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SSHRC Manual for Merit Review Committee Members

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SSHRC relies on the expertise and time its many merit reviewers provide each year, and acknowledges the vital contributions they make toward a vibrant national and international research community.

Purpose of the manual

This manual is for merit review committee members. It summarizes SSHRC’s policies and procedures for the merit review of applications for SSHRC funding to guide committee members in applying them uniformly and consistently.

It applies to SSHRC grant, scholarship and fellowship funding opportunities, but not to the programs administered by the Tri-agency Institutional Programs Secretariat or Vanier-Banting Secretariat.

SSHRC’s merit review principles

Committee work is based on the ideals of co operation and mutual respect for diverse viewpoints across sectors of society.

SSHRC’s merit review process follows these principles:

  • Transparency: SSHRC publishes the criteria for assessing proposals, as well as details of the review process, defining how the assessment process will operate and be managed, before applicants submit proposals.
  • Due diligence and appropriateness: SSHRC uses a merit review process that is appropriate to the type of proposed research and in proportion with the investment and complexity of the work.
  • Managing interests: SSHRC asks all participants to declare interests when carrying out review activities, so that any conflicts can be identified and managed.
  • Confidentiality: SSHRC treats proposals in confidence, and ask those who advise us to do the same.
  • Expert assessment: SSHRC uses appropriate expert reviewers to assess the individual merit of all proposals against the published criteria.
  • Separation of duties: SSHRC separates the merit review of proposals from funding decisions. Merit review committees assess the merit of applications and SSHRC is responsible for funding decisions.
  • No parallel assessment: SSHRC avoids assessing the merit of the same proposal more than once.

Principles and guidelines for merit reviewers

The principles set out in the following sections apply to all merit reviewers.

Conflict of interest and confidentiality

The Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality policy applies to SSHRC, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) or the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), which this manual refers to collectively as the agencies. This policy states that individuals under investigation for a breach of agency policy must temporarily withdraw from participating in the agencies’ merit review processes. Individuals under investigation must immediately inform SSHRC staff responsible for the competition that they are temporarily unavailable, although they do not need to reveal the reason for their withdrawal. Individuals must also decline further merit review invitations from any of the agencies. Individuals can continue or begin participating in merit review if, after completion of the investigation, the agency president determines they are eligible to participate.

Managing conflicts of interest

SSHRC recognizes that real, perceived or potential conflicts of interest can and do arise in the merit review of grant, scholarship and fellowship applications. These situations must be managed openly and transparently to maintain the research community’s confidence and trust, and to ensure accountability.

While SSHRC cannot anticipate all potential conflicts of interest, SSHRC staff makes every effort to avoid any conflicts before assigning applications to reviewers.

Before reviewers access their assigned applications, they must read and agree to the Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality Agreement for Review Committee Members, External Reviewers, and Observers. Program officers advise the committee in cases when it is unclear if a conflict of interest exists or if the situation falls outside the examples listed in this agreement.

In line with the Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality policy, committee members are responsible for identifying and declaring any conflict of interest, real or perceived, related to an application, and for informing SSHRC staff of the conflict as soon as they become aware of it.

In merit review meetings or teleconferences, members in a real or perceived conflict of interest must recuse themselves (e.g., by leaving the room or disabling their audio in a virtual meeting), when the committee discusses the application in question. When the committee chair withdraws because of a conflict of interest, the committee will designate an alternate chair for its review of these applications.

Access to Information Act and Privacy Act

All information provided to SSHRC is subject to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act. These acts govern the collection, use and disclosure of information under the control of the federal government and certain federally funded organizations.

Under the Access to Information Act, applicants have access to the full text of any external assessments obtained for their proposal, if applicable, except for the assessor’s identity and any comments made about other applicants and their identities. In scholarship and fellowship opportunities, the full texts of letters of appraisal, departmental appraisals and research appraisals, if applicable, are available to the applicant, except for the names of the individuals who wrote the letters and any comments made about other applicants and their identities.

The Privacy Act protects personal information about identifiable individuals that government institutions hold, and provides individuals with a right of access to that information. When the government obtains personal information, it cannot be used without the consent of the individual to whom it relates, except for the purpose for which it was collected or for a use consistent with that purpose.

