Merit review

The highest standard of expert merit review has been and will remain at the heart of the granting process at SSHRC. SSHRC research grants and fellowships are awarded through an independent merit review process designed to ensure the highest standards of excellence and impartiality. Merit review is a transparent, in-depth and effective way to allocate public research funds.

As a signatory to the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), a global initiative to support the development and promotion of best practices in the assessment of scholarly research, SSHRC has joined research leaders around the world in working to strengthen research excellence by ensuring robust, equitable and impactful merit review processes.

SSHRC is committed to providing a range of merit review options appropriate to its individual funding opportunities.

Merit reviewers are guided by the following manuals: 

Merit reviewers are also required to take an online training module as a guide for preventing unconscious bias in merit review. The short module promotes understanding of unconscious bias, how it can affect merit review, and ways to mitigate biases of different kinds.

Merit reviewers are covered by the Tri-Agency Policy on Legal Assistance and Indemnification Provisions for Volunteers Serving on External Advisory Bodies and by the Joint Policy on Peer/Merit Review Financial Recompense.

As part of its commitment to continuous improvement, SSHRC analyzes data on its merit review processes in an annual report on competitions.


Principles for SSHRC merit review

Committee work is predicated on the ideals of collegiality and mutual respect for diversity of viewpoints across sectors of society.

Publish 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
Use 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
Ask all participants to declare interests when carrying out review activities, so that any conflicts of interest can be identified and managed.

Treat proposals in confidence, and ask those who advise us to do the same.

Expert assessment
Use appropriate expert reviewers to assess the individual merit of all proposals against the published criteria.

Separation of duties
Separate the merit review of proposals against the assessment criteria from the making of funding decisions. Those acting as reviewers will not also be responsible for authorizing the funding decision, which is the responsibility of SSHRC.

No parallel assessment
Avoid assessing the merit of the same proposal more than once.

Merit review committees

Each year, volunteer merit review committees made up of Canadian and international scholars and experts evaluate thousands of research proposals and, based on academic excellence and other merit review criteria, make recommendations about which projects to fund. In addition, over 5,000 other Canadian and international experts provide written assessments of proposals to assist in the merit review process.

Acclaimed review system

SSHRC takes pride in its merit review system, which is “up to the best practices and highest international standards,” as noted in this report on the quality of SSHRC’s review practices (PDF document, 1.62MB).

Reviewer roles

Reviewer roles

Reviewers volunteer their time to assist in SSHRC merit review processes. They are enlisted based on individual experience and expertise, and do not represent particular institutions. SSHRC seeks to ensure a diversity of perspectives: reviewers may be from Canada or abroad; they may come from postsecondary institutions; or they may come from organizations across the public, private and not-for-profit sectors.

Individual reviewers can participate in the SSHRC merit review processes in one or more of the following roles:

  • as an external reviewer, providing expert assessment, usually written, on a particular proposal on the basis of the funding opportunity’s evaluation criteria—the external reviewer’s assessment will aid in the overall evaluation of the proposal;
  • as a committee member, evaluating the merit of each application submitted for their review on the basis of the funding opportunity’s evaluation criteria and providing scores for these applications using a pre-established scoring system provided by SSHRC, participating in committee discussions of the entire set of applications submitted to the committee for consideration, contributing to the committee’s ranking of applications based on their relative merit, and providing SSHRC with funding recommendations;
  • as a committee chair, taking on the responsibility of ensuring that the committee carries out its work with fairness, thoroughness and integrity while ensuring SSHRC’s policies and procedures are observed; and
  • as a committee observer, serving to validate the committee’s work and to provide key insights into process improvements.

Want to become a reviewer or an observer?

Know someone who would be a great reviewer?

Get involved

Get involved!

SSHRC is constantly seeking reviewers who represent the diversity in the social sciences and humanities research community. Would you like to be involved in the merit review process? Here are the attributes SSHRC is looking for in merit reviewers.

Experience and attributes

All reviewers should have:

  • a sense of fairness, open-mindedness, and commitment to social sciences and humanities research and to the greater public good
  • an openness to perspectives across fields of knowledge to be able to assess proposals without bias as to schools of thought, research approaches or methodologies
  • an understanding of the value of knowledge-exchange and collaboration, and commitment to the mobilization of research knowledge
  • experience in the development of talent, through teaching, supervision or other forms of mentoring

External reviewers should also have:
  • a thorough comprehension of the official language used in the application to be able to provide an expert written review
Committee members should also have:
  • in most cases, the ability to read and aurally comprehend both of Canada’s official languages, as applications can be submitted in either (in some cases, SSHRC may invite experts who are not bilingual to sit on committees, provided that this does not interfere with the ability of the committee as a whole to fairly assess applications in both official languages)
  • the proven capacity to work collaboratively
  • if possible, experience participating in merit review processes but this is an asset, not a requirement
Committee chairs should also have:
  • the ability to lead discussions in both of Canada’s official languages
  • the proven capacity to work collaboratively
  • preferably, prior experience participating in merit review processes as a member of a committee

Research and related expertise

All reviewers should have:

  • expertise in an area of research in the social sciences and humanities from either a disciplinary, multi/interdisciplinary or cross-sectoral perspective, usually demonstrated by one or a combination of the following factors:
    • having attained the degree (or equivalent) within the discipline or area of research that would qualify an individual to teach at a university
    • having a research/teaching position at a postsecondary or research institution or a research-intensive position in a public, private or not-for-profit organization
    • being recognized as a leader in the area of expertise
  • a record of research excellence usually demonstrated by one or a combination of the following factors:
    • experience in carrying out or managing research
    • experience in research-related activities (e.g., knowledge mobilization, research training)
    • demonstrated and/or promising scholarly contributions to the social sciences and humanities; including peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed contributions to publications of all types: open access, journals, monographs, commissioned reports, online forums such as blogs, and others
    • contribution to public policies, products or services based on social sciences and humanities research and evidence.

External reviewers should also have:
  • recognized expertise that is closely linked to the proposal being assessed

Want to become a reviewer?

Know someone who would be a great reviewer?

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