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Evaluation of the Canada Excellence Research Chairs Program and the Canada 150 Research Chairs Program: Management Response and Action Plan

Context

The Canada Excellence Research Chairs (CERC) Program supports Canadian universities with an award of $10 million over seven years to attract world-class researchers in areas of strategic research importance to Canada. These chairholders build core teams at their host institutions, for the purpose of developing and expanding research programs in their respective areas of study. The program was launched in 2008.

The Canada 150 Research Chairs (C150) Program aimed to attract top-tier, internationally based scholars and researchers to Canada (including Canadian expatriates), in celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary. Open to researchers of all disciplines and career stages, the program offered a one-time investment to Canadian institutions of either $350,000 or $1 million per year for seven years, with the ultimate goal of furthering Canada’s reputation as a global centre of research excellence. The program was launched in 2017, Canada’s sesquicentennial.

The CERC and C150 programs are tri-agency initiatives of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Both programs are administered by the Tri-agency Institutional Programs Secretariat (TIPS), which is housed within SSHRC. The Canada Foundation for Innovation provides additional support for research infrastructure.

The evaluation of the CERC and C150 programs used multiple lines of evidence in order to examine:

  1. the relevance of each program;
  2. their respective contributions to attracting world-class researchers to Canada; and
  3. aspects of their design, delivery and efficiency.

In addition, the evaluation provides an assessment of the extent to which the CERC program has contributed to building and sustaining research capacity in Canada within the strategic areas identified by the federal government. Data were collected, analyzed and synthesized across several lines of evidence, including a literature and document review, bibliometric analysis, key informant interviews, and case studies of a sample of CERC core teams. The latter included interviews with respective chairholders, current and former faculty and highly qualified personnel, and institutional representatives.

Comments from management

The evaluation confirms that the CERC and C150 programs are unique in their ability to attract world-class international researchers to Canada. Management is pleased to see that the research community supports the continued investment in scientific research, and understands the importance of supporting excellence, including through funding opportunities such as the CERC and C150 programs. Nevertheless, management considers that the degree to which the CERC program truly leads to the creation of sustainable research capacity will need to be assessed, including at the time of the next evaluation, when more time will have elapsed since the end of the Competition 1 CERC terms. It should also be noted that there are certain limits to the actions that management can propose regarding the C150 program, since it is a one-time funding opportunity with no further competitions planned.

Equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) have historically posed a challenge across some tri-agency programs. However, program management is encouraged that the evaluation report makes note of some improvements in the participation of underrepresented groups, due to program design changes that were implemented for the C150 competition and the third CERC competition. Examples of such changes include introducing EDI requirements among the selection criteria and institutional recruitment process; requiring EDI plans; and having an EDI expert on peer review panels.

The feedback relating to CERC sustainability plans is of particular importance to the program and institutions going forward, given the potential for continued discovery and advancement of research and science. It is encouraging that many of the chairholders and their core teams plan to remain within the Canadian academic and research sector once the chair terms have ended, and will continue to develop their skills and contribute further to the research programs established through support from the CERC and C150 programs.

The following list provides brief descriptions of the recommendations in the evaluation report, and indicates to which program each recommendation applies:

  1. Continue funding the CERC program to support the overall objectives of the federal government and the goals of remaining globally competitive by attracting world-class researchers to Canada.
  2. Develop strategies to promote the programs and better communicate the research objectives, outputs and successes.
  3. Ensure that CERC and institutional sustainability plans are concrete and transparent.
  4. Provide CERC chairholders and institutions with information about term extensions, where possible, and guide them through the process.
  5. Streamline the chairholder recruitment and review process for future CERC competitions.
  6. Support CERC and C150 chairholders, and their core teams, through additional training and by sharing best practices on EDI and unconscious biases.
  7. Improve communications (CERC and C150) around how and why EDI criteria and guidelines should be applied in various contexts, and the relative weight these should be assigned. The contexts include recruitment, application and selection processes; institutional recruitment committees; review panels; etc.
  8. Ensure institutional and chairholder (CERC and C150) reporting objectives are clear. Program administrators should review reports as soon as possible and provide timely feedback.