To ensure SSHRC is compliant with the Privacy Act, merit review committee members sign an agreement to:

  • protect and keep confidential the information in all applications for funding; and
  • keep all review materials secure and use them only in a manner consistent with the purpose for which they were collected—namely, to review applications and to make funding recommendations.

Members must be aware of how materials are accessed and used (e.g., opened, downloaded or saved) and of the potential consequences of working with documents in unsecure sites. Members are strongly discouraged from downloading material onto public computers. Members should ensure that review materials downloaded onto a private or public computer are deleted after use. Failure to follow this procedure can result in an inadvertent privacy breach.

Committee members should direct any questions or concerns about the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act to SSHRC’s manager, ATIP and Corporate Operations, at 343-571-9625 or ATIP-AIPRP@sshrc-crsh.gc.ca.

SSHRC applications

Information in applications is considered confidential. Committee members must handle applicant and application information securely by adhering to these requirements:

  • Use the information only for evaluating SSHRC applications. No other use is permitted.
  • Secure all electronic and hard copies of documents to maintain confidentiality.
  • Return all removable media and hardcopy documents to SSHRC staff at the conclusion of meetings.
  • Securely and permanently delete or destroy material that is no longer required, including any work saved on a computer or electronic storage device.
  • Do not disclose your ID or password for the SSHRC extranet; access to the extranet is limited to committee members and observers.

Reviewer identity

Applicants to SSHRC funding opportunities have the right to access their own personal information stored in SSHRC files. However, this does not include the right to know the identity of the reviewer. Under the provisions of the Privacy Act, the name or identifying details of a reviewer must be withheld from the applicant.

In its commitment to transparency, SSHRC makes membership of its merit review committees publicly available on its website.

Committee deliberations

All matters discussed during merit review committee meetings are confidential. Committee members must not impart, refer to or consider information about the applicant that does not appear in the application materials. Committee members must not disclose results before SSHRC officially releases them. If approached by an applicant concerning a decision, committee members must decline to discuss the matter and advise the enquirer to contact SSHRC directly.

Release of results

After SSHRC approves the funding decisions based on the committee’s recommendations, SSHRC notifies applicants of the results.

Research involving humans

As a condition of receiving an agency award, researchers must comply with the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS 2).

Institutions are expected to support researchers in complying with TCPS 2, including ensuring that a research ethics board reviews and approves all research activities involving human participants.

While the applicant’s institution is primarily responsible for ensuring adherence to TCPS 2, merit review committees can raise questions to discuss with the committee if they have concerns.

SSHRC does not require applicants to submit a research ethics certificate with their application.

Responsible conduct of research

The Tri-Agency Framework: Responsible Conduct of Research describes the requirements related to applying for and managing agency funds, performing research, and disseminating results. The framework also outlines the processes that institutions and the agencies must follow if there is an allegation of a breach of agency policy.

Committee members are invited to raise any concerns with their committee chair or SSHRC program officer before the committee meeting about applicants that could be breaching agency policy. The concerns should not be considered part of nor be included in the evaluation of the scientific merit of an application. The program officer will communicate the concerns, along with all relevant information and available supporting documentation, to the Secretariat on Responsible Conduct of Research , so it can conduct a follow-up, if necessary.

Open access and data management

SSHRC believes research results produced using public funds belong, to the fullest extent possible, in the public domain. Grant holders must comply with the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications, by ensuring that any peer-reviewed journal publications arising from SSHRC-funded research are freely accessible within 12 months of publication. Additionally, in accordance with the Tri-Agency Research Data Management Policy, SSHRC expects grant holders to responsibly and securely manage their research data and, where ethical, legal and commercial obligations allow, make it available for reuse by others.

Non-discrimination

Under SSHRC’s Non-Discrimination Policy, no persons meeting the eligibility requirements will be subject to discrimination under any funding opportunity or activity receiving SSHRC funding.

Bias awareness

Adjudicators must take an online training module on bias in peer review. The short module promotes understanding of bias, how it can affect merit review, and ways to mitigate biases of different kinds. The agencies developed the module as part of their commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion.

Official languages

SSHRC is committed to ensuring that both of Canada’s official language communities have access to its programs and staff in the official language of their choice, and that applications submitted in either official language are treated equitably. To that end, SSHRC ensures that:

  • applications can be submitted to SSHRC in either official language;
  • program officers provide service to research community members in the official language of their choice;
  • there is balanced representation of both official language communities in the merit review process; and
  • committee members can conduct deliberations in either official language.

