2019 Exploration Competition


Notice of intent to apply deadline August 7, 2019, 8:00 p.m. (eastern)
Letter of intent to apply deadline September 4, 2019, 8:00 p.m. (eastern)
Application deadline December 10, 2019, 8:00 p.m. (eastern)
Value Up to $125,000 per year (including indirect costs)
Duration Up to two years
Competition budget $25,000,000 over two years
Number of grants A minimum of 100
A proportion of awards equal to the proportion of applications received from early career researchers (ECRs, defined in the eligibility section) will be reserved for them
Results announced By March 31, 2020
Grant start date March 31, 2020
How to apply

All applicants must complete the notice of intent to apply (NOI) and letter of intent to apply (LOI). Only successful LOIs are invited to submit an application.

Refer to the Best Practices in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Research Guide and evaluation matrices for additional information on how to complete your application.

For more information Consult the frequently asked questions or email: NFRF-FNFR@chairs-chaires.gc.ca.

Table of Contents

Please consult this section regularly for updates on the 2019 Exploration competition, including information about webinars.

To better promote groundbreaking and interdisciplinary research, the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) program was designed with a mandate to explore innovative merit review processes and the latitude for parameters and processes to differ from one competition to the next. In this context, some program parameters have been changed for the 2019 Exploration, informed by feedback from the community, applicants and members. Summaries of the feedback from the 2018 competition can be found in the Report from the Co-Chairs and the Feedback to Applicants.

COVID-19 update

The 2019 Exploration Competition will be finalized as planned. Applicants will receive Notices of Decision by March 31, 2020, and funds will be disbursed shortly after. The posting of the evaluation results for applicants (including ratings by criteria and messages to applicants, where applicable) may be delayed.

The objective of the Exploration stream of the NFRF program is to support high risk, high reward and interdisciplinary research that is not easily supported through funding opportunities currently offered by the three agencies. It seeks to inspire projects that bring disciplines together beyond traditional disciplinary or common interdisciplinary approaches by research teams with the capacity to explore something new, which might fail but has the potential for significant impact. Exploration grants aim to have a variety of types of impacts, some of which might be social, economic, scientific, artistic or cultural. This is not an exhaustive list; other types of impacts are also recognized.

The maximum budget for the direct costs of the research project is $100,000 per year for up to two years. Applicants may also add up to 25% of the value of the direct costs of research to cover indirect costs, and include this in the total funding request. This portion of the award must be used only to pay for eligible expenses as outlined on the Research Support Fund website. The indirect costs component of each award is included within the award value; it is not in addition to it.

To encourage projects that push the boundaries in terms of interdisciplinarity, proposals must be submitted by research teams composed of at least two individuals. This minimum applies to all stages of the competition—notice of intent to apply (NOI), letter of intent to apply (LOI) and application. In addition to the nominated principal investigator (NPI), the team must include either a co-principal investigator or a co-applicant. Teams may include up to one co-principal investigator and any number of co-applicants and/or collaborators. The NPI and team members can be from any discipline(s).  

To ensure that Exploration grants support high risk, high reward projects across the broadest spectrum of disciplines, individuals may participate in only one Exploration stream application or grant at one time. Individuals can participate in only one application as either an NPI, a co-principal investigator or a co-applicant. Individuals cannot participate in any of these roles if they are a grantee or co-grantee on an active Exploration grant. These restrictions do not apply to collaborators. These restrictions also do not apply to the Transformation and International streams. An individual may simultaneously apply as or be an award holder as an NPI, co-principal investigator or co-applicant for grants under the separate streams (Exploration, Transformation and International).

For a proposal to be considered to be led by early career researchers (ECRs), both the NPI and co-principal investigator (if applicable) must be ECR. For competitions under the Exploration stream, ECRs are defined as individuals who have five years or less experience since their first academic appointment as of the first of the month in which the competition was launched (July 1, 2019, for this competition), with the exception of career interruptions (e.g., maternity or parental leave, extended sick leave, clinical training and family care) that occurred after their appointment. Part-time positions are also taken into consideration. For maternity or parental leave, the five-year window is extended by an amount equal to twice the time interruption taken. In the case of a first academic appointment having been a part-time appointment/position, the years of experience following it are counted at 50% until the time of an appointment to a full-time academic position. Additional details are available in the FAQs.

Research Team

Nominated principal investigator

The NPI:

  • is responsible for the direction of the project and coordinating proposed activities, in conjunction with the co-principal investigator (if applicable);
  • completes and submits the NOI, LOI and application through the research administrator at their institution;
  • assumes the administrative and financial responsibility for the grant; and
  • receives all related correspondence from the agencies.