The recommendations made in the evaluation report are useful and will help guide how key elements of each program are managed going forward, including reporting, communications, EDI, monitoring, compliance and other elements. In addition, the feedback received through the evaluation will guide future design enhancements to the CERC program, and new competitions. As mentioned previously, management is limited in its response and actions vis-à-vis the C150 program, as it was a one-time funding opportunity with no further competitions planned.

We are pleased to present the attached action plan, which provides specific information on the management response to the recommendations contained in the evaluation report.

Valérie Laflamme, PhD
Associate vice-president
Tri-agency Institutional Programs Secretariat
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council

Dominique Bérubé, PhD
Vice-president
Research
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council




Management Action Plan

Recommendation Management response

Agree / Disagree
Proposed action Responsibility Priority and target date for completing proposed action
Recommendation 1 (CERC):

Continue funding the CERC program conditional on future evidence of sustainability, and contingent on the government maintaining its priority to remain globally competitive by attracting world-class researchers to Canada in order to build capacity in areas of strategic importance to our social and economic landscape.

Agree The following actions will be taken:
  • Engage with the program’s governance structure, more specifically the Steering Committee, and stakeholders in order to ensure that future CERC competitions respond to the strategic priorities of the government and align with areas of strategic importance to Canada.
Associate Vice-President, TIPS Priority: Medium
Timeline: Ongoing
  • Analyze and report on the sustainability plans of each CERC awarded and their respective research programs to date.
Director, Institutional Programs, TIPS Priority: Medium
Timeline: April 2021
Recommendation 2 (CERC / C150):

Develop strategies to further promote the CERC program as a whole and encourage institutions to enhance their knowledge dissemination and external communication strategies related to CERC teams.

Partially agree Management acknowledges the importance of promoting more the results of the CERC-funded research and the chairholders themselves, to ensure knowledge dissemination beyond academia. However, necessity to promote the program itself more is not demonstrable at this time, given the current cycle of the program.

The following action will be taken:

  • Develop a communications plan that promotes the CERC / C150 programs and assists institutions in reaching a wider audience. The plan should focus on increasing the visibility of the CERC / C150 chairholders and the impacts of the research conducted.
Director, Communications, SSHRC; and
Director, Institutional Programs, TIPS
Priority: Medium
Timeline: October 2020
Recommendation 3 (CERC):

Ensure that all CERC institutional commitments and sustainability plans are concrete, transparent, and developed as early as possible (beginning at the application stage) so as to ensure that chairholder and institutional commitments are fulfilled. This should include sharing or creating the opportunities to share promising practices for CERC sustainability among host institutions and CERCs (e.g., forums) and requiring concrete commitments by institutions with regular follow-ups to ensure commitments are honoured.

Partially agree Management acknowledges the importance of the sustainability plans, while understanding that the enforcement suggested in the recommendation goes beyond the mandate of the program. As stated in the terms and conditions of the CERC program, management will ensure that “the ability of the university to sustain the research advantage created by the proposed Chair after the seven-year term of the Chair expires” is clearly described and evaluated by both program staff and peer review at the proposal stage, as well as at the midterm evaluation.

The following actions will be taken:

  • Develop a formal process to review sustainability plans on an annual basis, and provide feedback to chairholders and institutions.
Director, Institutional Programs, TIPS Priority: High
Timeline: Launch of CERC Competition 4 (TBC)
  • Develop a stakeholder engagement plan that provides key dates, events and deliverables; and requires concrete commitments by institutions and regular follow-ups across key organizations/people (e.g., TIPS, the tri-agencies, other federal departments/agencies, institutions, chairholders, etc.)
Director, Institutional Programs, TIPS Priority: Medium
Timeline: March 2021
  • For future competitions, review the requirements around sustainability plans.
Director, Institutional Programs, TIPS Priority: High
Timeline: Launch of CERC Competition 4 (TBC)
Recommendation 4 (CERC):

Provide more clarity and transparency to institutions and chairholders at the outset and throughout the term of the award about extension possibilities.