Beyond these practices, SSHRC supports Canada’s official languages and strengthening and developing official language minority communities. SSHRC does so by informing its broader community about linguistic duality and official language minority communities in Canada. SSHRC is also committed to promoting and supporting social sciences and humanities research on issues related to official languages and linguistic duality, and to fostering research capacity in official language minority community institutions.

See SSHRC’s Official Languages Policy for more details.

Appeals

SSHRC is committed to the integrity of its merit review process. As part of this principle, an appeal process managed through SSHRC’s Executive Vice-President’s Office and Corporate Affairs Office allows applicants to seek reconsideration of a funding decision under certain circumstances.

See SSHRC’s Appeals of decisions based on merit review for more details.

Merit review committee roles and functioning

SSHRC strives to ensure that its merit review committees have the collective knowledge, expertise and experience best suited to reviewing those applications received in a given competition.

Individual reviewers can participate in the SSHRC merit review process in one of the following roles: external reviewer, committee member or committee chair. See Merit review for information on the selection criteria used in recruiting reviewers.

General responsibilities

Committee chair

The merit review committee chair is responsible for ensuring that the committee carries out its work with fairness, thoroughness and integrity. In the case of grant competitions, committee chairs should be familiar with the applications.

For some funding opportunities (e.g., fellowship and scholarship applications and Connection Grants), committee chairs also act as reviewers for specific applications. As well, the chair can be asked to review an application on an ad hoc basis for other committees (e.g., a short notice of a committee member dropping out close to the merit review committee meeting or many committee members with a conflict of interest on a particular application).

The committee chair plays a vital role in ensuring that SSHRC’s policies and procedures are observed, including avoiding potential or actual conflicts of interest involving committee members. The chair works closely with the program officer, seeking guidance, as appropriate, before and during the merit review process.

The committee chair also:

  • guides the committee’s discussion of applications;
  • manages the committee’s time efficiently together with the program officer, so that applications can be adequately discussed;
  • ensures that the committee’s final recommendations accurately reflect the consensus of its members;
  • officially approves the final scores and ranking; and
  • can lead committee members in a policy discussion to provide feedback to SSHRC on the merit review process and procedures, and other questions related to the funding opportunity.

Committee members

Before the merit review committee meeting, committee members must—except in cases of a conflict of interest—review and provide preliminary scores for all applications assigned to them. Applications must be scored according to the funding opportunity’s evaluation criteria and with the scoring table that the program officer provides (also available in the relevant funding opportunity description). Committee members are encouraged to use the full spectrum of the evaluation scale in assigning scores, as this helps establish rank.

Committee members will be provided evaluation tools to help them prepare for the merit review and for use in assigning preliminary scores. When the full range of expertise required to judge an individual application is not available from within the committee, SSHRC can seek additional expertise. Committee members will also be provided with a form for noting the strengths and weaknesses of each of their assigned applications. Committee members can use these notes to discuss applications during committee meetings.

Where grants are likely to be recommended, committees are guided by the principle of minimum essential funding. The committee members assigned to review an application are asked to consider the budget proposed for each year of funding and, in some cases, recommend a reduced amount to be awarded where they judge that savings could be achieved without jeopardizing the project objectives.

Program officers

Program officers serve both as resource people for committee members and as SSHRC’s representatives during the merit review process.

Throughout the competition, program officers are responsible for ensuring:

  • all members understand fully and apply consistently all relevant SSHRC policies, evaluation criteria and regulations;
  • all members treat each application equitably and fairly; and
  • all applications meet eligibility requirements as described in the relevant funding opportunity description.

Program officers assign applications to the committee members, who act as reviewers of these applications. Once the members have completed their initial, or preliminary, scoring, program officers prepare a provisional rank-ordered list of the applications to help guide the group discussions.

During the committee meeting, program officers serve as secretaries to the committee, recording scores and funding recommendations. Program officers will intervene whenever necessary to guide and advise the committee and to help interpret SSHRC policies. If needed, program officers also alert the committee to any problems with specific applications or recommendations and suggest possible solutions.

