Management Response and Action Plan for the Evaluation of the SSHRC Storytellers Challenge

SSHRC’s annual Storytellers Challenge asks postsecondary students to show Canadians, in up to three minutes or 300 words, how SSHRC-funded research in the social sciences and humanities is impacting our lives, our world and our future for the better.

The SSHRC Communications Division identified a need to evaluate the relevance and design of the Storytellers Challenge in advance of the Challenge’s 10-year anniversary, in 2023.

The resulting evaluation report has provided key findings and valuable recommendations for SSHRC to consider as it looks to improve future editions of the competition.

We are pleased to provide our response to these recommendations, and our associated action plan.

Andrea Matyas
Director, Communications
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council

Ursula Gobel
Vice-president
Stakeholder Engagement and Advancement of Society
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council

Management Response

Recommendation 1: More robust administrative data collection and management

Management response

SSHRC management agrees with this recommendation. Proper record keeping, storage and management is important, making it possible to access and share information related to past and current competitions, and inform future competitions. While minimal administrative data related to earlier competitions has been collected, in recent years records and data have been saved using SSHRC’s internal electronic filing system. SSHRC’s Communications Division will continue to ensure important and relevant documentation, including competition data, is saved. This will help assess progress and explore measures to improve the competition.

Recommendation 2: Collect demographic information from entrants

Management response

SSHRC management agrees with this recommendation. Some demographic information on applicants (including their institution/region and language) is already collected. Improving understanding of the demographics of Storytellers Challenge participants, by gathering self-identification data, would help SSHRC monitor, analyze and inform its targeted outreach activities and potential modifications to the competition. In consultation with other SSHRC divisions collecting similar data for funding opportunities, SSHRC’s Communications Division will explore how and when a self-identification questionnaire can be incorporated into the Storytellers application process, and determine the potential data most valuable for evaluating and monitoring the equity, diversity and inclusion performance of the Storytellers Challenge.

Recommendation 3: Provide more comprehensive training and support for judges

Management response

SSHRC management agrees with this recommendation. Additional resources and reference materials, such as unconscious bias training and clarification of current evaluation criteria for Storytellers Challenge entries, would be useful for those judging submissions. SSHRC will leverage existing tools, such as the unconscious bias training module that SSHRC’s adjudication committee members must complete before reviewing applications to SSHRC funding opportunities. This training may also help reduce bias affecting certain submission types (see Recommendation 6). In addition, SSHRC will review the criteria for selecting judges, to ensure judges are communications experts, and recruit judges for terms of multiple years. Ensuring such continuity from year to year would enable more experienced judges to offer mentoring or support to newer judges.

Recommendation 4: Provide feedback to all entrants

Management response

SSHRC management partially agrees with this recommendation. Providing individual feedback for all entrants (up to 250 per Storytellers Challenge) would add significantly to the volume of internal administration required, as well as increase the workload of the volunteer judges. Feedback is not provided for all SSHRC competitions (e.g., Impact Awards, Canada Graduate Scholarships). In the short term, a process could be put in place to inform ineligible entrants that their submission was screened out. In the medium term, SSHRC will explore the feasibility of options such as providing copies of the judges’ scoring sheets and notes to entrants.

Recommendation 5: Investigate reasons SSHRC-funded institutions do not participate

Management response

SSHRC management agrees with this recommendation. By gaining a better understanding of the reasons some institutions have historically not participated, SSHRC could improve its targeted outreach. SSHRC commits to reaching out to newly eligible institutions, which may not yet be aware of the Storytellers Challenge, and to continuing to encourage submissions.

Recommendation 6: Consider offering separate prizes for submissions using different media formats

Management response

SSHRC management partially agrees with this recommendation. Recent years have seen an imbalance among the types of formats submitted (video, text, audio and infographic). For example, videos make up the majority of Top 25 finalists’ submissions. Implementing this recommendation, however, to create two or more prize streams, would have significant impacts on the Storytellers competition structure, administrative processes, evaluation criteria, and judging process. Over the long term, SSHRC will consult communications experts outside of the agency, and perform a rigorous review of all aspects of the competition process, to identify potential changes for consideration, and timelines for when these could be implemented, to encourage submissions in different formats.

Management Action Plan

Recommendation Agree/ disagree Proposed action Responsibility Target date for completing proposed action
1. More robust administrative data collection and management Agree 1.1 Continue collecting and storing competition data. Director, Communications Starting with the November 2022 Storytellers Challenge and ongoing
2. Collect demographic information from entrants Agree 2.1 Conduct consultations with other SSHRC divisions to seek insights and best practices in collecting data. Director, Communications November 2023
2.2 Implement collection of data. September 2024
2.3 Analyze data to help inform future changes for targeted outreach. June 2025
3. Provide more comprehensive training and support for judges Agree 3.1 Add unconscious bias training to judges’ reference materials. Director, Communications November 2023
3.2 Review existing reference materials and documentation (evaluation criteria) and further clarify these. November 2023
3.3 Create a new evaluation spreadsheet / checklist with space for scores and comments. November 2023
4. Provide feedback to all entrants Partially agree 4.1 Send a generic email to all ineligible entrants after screening. Director, Communications February 2023
4.2 Explore option of sharing judges’ evaluations (scores and notes) with entrants. April 2024
5. Investigate reasons SSHRC-funded institutions do not participate Agree 5.1 Reach out to institutions who have never participated. Director, Communications December 2023
5.2 Reach out to newly eligible institutions. December 2023
5.3 Conduct targeted outreach to francophone institutions. December 2023
6. Consider offering separate prizes for submissions using different media formats Partially agree 6.1 Conduct consultations with SSHRC staff, previous judges, and communications experts at institutions and other organizations offering similar competitions, to establish options for consideration. Director, Communications June 2024
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