Agree The following action will be taken:
  • Update the chairs administration guide, and include additional information about how to request a no cost extension and what the requirements are to justify such a request.
Director, Institutional Programs, TIPS Priority: High
Timeline: September 2020
Recommendation 5 (CERC):

Further streamline the chairholder recruitment and review process with a view to balance the need to thoroughly vet nominees and their research programs with the need to remain competitive and avoid “losing good candidates.”

Agree The following actions will be taken:
  • Future CERC competitions will follow a streamlined competition, recruitment and review process.
Director, Institutional Programs, TIPS Priority: High
Timeline:
Launch of CERC Competition 4 (TBC)
  • The program’s Management Committee will review the process for future competitions. Program management will consult with the community, such as by consulting senior institutional representatives, to integrate recommendations from the evaluation, as well as feedback, for future competition design.
Director, Institutional Programs, TIPS Priority: High
Timeline: Launch of CERC Competition 4 (TBC)
Recommendation 6 (CERC / C150):

Continue to encourage proactive consideration of EDI in recruitment and selection processes for CERC chairholders and core team members through mechanisms such as additional training on EDI best practices and unconscious biases.

Agree The following actions will be taken:
  • Members at all peer review stages, including the application phase and midterm progress reporting phase, as well as program staff, will be required to complete an unconscious bias training module.
Director, Institutional Programs, TIPS Priority: High
Timeline: June 2020
  • Tools, resources and best practices will be shared with chairholders, institutions, reviewers and core team members, to develop and monitor progress on EDI plans, strategies and recruitment.
Director, Institutional Programs, TIPS Priority: Medium
Timeline: Ongoing
Recommendation 7 (CERC / C150):

Improve communication of EDI requirements to provide greater clarity on how and why EDI should be considered in the recruitment, application, and selection processes for the nominees, the institutional recruitment committees and the review panels. Additional tools and resources should also be provided to help institutions and chairholders further develop their understanding of the systemic barriers that impact individuals from underrepresented groups within the research ecosystem.

Agree The following actions will be taken:
  • Continue to include the EDI program design elements implemented in the third CERC competition as part of the program design.
Director, Institutional Programs, TIPS Priority: Medium
Timeline: Ongoing
  • Building on new EDI requirements implemented in the third CERC competition, include robust EDI requirements as an evaluated component of the application review process for future CERC competitions.
Director, Institutional Programs, TIPS Priority: Medium
Timeline: Ongoing
  • Share aggregated EDI data with institutions to help them monitor progress related to the CERC awards and core teams.
Director, Institutional Programs, TIPS; and
Director, Policy, Performance and Equity and Diversity, TIPS
Priority: Medium
Timeline: Annually and ongoing
  • Provide chairholders and institutions with additional tools and resources to better understand and address systematic barriers that impact individuals from underrepresented groups.
Director, Institutional Programs, TIPS; and Director, Policy, Performance and Equity and Diversity, TIPS Priority: Medium
Timeline: Annually and ongoing
Recommendation 8 (CERC / C150):

Revise the institutional and recipient reporting strategy, as well as the program protocol for reviewing the collected information through the following:

(1) Clearly define key constructs on the reporting template itself to ensure a common understanding among respondents (e.g., partner vs. collaborator, core team member, etc.);

(1) Agree The following actions will be taken:

With respect to (1):

  • Develop a revised annual reporting template (2020-21 reporting cycle) for the CERC and C150 programs that makes definitions and constructs clear. The template will provide consistent and reliable data to respondents and program administration.
Director, Institutional Programs, TIPS Priority: High
Timeline: April 2021
  • Develop a revised midterm reporting template for the CERC program that makes definitions and constructs clear. The template will provide consistent and reliable data to respondents and program administration.
Director, Institutional Programs, TIPS Priority: Medium
Timeline: April 2021

(2) Clearly identify portions of the annual reports that should be reviewed promptly by TIPS staff (e.g., issues, obstacles, suggestions for improvement) to ensure timely follow-ups and check-ins as needed.

(2) Agree

With respect to (2):

  • Develop a process that enables TIPS to provide timely feedback on annual and midterm CERC / C150 reports to institutions and chairholders, in order to ensure issues, obstacles, etc. identified by the chairholder and/or institution are being address and resolved.
Director, Institutional Programs, TIPS Priority: Medium
Timeline: April 2021