After the committee meeting, SSHRC staff forward the results and any available feedback to applicants. Program officers also respond to applicants’ questions and/or complaints about competition results.

SSHRC observers

SSHRC can invite observers to attend merit review committee meetings. The observers make recommendations to SSHRC management on SSHRC policies, procedures, evaluation criteria, etc. Observers do not participate in committee discussions.

Evaluation and merit review

Committee members are encouraged to contact their program officer at any point during the process if they need additional information. Committee members in need of accommodations due to a disability can contact their program officer or email SSHRC at accommodations-adaptation@sshrc-crsh.gc.ca for help.

Before the merit review committee meeting

Review and assessment

Committee members are asked to do a preliminary check of their assigned applications and immediately inform the program officer of any conflicts of interest, so that these applications can be reassigned to another committee member (see Managing conflicts of interest).

Committee members submit their preliminary scores to the program officer before the merit review committee meeting. For an application whose scores vary significantly among its assigned reviewers, additional members can be asked to review it. The program officer compiles scores for all applications, translating them into an initial overall ranking. Committee members are asked to submit their preliminary scores to allow enough time both for further review of applications that have widely varying scores (if applicable) and for the program officer to calculate and provide the initial overall ranking to all members before the committee meeting.

The ranked scores are used during the committee meeting to identify where members differ in their assessments. Depending on the volume of applications, and at the discretion of the committee chair, the initial ranking provided by the program officer can also be used as a tool to determine the order of discussion of applications.

Committee members can be asked to provide written comments about applications. The program officer will provide further information, if applicable.

For some funding opportunities, SSHRC solicits external assessments for grant applications to assist the committee in its deliberation. The committee is asked to distance itself from any external assessment received by SSHRC that appears to contain unprofessional, discriminatory or biased comments, and to indicate this in writing when an applicant is provided with feedback.

Orientation

Chairs: For some competitions, committee chairs have a brief orientation with their program officer before the meeting to clarify chair roles and responsibilities, and to ensure SSHRC policies, procedures and evaluation criteria are consistently applied. As well, some competitions offer a webinar for the committee chairs.

Members: Committee members can be asked to participate in a brief orientation to receive specific details about the merit review process, timelines, relevant materials and the review of applications. Committee members can also ask program officers questions and discuss any issues with their committee colleagues.

Calibration meetings (grants only)

Several weeks before the merit review committee meeting for grant funding opportunities, most committees conduct a calibration meeting led by the committee chair. Members discuss the consistent use of evaluation criteria and the scoring system, agree on time-management strategies for the committee meeting, and have a simulation of committee deliberations.

The committee chair and program officer choose a small sample of applications to use for calibrating scoring. Committee members will be asked to review and score these applications for the calibration exercise, although the assigned reviewers will lead the discussion during the calibration meeting, as they would during the adjudication meeting.

Members report their scores for the selected applications before the calibration meeting. The discussion of the scoring in the calibration meeting is to guide reviewers toward using a consistent approach in scoring. If necessary, reviewers should adjust their scores based on the calibration meeting. The committee can revisit the applications selected for the calibration exercise, if required, during the merit review committee meeting.

During the merit review committee meeting

Discussing applications

Committee members discuss applications (above the cutoff point, where applicable) based on their preliminary scores. The first reviewer—or the first committee member, for those funding opportunities where all applications are reviewed by each member—briefly summarizes the proposal, identifies strengths and weaknesses, and makes a preliminary recommendation. The remaining reviewers or committee members can add any other comments deemed appropriate according to the funding opportunity’s evaluation criteria.

If a committee member’s score for a particular application differs significantly from that of other reviewers, they must be prepared to briefly explain their reasons when reporting on the application at the committee meeting. Members generally discuss in greater detail any applications for which there is a significant discrepancy between scores.

Members can opt to adjust their scores in light of discussions. For some funding opportunities, once the committee reaches agreement (either by vote or consensus), the program officer can consult with the committee to prepare brief feedback for the applicant / project director.

Ranking applications

After the committee has discussed the applications, it reviews and finalizes the rank-ordered list of applications. The final list divides the adjudicated applications into those that are recommended for funding and those that are not. The committee chair approves the resulting ranked list.

After this step, it is no longer possible to change the ranking of any application.

