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Guide to Including Diversity Considerations in Research Design for Doctoral and Postdoctoral Award Applicants

As outlined in the Tri-Agency Statement on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, and the Tri-Agency Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan, SSHRC is committed to promoting the integration of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) considerations in research design and practices. The agencies recognize that First Nations, Métis and Inuit are rights-holding as First Peoples of Canada, and initiatives should be developed through distinctions-based approaches, as found in the strategic plan Setting new directions to support Indigenous research and research training.

Applying EDI approaches to research design—including research questions, methods, theoretical frameworks, literature reviews, analyses, and the interpretation and dissemination of findings—reveals complexities about the lived experiences and histories of different groups and individuals. These can be relevant, and in some cases crucial, for conceptualizing research projects and developing solutions to important social challenges. Incorporating EDI approaches makes research more ethically sound, rigorous and applicable, and contributes to research excellence.

SSHRC is increasingly requiring or encouraging applicants across its funding opportunities to consider applying such approaches to their research projects’ design, when appropriate. As part of these efforts, all SSHRC doctoral and postdoctoral applicants must complete the Diversity Considerations in Research Design module, available in SSHRC’s online system, alongside the other elements of these applications.

Such initiatives complement SSHRC’s other actions in support of the Tri-Agency Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan, including those to address systemic barriers in the research ecosystem and ensure equitable and inclusive research practices.

About this guide

This guide outlines expectations and provides definitions, examples, guiding questions and resources for incorporating diversity considerations in your research design. The Diversity Considerations in Research Design module is a pilot initiative. SSHRC welcomes feedback on how this guide can be improved.

Diversity Considerations in Research Design Module—goal and expectations

The module promotes research excellence by encouraging you to reflect on how your research design can be strengthened by considering diversity and identity factors such as, but not limited to, age, disability, education, ethnicity, gender expression and gender identity, immigrant and newcomer status, Indigenous identity, language, neurodiversity, parental status/responsibility, place of origin, race, religion, sexual orientation and socio-economic status. See Appendix I for definitions.

Research design includes elements such as research questions, methods, theories and sources, analysis and interpretation, and dissemination of findings.

Recognizing diversity enables a better, fuller understanding of experiences and perspectives, and can help address the barriers and disadvantages some individuals face based on their identities and relations to power. Not integrating diversity can lead to misrepresentative or inaccurate results, misapplication of findings, and missed opportunities. Differences in diversity and identity factors can affect research findings, and the impacts of those findings. Research that integrates diversity considerations is more useful and relevant to the populations it concerns, and has greater impact.

Focusing your attention on diversity can contribute to research processes and impacts that help advance inclusion and equity. Some research projects may target such outcomes, or use an anti-oppression or social justice lens, while others may not. Incorporating diversity considerations is a starting point for EDI, one that promotes integrating EDI principles in research in a way that applies to a wide range of disciplines and research topics.   

SSHRC acknowledges that practices and norms differ across and within social sciences and humanities disciplines. When reflecting on the relevance of diversity considerations in your research project, and how to integrate them in the various elements of your research design, consult your peers and supervisors, and consider norms and principles specific to your area of research, topic and methodology.

Although diversity considerations may not, at first, seem applicable to your research, do fully consider their relevance before selecting “No.” You must provide your justification whether or not you deem diversity considerations relevant to your research.

While completing the module is mandatory for SSHRC doctoral and postdoctoral applicants, this part of your application will not be subject to merit review this year. It currently builds awareness among applicants, supervisors and institutions. Integrating it into the evaluation process, and updating this guide accordingly, is planned for next year.

How do I include diversity considerations in my research design?

Approaches

Diversity considerations such as age, disability, education, ethnicity, gender expression and gender identity, immigrant and newcomer status, Indigenous identity, language, neurodiversity, parental status/responsibility, place of origin, race, religion, sexual orientation and socio-economic status can be integrated into research design through different approaches.

Options include, but are not limited to, gender-based analysis plus (GBA+), intersectionality and antiracist approaches. These approaches are not mutually exclusive. Choose your approach based on research discipline, methodology and topic, and considering the people most impacted by the research.

Applications can also involve Indigenous research approaches and methodologies, depending on the nature of the project. Also see Methods below.

See Appendix I for definitions of terms used in this guide, and Appendix II for resources.

Examples and questions to consider

Consider the following in the various stages of research design. This list is not exhaustive and may not apply to all fields of study or research projects. If you do not at first consider these examples and questions directly applicable, reflect on how similar types of considerations may be relevant to your research.

  • Research questions

    Consider how your research questions take diversity into consideration. This could increase your study’s importance and applicability to diverse groups.

    • How will your research questions and subsequent findings apply to the needs or experiences of particular groups, from specific, intersectional or comparative perspectives?
    • Does your research involve racialized and/or underrepresented groups? Who benefits from the research findings? Have you considered which populations may experience unintended impacts (positive or negative) as a result of the planned research? Are the populations that will be most impacted by the research co-developing the research objectives?
    • Will members from the population/community of interest be invited to shape the research questions?
  • Methods

    Your sample can be strengthened by being inclusive and representative of the population across multiple diversity and identity factors, or you can focus participation on one or more groups whose experiences are underrepresented.

