Future Challenge Areas and Subquestions

Here are the six future challenge areas selected by SSHRC through the Imagining Canada’s Future initiative. Possible subquestions under each challenge area may include, but are not limited to, the ideas listed.

  1. What new ways of learning, particularly in higher education, will Canadians need in order to thrive in an evolving society and labour market?
  2. What effects will the quest for energy and natural resources have on our society and our position on the world stage?
  3. How are the experiences and aspirations of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada essential to building a successful shared future?
  4. What might the implications of global peak population be for Canada?
  5. How can emerging technologies be leveraged to benefit Canadians?
  6. What knowledge will Canada need in order to thrive in an interconnected, evolving global landscape?

1. What new ways of learning, particularly in higher education, will Canadians need to thrive in an evolving society and labour market?

Canada, like many other countries, is at a tipping point in the way its education system, especially higher education, is conceptualized, structured and delivered in light of the knowledge and skills required for the 21st century. Debates are emerging in the research community and other sectors regarding the best way to deliver that learning.


  1. What knowledge, skills and delivery methods are required in order for the public education system to create an innovative, resilient and culturally rich society?
  2. What aspirations and expectations will a diverse and global citizenry bring to work environments, jobs and labour markets of the future?
  3. What conditions are needed for new models of research—particularly, co‑creation of knowledge with the public, private and/or not‑for‑profit sectors—to flourish?
  4. What roles will emerging and/or disruptive information and communication technologies play in learning for individuals, institutions and society?
  5. What role should individuals, institutions and governments play in promoting and supporting the life cycle of knowledge, including creation, accessibility, retention and mobilization, across sectors, both domestically and internationally?
  6. How can we harness Canada’s strength and innovation in the arts, digital media and cultural industries to build social, economic and cultural well‑being?

2. What effects will the quest for energy and natural resources have on our society and our position on the world stage?

The ability to collectively and sustainably access and benefit from natural resources and energy in the face of new technologies and related control, ownership, and governance issues is central to our future.

Canadians have always been well aware of the rich resources of their country, and have debated how best to manage those resources. However, the exploitation of Canada’s natural resources, along with Canadian interest in natural resources and energy abroad, is becoming an even more important issue.

Foreign interest in Canada’s resources is growing. The demands on natural resources are increasing. And our ability to exploit these resources with new technologies is in the process of being transformed.


  1. What effects might the global quest for valuable natural resources have on Canada’s rural and remote, resource‑based communities, such as in the North and the Arctic?
  2. What could be the cultural, social, economic and environmental impacts of disruptive technologies for accessing and developing natural resources (e.g., fracking, deep‑sea drilling, drones, genetic modification)?
  3. How can Canadian natural resources be developed in such a way as to respect Aboriginal rights and benefit First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities?
  4. What effects might the development of Canadian energy and natural resources have on governance and regulatory systems, decision‑making, and Canada’s sovereignty, particularly in the Arctic?
  5. What conflict and security issues might emerge as a result of changing global pressures surrounding energy, natural and rare resources?
  6. What will the outcomes be of global pressures on accessibility and availability of food, water and energy?

3. How are the experiences and aspirations of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada essential to building a successful shared future?

has made various, proactive investments in Aboriginal research over the years, stressing an approach by, for and with First Nations,Métis and Inuit peoples.

This knowledge can be more effectively mobilized to help Canadians understand the current historical, cultural, social and economic situation in which we find ourselves, and to inform the creation of a vibrant, shared future.


  1. What are the implications of historical and modern treaties?
  2. What barriers exist to increased consciousness about traditional and contemporary Indigenous values, cultures, leadership, and knowledge systems?
  3. How can we build enhanced capacity by, with and for Aboriginal communities to engage in and benefit from research?
  4. What role could digital technologies and creative arts play in teaching and preserving diverse First Nations, Métis and Inuit heritage, memory and identity?
  5. How might the richness of endangered languages and cultures of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples contribute to global human heritage?
  6. What is needed to bridge the growing young Aboriginal population’s aspirations and potential to evolving knowledge and labour market needs?

4. What might the implications of global peak population be for Canada?

In the 1980s, global population was growing exponentially, while Canada’s population, like that of many Western nations, was already peaking. United Nations estimates issued in 2010 indicated that several countries around the world now have peaking populations, and that global population may peak, or perhaps even begin to decline, by mid‑century.

Global peak population is rekindling debates about population distribution, youth and aging, immigration, migration, urban versus rural lifestyles, societal values and “carrying capacity of the earth” with respect to resources, and climate change implications.

In this context, what might Canada’s population look like by 2030? What are the potential social, cultural, economic and environmental implications?


  1. What do we need to understand in order to effectively nurture the next generations?
  2. What might Canadian families look like in five, 10, and 20 years, and how might they measure their well‑being?
  3. Life cycle issues are challenging society, in Canada and around the world. What are the future implications of state regulation from cradle to grave?
  4. What effect will global migration have on our cities of the future?
  5. How could changing demographics and migration affect rural and remote communities—such as in the North, including the Arctic?
  6. What are the potential impacts of global peak population with respect to Canada’s energy and resource consumption and climate change?

5. How can emerging technologies be leveraged to benefit Canadians?

As indicated in the 2010 report, Alternative Wor(l)ds: the Humanities in 2010, the digital age is now clearly upon us. New digital and other technologies, such as 3D printing and robotics, are developing at breakneck speed. In order to benefit from, integrate and adapt to these technologies effectively, we need to understand their ethical, environmental, economic, legal and social implications.

Canada—and the world—needs social scientists and humanities scholars to focus on these questions. By understanding how the latest tools can be used to both answer and ask questions, we as a society can stay ahead of the curve, mitigate risks and take advantage of emerging opportunities


  1. What is needed in order to maximize equitable access to information and communication technologies, foster digital literacy, and mitigate the digital divide in Canada and the world?
  2. In what ways might emerging technologies affect the behavior of citizens in all aspects of their lives, institutions and governments?
  3. Why does society need to understand the risks, opportunities and related ethical questions raised by the adoption of emergent and disruptive technologies (e.g., 3D printing, robotics, nanotechnology, fracking, drones)?
  4. How can citizens, organizations and governments balance competing needs of security and privacy in an increasingly “open” society?
  5. How might Canadians be affected by new developments in “big data,” data analytics and information management?
  6. How might space exploration be important for the future of Canadian research, education, and inspiration?

6. What knowledge will Canada need to thrive in an interconnected, evolving global landscape?

From an economic, social and cultural standpoint, the global landscape has shifted considerably. We live in a world where Brazil, Russia, India and China have clearly emerged ‑ from an economic, political and cultural standpoint ‑ and where other parts of the world, such as the CIVETS (Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa) and sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing skyrocketing economic growth rates.

Expatriate communities from throughout these regions are dispersed across Canada. In order for Canada to thrive in the 21st century, we require deep understanding of our own population, including about communities’ integration within Canadian society, and of the languages, cultures, histories, economic impacts, and integration of our own and global populations.


  1. How might global events play out in local spaces, and how might they affect Canada’s position in a rapidly evolving and shifting world?
  2. How might changes in global trade patterns and international relations affect Canada’s position?
  3. How might increased understanding about interconnected dispersed communities affect Canada economically, socially and culturally?
  4. What deep, systemic knowledge of the world’s emerging regions might help Canada respond to emerging opportunities and risks?
  5. What does Canada need in order to build resilience and safeguard stability, peace, and public security in the face of global shocks such as natural disasters and emerging conflicts?
  6. How might increased understanding of Canada’s model of a diverse civil society contribute to insights and understanding in every society impacted by migration in the 21st century?