Some funding opportunities have a cutoff point, meaning applications must have a minimum score or rank to be eligible for funding.

Policy and procedure feedback

Following the merit review committee meeting, the committee can hold a policy discussion to inform SSHRC staff of any difficulties encountered during the process, to discuss best practices, and to advise on program and policy issues. Committee members can also be invited to provide their feedback electronically (e.g., via a survey). SSHRC uses committee members’ feedback to improve policies and procedures.

After the merit review committee meeting

SSHRC senior management approves the funding of applications based on the committees’ recommendations and on the available budget—the overall budget allocations for each funding opportunity are approved by SSHRC’s Vice-President, Research. A list of meritorious applications recommended for funding by the committee is submitted to the appropriate SSHRC director for approval. As the resources available might not allow for the support of all meritorious applications, a certain percentage can be recommended by the committee but will not receive funding. Those applications recommended but not funded could be eligible for support if additional funding becomes available.

Additional information for all committee members

Future Challenge Areas

SSHRC invites all applicants to review Imagining Canada’s Future’s 16 future global challenges and to consider addressing one or more of these areas in their research proposal. This is not an evaluation criterion for merit review and does not offer additional or dedicated research funds for the funding opportunities.

Guidelines for the merit review of Indigenous research

SSHRC developed the Guidelines for the Merit Review of Indigenous Research to ensure that the merit review of Indigenous research upholds SSHRC’s merit review principles. To support its Indigenous Research Statement of Principles, SSHRC provides these guidelines to merit reviewers to help build general understanding of Indigenous research and, where applicable, to assist committee members in interpreting SSHRC’s Challenge, Feasibility and Capability evaluation criteria in the context of Indigenous research. SSHRC relies on a community of merit reviewers with experience and expertise in Indigenous research to judge the extent to which the guidelines can be applied to a particular research proposal.

The guidelines further ensure that Indigenous research incorporating Indigenous knowledge systems (including ontologies, epistemologies and methodologies) is recognized as a scholarly contribution and meets SSHRC’s standards of excellence. The guidelines are also designed to encourage Indigenous research to be conducted with sensitivity, and only after consideration about who conducts the research and why and how it is conducted. The guidelines complement information in the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans, in particular, Chapter 9: Research Involving the First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples of Canada.

The Guidelines for Merit Review of Indigenous Research are relevant to Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers who conduct Indigenous research.

Guidelines for effective research training

The Guidelines for Effective Research Training are applicable to research activities funded across all SSHRC funding opportunities, and are designed to assist the research community in its efforts to promote effective research training and career development. Committee members are encouraged to use the guidelines to help gauge the quality of research training activities proposed in SSHRC applications.

All SSHRC grant applicants proposing training plans and budgets are:

  • encouraged to use the guidelines as a tool to help identify the elements of effective research training; and
  • asked to include in their training plans the dimensions of research training that are the most relevant to their research projects, and that can be of most benefit to all parties involved.

SSHRC scholarship and fellowship applicants are encouraged to consider the guidelines while completing their programs of study or work, as applicable.

The guidelines are especially relevant for:

  • host institutions preparing the SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowships Institutional Nomination and Commitment form; and
  • committee members when assessing the effectiveness of the overall support provided by the host institution.

Research-creation

SSHRC welcomes research-creation as an eligible activity across its funding opportunities. See the relevant funding opportunity description and SSHRC’s Guidelines for Research-Creation Support Materials for details. In addition, committees for Insight Grants and Insight Development Grants could find it useful to consult the research-creation applicant resource materials specific to these funding opportunities.

Career interruptions and special circumstances

SSHRC entrusts its merit review committees with the responsibility of assessing research productivity, while taking into account the impact of career interruptions and/or special circumstances that might have affected the record of research achievement of applicants and co-applicants, where appropriate.

In doing so, merit review committee members will be able to more accurately estimate the productivity of each researcher, postdoctoral researcher or doctoral student, independent of any career interruptions or special circumstances. Previous productivity is one element that can predict the success of the proposed research project.

Research contributions

SSHRC, along with CIHR, NSERC, the Canada Foundation for Innovation and Genome Canada, have signed the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA). This reaffirms their commitment to excellence in research evaluation and the importance of knowledge mobilization. DORA is a global initiative to support the development and promotion of best practices in the assessment of scholarly research.