The NPI must be considered an independent researcher at their primary affiliation, defined as the primary organization where the individual is employed, is appointed or conducts research.

An independent researcher is an individual who:

  • engages in research-related activities that are not under the direction of another individual; and
  • has an academic or research appointment that:
    • commences by March 31, 2020;
    • allows the individual to pursue the proposed research project, to engage in independent research activities for the entire duration of the funding, to supervise trainees (if applicable, as per his or her institution’s policy) and to publish the research results; and
    • obliges the individual to comply with institutional policies concerning the conduct of research, the supervision of trainees (if applicable) and the employment conditions of staff paid with tri-agency funding.

Students, postdoctoral fellows, research associates, etc. are not eligible to apply as NPIs.

The NPI’s primary affiliation must be with a Canadian institution currently holding full institutional eligibility with one of the agencies (see CIHR’s, NSERC’s or SSHRC’s list of eligible institutions).

Note: If the NPI’s primary affiliation is not on SSHRC’s list of eligible institutions, the institution may be required to sign the Agreement on the Administration of Agency Grants and Awards by Research Institutions with SSHRC, for this program only, prior to receiving agency funds. Agency staff will contact the institutions of successful applicants after the notices of decision have been released to initiate this process, as appropriate.

Co-principal investigator

The co-principal investigator shares responsibility with the NPI for the direction of the proposed activities and may access grant funds.

The co-principal investigator must also be considered an independent researcher and may not be affiliated with a federal, provincial, territorial or municipal government department or a for-profit organization. They may be affiliated with a Canadian or an international organization. Students, postdoctoral fellows, research associates, etc. are not eligible to participate as a co-principal investigator.


Co-applicants contribute to the execution of the research project and may access grant funds. 

Co-applicants can be independent researchers or can be, but are not limited to, practitioners, policy-makers, educators, decision-makers, health care administrators, Indigenous elders, Indigenous knowledge keepers, community leaders or individuals working for a charity. To be eligible as a co-applicant, researchers and professors must be considered independent researchers. Co-applicants may not be affiliated with a federal, provincial, territorial or municipal government department or a for-profit organization. They may be affiliated with a Canadian or an international organization. Students, postdoctoral fellows, research associates, etc. are not eligible to participate as a co-applicant.


Collaborators contribute to the execution of research activities but do not have access to grant funds.

Collaborators do not need to be affiliated with an eligible institution. Any individual who will contribute to the project is eligible to be a collaborator. Collaborators may include individuals affiliated with a federal, provincial, territorial or municipal government department or a for-profit organization. They may also be affiliated with a Canadian or an international organization. Any individual whose contributions to the project will be supervised by the NPI, co-principal investigator, co-applicant and/or another collaborator cannot be considered a collaborator.

Subject Matter (Fit to Program)

Exploration grants support projects that are high risk, high reward and interdisciplinary. They may involve any disciplines, thematic areas, approaches or subject areas eligible for funding across the tri-agencies.

To meet the minimum requirement to be considered interdisciplinary, the proposed research project must include elements from at least two different disciplines (as defined by a group-level classification based on the Canadian Research and Development Classification). Note that projects that incorporate two disciplines with a long and established tradition of working together (e.g., biology and chemistry or psychology and education) may satisfy the above requirement but not meet the expectations of the program. The onus is on the applicant to explain the novelty of the interdisciplinary approach to justify the fit to program.  

Proposed projects may range from basic research to development. Eligible projects include those with specific short- to medium-term objectives, as well as discrete phases in programs of longer-range research.

The following elements are considered to be indicative of projects that do not meet program expectations with regard to high risk, and are therefore discouraged: research that is the obvious next step; data collection without interpreting underlying mechanisms; professional practice or consulting services (contract research); the set-up and operational management of an institute or a formal or informal group of researchers (network); curriculum development; organization of a conference or workshop; digitization of a collection or creation of a database; the application of existing technology or the commercialization of a product/process; routine analyses; and/or the acquisition and maintenance of scientific equipment.

Applications for projects that are the same or similar, in whole or in part, to ones that have been funded by other agency programs should not be submitted to the NFRF program. Applications for the same or similar projects that have been unsuccessful in other agency programs may be submitted to the NFRF program in cases where the reason for the lack of success is the high risk and/or interdisciplinary nature of the project, rather than limited funds in a highly competitive pool. Exploration grants are intended to fund projects that are not easily funded through existing agency programs. Applications for the same or very similar research cannot be simultaneously submitted to two different funding opportunities, including to funding opportunities at different agencies.

Applications not meeting any of the requirements outlined above may be withdrawn at any point in the competition or have their NFRF grant terminated (with the NPI’s primary affiliation being responsible for reimbursing the total amount of the grant) if terminated at a later date.  

