When less expensive journals of equal quality or self-archiving are options, committees could consider recommending budget reductions. Committees are encouraged to speak to their program officer for information about the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications.

4. Multiple-Source Funding

Adjudication committee members are reminded that grant applicants may fund their overall research project or research-related activities by applying for complementary funding from more than one source for different components of the project, and that such funding is not grounds for reducing an applicant's budget.

In the case of Insight Grants and Insight Development Grants applications, the availability or anticipation of funding from another source, while considered generally beneficial, is not obligatory, and the appropriateness of other sources depends on the specific needs of the project.

Applicants must make clear in their proposals to SSHRC that there is no duplication of financial support for identical budget items. SSHRC staff is responsible for confirming any duplication of funding.

A Word of Thanks

SSHRC relies on the expertise and time provided each year by its many merit reviewers, and acknowledges the vital contribution they make towards a vibrant national and international research community.