DORA’s principles are reflected in SSHRC’s overall approaches to research assessment and in its commitment to continuously improving assessment practices. Along with SSHRC’s commitment to re-examine research excellence through the Tri-agency Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan, a number of initiatives and policies outlined in this guide support research excellence and align with the recommendations in DORA. These include ethical conduct of research involving humans, responsible conduct of research, open access publishing, research data management practices, the Guidelines for the Merit Review of Indigenous Research and the Guidelines for Effective Research Training.

Committee members are asked to consider a variety of research contributions, both traditional academic publications and other kinds of services and relevant experience. Research contributions can include, but are not limited to:

  • refereed contributions, such as:
    • books, monographs, book chapters, articles in scholarly refereed journals, conference proceedings, etc.; or
    • papers presented at scholarly meetings or conferences, articles in professional or trade journals, etc.;
  • non-refereed contributions, such as book reviews, published reviews of the applicant/co-applicant’s work, research reports, policy papers, public lectures, etc.;
  • forthcoming (submitted, revised and submitted, accepted, or in-press) contributions;
  • creative outputs (to be evaluated according to established disciplinary standards, as well as creative and/or artistic merit), such as exhibitions, performances, publications, presentations, and film, video and audio recordings; and
  • other contributions to research and advancing knowledge to non-academic audiences (e.g., general public, policy-makers, private sector, not-for-profit organizations, etc.).

SSHRC’s Guidelines for the Merit Review of Indigenous Research could also prove helpful to committee members assessing contributions relevant to Indigenous research.

Grant applications only—Capability subcriteria should be addressed in the SSHRC CV  or Canadian Common CV  (as applicable), and the Research contributions section (and, where applicable, the Relevant experience section) of the application. Research contributions content must address the Capability subcriteria listed under Evaluation and merit review in the funding opportunity description. Note that CVs are no longer required or accepted for collaborators.

Additional information for grant applications only

Knowledge mobilization plan

SSHRC’s Guidelines for Effective Knowledge Mobilization and the instructions that accompanied the application form are available to committee members with their merit review materials for context. Committee members are asked to evaluate the knowledge mobilization plan according to the related Feasibility subcriterion.

Open access and data management

To the extent possible, and in keeping with SSHRC’s endorsement of open access forms of knowledge dissemination, research results should be made openly available through, for example, open access journal articles or books, websites, publicly accessible databases and/or institutional repositories. Grant holders must comply with the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications by ensuring that any peer-reviewed journal publications arising from SSHRC-supported research are freely accessible within 12 months of publication.

Further to the Tri-Agency Research Data Management Policy, SSHRC expects that research data collected through the use of public funds should be responsibly and securely managed and be, where ethical, legal and commercial obligations allow, available for reuse by others.

Expected outcomes summary

Expected outcomes are the potential benefits and/or outcomes of the proposed project. Expected outcomes can include, for example:

  • enhanced curriculum and teaching material
  • graduate student supervision
  • enriched public discourse
  • improved public policies
  • enhanced business strategies
  • innovations in one or more sectors of society

Committee members are asked to evaluate the aspects of the expected outcomes summary according to any related Challenge subcriteria.

Guidelines for support of tools for research and related activities
(applicable grants only)

Tools for research and related activities are a key aspect of the social sciences and humanities research environment. New and existing tools support the creation and mobilization of research knowledge. SSHRC has long provided support for routine research tools (such as a survey or questionnaire) and that can be considered an appropriate use of grant funds according to the Tri-Agency Guide on Financial Administration.

SSHRC’s Guidelines for Support of Tools for Research and Related Activities are intended to assist researchers submitting requests for support for tools distinct from a typical component of a grant. For example, researchers wanting to undertake a survey or questionnaire as part of their proposed project need not refer to the guidelines; however, researchers wanting to create a clean, structured dataset to be used by multiple parties in multiple contexts should consult the guidelines to ensure that their expenses are eligible.

Applicants must provide their tool expenses in the “Other” category of the Funds requested from SSHRC section, and explain the need for expenditures in the Budget justification section.

