Guidelines for the Merit Review of Aboriginal Research

Purpose

SSHRC has developed these guidelines to ensure that the merit review of Aboriginal research upholds SSHRC’s principles for merit review. These guidelines are intended to supplement the SSHRC Manual for Adjudication Committee Members, but might also be used by applicants, external reviewers and the postsecondary institutions and partnering organizations that support Aboriginal research.

Context

Aboriginal research is defined under the Definitions of Terms on SSHRC’s website.

Since the early 2000s, SSHRC has promoted research by and with Aboriginal Peoples, having recognized its potential to increase knowledge and understanding about human thought and behaviour, past and present, and to help create a better future.

The Guidelines for the Merit Review of Aboriginal Research further ensure that Aboriginal research incorporating Aboriginal 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 the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS2), and, in particular, Chapter 9: Research Involving the First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples of Canada.

These guidelines are relevant for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal researchers who conduct Aboriginal research.

Merit Review Measures in Place

For applications related to Aboriginal research, SSHRC ensures that:

  • external assessors, either Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, have experience and expertise in Aboriginal research; and
  • when the volume of applications warrants it, adjudication committees are in part or entirely composed of members having community research experience and expertise in Aboriginal research.

SSHRC may solicit external assessments from experts in fields of inquiry relevant to the applications, to aid the adjudication committee in making its decisions.

Key Concepts for the Merit Review of Aboriginal Research

Indigenous or traditional knowledge, according to Chapter 9 of the TCPS2, “is usually described by Aboriginal Peoples as holistic, involving body, mind, feelings and spirit” (p.108). Indigenous knowledge is rarely acquired through written documents, but, rather, a worldview adopted through living, listening and learning in the ancestral languages and within the contexts of living on the land. Engagement with elders and other knowledge holders is acknowledged as valued and vital to knowledge transmission within the context of Aboriginal Peoples living in place. Both Aboriginal knowledge content and processes of knowledge transmission are, thus, embedded in the performance of living, including storytelling, ceremonies, living on the land, the use of natural resources and medicine plants, arts and crafts, singing and dancing, as well as engagement with the more than human world.

Reciprocity is considered an important value in Aboriginal ways of knowing, in that it emphasizes the mutuality of knowledge giving and receiving. In the context of research, and, more specifically, SSHRC’s evaluation criteria, the emphasis on a co-creation model should result in reciprocity in the form of partnerships and collaborative practices, which can include: identification of research objectives and methods; conduct of the research; ethical research protocols; data analysis and presentation; and transmission of knowledge. It also recognizes that access and benefits are, thus, integrally connected.

Community, in the context of Aboriginal research, can refer to places or land-based communities, as well as thematic communities and communities of practice. Furthermore, community-based, community-initiated and community-driven research can involve varying degrees of community engagement; the research outputs will be negotiated taking into account the interests of relevant Aboriginal community members.

Respect, relevance and contributions are important considerations in the merit review of Aboriginal research. Applications should demonstrate that the proposed research identifies and respects relevant community research protocols and current goals, as well as the contributions to and from the community that are likely to emerge or are in place. A respectful research relationship necessitates a deep level of collaboration and ethical engagement. This may include engaging with existing, distinctive research processes and protocols for conducting ethical research reviews in the community; learning within language and/or traditional knowledge systems; collaboratively rebuilding or revitalizing processes that have been displaced or replaced; and/or codeveloping new processes, based on the community’s expressed interests. Finally, this level of collaboration and engagement may also require additional, targeted consultative or review processes.

The following points are intended to assist committee members when reviewing Aboriginal research proposals.

Committee members evaluating research grant applications should use the following list of considerations in relation to the specific evaluation criteria used in assessing grant proposals (i.e., Challenge, Feasibility and Capability).

Committee members evaluating applications for fellowships and scholarships should use the following list of considerations in their review of proposed programs of study or programs of work, as well as in their general assessment of a candidate’s academic capability. While some of these considerations relate more strongly to aspects of SSHRC’s grants programming, they also offer relevant guidance for the review of proposals for doctoral and postdoctoral support.

1. Challenge—The aim and importance of the endeavour:
  • Given the emphasis placed on lived experience, both written and oral literature are appropriate forms of knowledge for consideration. Examples of oral literature can include interviews or personal encounters, or traditional teaching with elders.
  • Theoretical framework and methodology may be combined. For example, in storytelling, the stories represent in some instances both theory and method, a way of explaining phenomena or illustrating how behaviour or actions contribute to living in a good way.
  • Community involvement and the co-creation of knowledge, as appropriate, are considered essential, especially in data interpretation. In this context, the co-creation of knowledge could include interpretative approaches that are jointly developed, reviewed and confirmed by and with community members or their community-delegated organization.
  • Where appropriate, priority should be given to Aboriginal students and postdoctoral researchers when training opportunities are offered.

2. Feasibility—The plan to achieve excellence:

  • The research should address the needs of each partner, if applicable, and demonstrate how the research meets these identified needs.
  • The application should demonstrate how outputs will be made available to, and potentially used by, Aboriginal Peoples and other stakeholders, with community benefits configured into the research outputs. Examples of outreach may include: websites, videos, presentations, artistic or community exhibits, performances, or festivals.
  • The availability and nature of organizational or administrative infrastructure varies from community to community. This aspect should be considered in the structuring of the research in ways that acknowledge and maximize the contributions of a community partner organization.
  • Where required by the funding opportunity, the leveraging of cash and/or in-kind support from host institutions and partners can include social capital, an asset that may emphasize social and familial relationships and networks and may affect the cost of research. Furthermore, linguistic capital, the ability to engage in the community with the ancestral language(s) of the community and a national language of Canada, can also be considered as a contribution.
  • Expectations about the management and governance of the coproduction and outputs of knowledge and related support, during and beyond the award, should be outlined.

3. Capability—The expertise to succeed:

  • The career and academic stages, as well as the rates of research and publication contributions, of applicants and team members need to be reviewed with respect to the following considerations:
    • Aboriginal scholars may have had to start their academic path later in life, or have had interruptions.
    • For some scholars, there are expectations that they significantly contribute to and engage with their home community.
    • Applicants’ accountability to their postsecondary community is also important, as demonstrated by Aboriginal scholars providing support that could include providing student support, teacher training, committee work, and cultural sensitivity training to non-Aboriginal scholars; and contributing to the incorporation of Aboriginal knowledge systems, language, culture and experiences into their postsecondary institutions, including through the creation of associated programs.
    • In the Special Circumstances section, reviewers should take into account the degree of difficulty in an applicant’s career as a useful measure of merit, especially where they have succeeded in overcoming career obstacles.
    • The relevant experience of Aboriginal scholars should take into account the life/knowledge journey of individuals.
  • Collaborators who are considered to have a strong role and community connection should be regarded favourably in the review of Aboriginal research. In particular, elders and community-based partners need to be recognized and respected in terms of their contribution of knowledge assets.