SSHRC’s Guidelines on Impact Assessment

As a federal authority as defined in the Impact Assessment Act (IAA), SSHRC must conduct impact assessment reviews for activitiesFootnote * on federal lands or lands outside of Canada to which it provides financial assistance, to determine whether the proposed activities will have an adverse effect on the environment and/or social, economic and cultural factors.

To determine whether any potentially funded research could have an adverse effect, SSHRC requires applicants to self-identify on grant applications, through screening questions, and complete the Impact Assessment Form (Appendix A) module of the application form in cases where their proposed research activities constitute a project that takes place on federal lands (as described in Section 2 of the IAA) or outside of Canada.

Following the application deadline, SSHRC will screen applications to determine whether the activities reported through the Impact Assessment Form (Appendix A) are subject to the IAA. See Administrative matters for more information.


A “project” is a physical activity in relation to a physical work that is carried out on federal lands or outside Canada (Section 81, IAA). Examples of projects include the construction, expansion, operation, decommissioning or abandonment of smaller structures such as observation blinds, boardwalks, field camps, and small wind or wave turbines.

A “physical activity” is any activity that involves some degree of physical effort carried out in relation to a physical work.

A “physical work” is generally accepted as being constructed by humans and having a defined area and a fixed locality.

Designated projects” are one or more physical activities that are carried out anywhere in Canada, including all federal lands, and are listed in the Physical Activities Regulations; they include the construction, expansion, operation, decommissioning or abandonment of large-scale structures such as mines, highways, bridges, airports and nuclear facilities.

Frequently asked questions

  1. What kind of projects or activities are subject to the IAA?

    The IAA generally applies to permanent installations that could affect the habitat or migration of animals and projects that would have a permanent impact on the land or environment. It is the same legislation that governs pipelines and airports.

    Projects subject to the IAA are generally larger scale, have a direct impact on the environment, and involve physical activities in relation to physical works. This includes the construction, operation, decommissioning and/or abandonment of buildings, mines and electrical generating facilities.

  2. How do I know if this applies to me?

    Generally, if your research project is not a “project” (i.e., a physical activity in relation to a physical work) or a “designated project,” as defined in the IAA, and would have minimal impact on the environment, no action is required. Examples of common research activities that are not subject to the IAA include interviews conducted outdoors, outdoor plays or productions in urban/developed areas without permanent installations, and travelling outside of Canada to conduct archival research or interviews.

    If your research project involves physical work or permanent alterations to the land or environment, such as digging a well, archeological excavations, or building instrumentation on the land, you must report the activities to SSHRC through the Impact Assessment Form (Appendix A).

    If you have questions or need clarification, contact the relevant program’s staff for guidance.

  3. What do I need to do if my research project may be subject to the IAA?

    As an applicant, if your research project will be subject to the IAA, you must self-identify on grant applications through the screening questions and the Impact Assessment Form (Appendix A).

    SSHRC will review the applications with completed Appendix A forms and follow up if further action is required. If your research requires posting to the Canadian Impact Assessment Registry or will require a formal impact assessment, SSHRC will work with you to fulfil the requirements.

Administrative matters

If, after screening your application, SSHRC determines there could be one or more adverse environmental effects resulting from your project, there are two possible outcomes:

  1. In cases where the proposed activities constitute a “project,” SSHRC will conduct its own impact assessment to determine whether they are likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, taking into account the effects as described in Section 2, IAA. Where applicable, the impact assessment conducted by SSHRC will be posted on the Canadian Impact Assessment Registry.
  2. In cases where the proposed activities constitute a “designated project,” SSHRC will verify that the applicant has submitted an Impact Statement to the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada for review, in accordance with the Impact Assessment Process Overview.

    In cases where the proposed activities in a SSHRC grant application depend on a “project” or “designated project” funded by another organization, SSHRC may make the award conditional on the completion of the impact assessment review of the related project or designated project.

In any of the above situations, funds for successful SSHRC applications will be released by SSHRC only if it is established that the project or designated project will not likely result in significant adverse environmental effects. Partial funding may be released, at SSHRC’s discretion, for related research activities not requiring an impact assessment review.

In addition to the impact assessment described above, SSHRC requires that grant recipients themselves comply with all applicable legislation and regulations related to the environment in the conduct of their research. This includes getting licenses for research in the field, etc. (see Tri-Agency Framework: Responsible Conduct of Research (2016), Section 2.4).

During the course of their award, grant recipients must promptly advise SSHRC if the nature of the research activities changes substantially, and/or if the location where the research will be conducted changes, such that the Act might be applicable.

SSHRC staff will provide guidance and information to applicants and institutions as needed.

Additional resources

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