Committee members are asked to consider the following in their evaluation of tool funding requests:

  • Overall: Assess whether the purpose/use of the tools is directly linked to the objectives of the funding opportunity.
  • Challenge criterion: Evaluate the tool using the “appropriateness of the methods/approach” subcriterion.
  • Feasibility criterion: Consider the budget request for the tool.

If the committee determines that the proposed activities relating to tools cannot be carried out within the stated budget limit, the committee should fail the application on the Feasibility criterion.

Reviewing budget proposals and determining grant size
(grant applications only)

Grant funding budgets and process

During the merit review committee meetings for grant funding opportunities, committees not only determine which proposals merit funding support, but also review the budget request to determine, overall, whether the requested amount is appropriate for the project.

After the merit review, grants are awarded based on the funding that the committee recommends and the total funds available for the funding opportunity.

This allocation process is sensitive to changes in funding requirements. It allocates funds among committees on the basis of excellence, rather than aiming to fund the largest number of applications possible.

Budget review and grant size

Committees use the principle of minimum essential funding to guide their discussions of project budgets.

Merit review committees are asked to focus on assessing the overall merit of the proposal, regardless of whether the budget size and scope are large or small. Each grant application that has received a score that is satisfactory or better for each of the three evaluation criteria (Challenge, Feasibility and Capability) can be recommended for funding.

While considering the Feasibility criterion, the committee should assess whether, overall, the proposed budget is reasonable, well-justified and appropriate for carrying out the proposed activities. Weakness in the budget should be reflected in the Feasibility score.

For applications recommended for funding, committees can recommend budget reductions or reallocations, as applicable, where they determine that the request is inadequately justified and/or not appropriate as described above, and where they judge that savings could be achieved without jeopardizing the project objectives. Applicants are informed of the committees’ role in this regard. A consistent approach to such cases (e.g., where the scores on the other criteria are well into the fundable range) should be discussed at the outset of the merit review committee meeting, or during the calibration meeting.

In considering the budget’s appropriateness, committee members can take into account factors such as the type of institution with which an applicant is affiliated. For example, a researcher working at a more isolated institution can assign a larger part of their budget to travel and communications expenses than a researcher located in a major centre.

The committee will not be asked to make any adjustments to the proposed budget of applications that are not recommended for funding.

Eligible and ineligible expenses

SSHRC staff indicate ineligible expenses to committee members either before or during the merit review committee meeting.

The Tri-Agency Guide on Financial Administration is a comprehensive resource for grant recipients and administering institutions to ensure they understand the principles and directives that govern post-award administration of agency-funded grants. The guide is applicable to grants from SSHRC, CIHR and NSERC, unless specified otherwise in the funding opportunity literature and any relevant agency agreements, including the grant’s terms and conditions.

Grant applicants must justify all proposed budget expenditures.

Article processing charges for publishing in open access journals are an eligible expense. The Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications requires that any peer-reviewed journal publications arising from agency-supported research be freely accessible within 12 months of publication. This can be achieved either by publishing in an open access journal, paying an article processing charge for immediate open access publication, or through self-archiving, which publishers usually allow at no cost, either with or without an embargo period. When assessing estimated article processing charges in application budgets, committees should consider whether the number of proposed journal publications is realistic, the targeted journals are appropriate, and the estimated costs are commensurate with the article processing charges of the specified journals (when known). When there are options for less expensive journals of equal quality or for self-archiving, committees could consider recommending budget reductions.

Book processing charges for publishing scholarly books in open access are also an eligible expense, in keeping with SSHRC’s endorsement of open access publication of research results. When assessing estimated book processing charges, committees should consider whether the book publication plan is realistic and the targeted publisher appropriate. Committees are further asked to keep in mind that book processing charges can vary widely and depend on factors such as inclusion of images and publication format.

Committees are encouraged to speak to their program officer for more information about this policy.

Multiple-source funding

Merit review committee members are reminded that grant applicants can fund their overall research project or research-related activities by applying for complementary funding from more than one source for different components of the project, and that such funding is not grounds for reducing an applicant’s budget.

For Insight Grant and Insight Development Grant applications, the availability or anticipation of funding from another source, while considered generally beneficial, is not obligatory. The appropriateness of other sources depends on the specific needs of the project.

Applicants must clearly indicate in their proposals to SSHRC that there is no duplication of financial support for any budget items. SSHRC staff is responsible for confirming any duplication of funding.

Useful links

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