    If your research involves humans as participants, consider who is included. Refer to the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS 2, 2018).

    Familiarize yourself with literature on community engagement best practices and/or protocols specific to the communities involved in your research. Aspects to consider can include privacy, data ownership, control and possession for communities involved in the research, or the different forms of support required (e.g., financial, logistical, cultural, linguistic) to ensure the individuals or communities involved in the research can meaningfully participate in it.

    Applicants proposing Indigenous research, whether Indigenous or non-Indigenous themselves, commit to respectful relationships with all Indigenous Peoples and communities. All research involving Indigenous Peoples must be undertaken in accordance with Chapter 9 of the TCPS 2 (“Research Involving the First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples of Canada”). Applicants should also refer to SSHRC’s definition of Indigenous research, Indigenous Research Statement of Principles, and are expected to take into account the scholarships/fellowships-related considerations in the Guidelines for the Merit Review of Indigenous Research.

  • Theory and sources

    If you work with primary or secondary sources, consider including diverse perspectives among your works consulted and referenced. For example, are you including authors from underrepresented groups and/or who use critical theories of gender/race/disability, or Indigenous knowledge systems / decolonization research methods?

  • Analysis and interpretation

    Consider how your analysis can address specific and intersecting identities:

    • Do the findings from the literature review consider the integration of diversity to understand implications for different people? What are the gaps in knowledge? Have previous studies failed to adequately incorporate relevant diversity and identity factors, and/or not investigated their intersections?
    • Have you included a way to disaggregate your data by diversity-related variables, during both data collection and data analysis? Are you considering an intersectional data analysis?
    • If diverse groups are involved in the research, will they have an opportunity to participate in interpreting the data and reviewing research findings before the project ends?
  • Dissemination

    Consider what the most appropriate formats would be to communicate your research findings so they reach diverse communities and the communities can apply the findings to support their goals.

    • Have you taken language into consideration? This includes English and French, and any other appropriate languages, depending on the individuals or communities involved in the research and any wider audiences you are trying to reach.
    • Will your findings be available in accessible formats?

Appendix I—Definitions

These definitions have been adapted from Best Practices in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Research—A guide for applicants to New Frontiers in Research Fund competitions, and the Guide to addressing equity, diversity and inclusion considerations in Partnership Grant applications.

Diversity is defined as differences based on factors such as, but not limited to, age, disability, education, ethnicity, gender expression and gender identity, immigrant and newcomer status, Indigenous identity, language, neurodiversity, parental status/responsibility, place of origin, race, religion, sexual orientation and socio-economic status. A diversity of perspectives and lived experiences is fundamental to achieving research and training excellence.

Equity means fairness—with people of all identities being treated fairly, and ensuring that the processes for allocating resources and decision-making do not discriminate on the basis of identity. It involves challenging systemic barriers and biases, and may involve providing different levels of support to individuals so they can fully access or participate in, and benefit from, a program or research project.

Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, expressions and identities of girls, women, boys, men, and people with diverse gender identities. It influences how people perceive themselves and each other, how they act and interact, and the distribution of power and resources in society. Gender is often conceptualized as a binary (girl/woman and boy/man), but there is considerable diversity in how individuals and groups understand, experience and express it, including as genderfluid, nonbinary, transgender and Two-Spirit.

Gender-based analysis plus (GBA+) is an analytical process used to assess the potential impacts of policies, programs, services and other initiatives (such as research design) on diverse groups of women, men, and people with diverse gender identities, taking into account multiple diversity and identity factors. The “plus” in the name highlights that GBA+ goes beyond gender and includes the examination of a range of intersecting diversity and identity factors (such as age, culture, disability, education, ethnicity, immigrant and newcomer status, Indigenous identity, language, neurodiversity, parental status/responsibility, place of origin, race, religion, sexual orientation and socio-economic status). See Appendix II for resources.

Inclusion is the practice of ensuring all individuals are valued and respected for their contributions and are supported.

See SSHRC’s definition of Indigenous research. All research involving Indigenous Peoples must be undertaken in accordance with TCPS 2, and, in particular, Chapter 9: Research Involving the First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples of Canada. See Appendix II for resources.

Intersectionality is a theoretical framework that was developed by professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 in a paper for the University of Chicago Legal Forum, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” to explain how African-American women face overlapping disadvantages and discrimination related to sexism and racism. This approach or lens assists researchers to better understand and address the resulting multiple barriers and disadvantages that individuals with intersecting social identities—such as race, gender, sexuality and class—face. Using an intersectional approach to develop policies and research projects helps to better identify and address systemic barriers. See Appendix II for resources.

Appendix II—Relevant Resources

The following list of resources is not exhaustive. You may also want to consult your peers and supervisor, as well as your institution’s EDI resources.

Tri-agency resources

Gender-based analysis plus

Antiracist approaches

Indigenous research

Intersectionality

Disability research approaches

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