Applicants are strongly encouraged to review the Feedback to Applicants and the Report from the Co-Chairs from the inaugural (2018) Exploration competition for additional tips regarding subject matter and preparation of submissions.


Grant holders will be expected to report on the use of grant funds, on funded activities undertaken during the grant period and on outcomes. NPIs of successful applications will be informed of reporting requirements upon receiving a notice of award.

To apply for an Exploration grant, NPIs, along with a co-principal investigator and/or co-applicant(s), must submit an NOI by August 7, 2019. This is a mandatory step in the application process. The research team must then complete and submit an LOI by September 4, 2019. Finally, selected teams will be invited to complete and submit an application by December 10, 2019.

Applicants must complete the NOI, LOI and application using the Convergence Portal, following the accompanying NOI, LOI and application submission guides.

NOIs, LOIs and applications received after the deadlines or that are incomplete will be withdrawn from the competition. No extensions to the deadlines will be provided. Please note that all NOIs, LOIs and applications are first submitted to the research administrator (research grants office [RGO] or equivalent) of the NPI’s primary affiliation, which must submit it through the online portal prior to the relevant deadline. Research administrators are free to set their own internal deadlines.

Date Milestone(s)
July 3, 2019 Competition launch
Convergence Portal open for NOI
August 7, 2019 NOI deadline
August 14, 2019 Convergence Portal opens for LOI
September 4, 2019 LOI deadline
October 31, 2019 LOI results released
November 4, 2019 Convergence Portal opens for applications
December 10, 2019 Application deadline
March 31, 2020 Award results released
Start date of awards


Indigenous research

SSHRC’s Indigenous Research Statement of Principles and Guidelines for the Merit Review of Indigenous Research should be used as reference for researchers preparing applications related to or involving Indigenous research. These guidelines are provided to merit reviewers to help build understanding of Indigenous research and research-related activities, and to assist committee members in interpreting the specific evaluation criteria in the context of Indigenous research. The guidelines may also be of use to external assessors, postsecondary institutions and partner organizations that support Indigenous research.

Gender-based analysis plus

Gender-based analysis plus (GBA+) is an analytical process used to assess the potential impact that identity factors, such as sex, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age and mental or physical disability, may have on the experience of the individual. These considerations must be integrated into the research design, when appropriate. The purpose of GBA+ is to promote rigorous research that is sensitive to sex and gender as well as many other identity factors, like race, ethnicity, religion, age and mental or physical disability. Applicants and reviewers should refer to Status of Women Canada’s information on GBA+ as well as the Sex- and Gender-Based Analysis (SGBA) section of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) website for definitions for sex, gender, SGBA and GBA+, as well as information on applying GBA+’and SGBA to the development and assessment of research proposals. A rationale must be provided in cases where the research team believes that no aspect of the research may benefit from an analysis to take into consideration sex, gender or other identity factors.

Selection Criteria

The following five criteria will be used to evaluate proposals submitted to the Exploration competition. Different criteria are assessed at the LOI and application stages. The elements considered under each criterion are outlined in the evaluation matrices.


NFRF is intended to support meritorious projects that are not currently funded or could not easily be funded through existing funding opportunities offered by the agencies. Therefore, applications will need to clearly demonstrate that they are combining at least two disciplines that do not traditionally collaborate together or combining them in a novel way. The application must also explain why an interdisciplinary approach is required and/or the added value of this approach to the research problem.

Equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI)

The research project must meaningfully engage members of the four designated groups (women, Indigenous peoples, members of visible minorities and persons with disabilities) through the engagement of students, postdoctoral fellows, co-principal investigator, co-applicants and/or collaborators, as applicable. Applications must clearly describe the research team’s commitment to this, in particular related to how they will address each of the following three key areas: team composition and training activities; recruitment processes; and inclusion. Applicants should not provide demographic information about team members.

High risk

While all research includes some level of risk, it is not necessarily high risk. Research teams are encouraged to conceive and propose projects that are high risk, as defined by elements such as (but not limited to):

  • defying current research paradigms;
  • proposing unique directions;
  • bringing new disciplines together with different perspectives to use novel approaches for solving existing problems; and/or
  • enhancing our understanding of complex and challenging issues.

Due to their high risk nature, it is expected that a number of funded Exploration projects will not meet their objectives.

High reward

The counterpoint for funding proposals that may not succeed is the potential for high reward, as defined by elements such as (but not limited to):

  • transforming and/or disrupting conventional thinking;
  • resolving a longstanding issue or debate;
  • significantly advancing current knowledge, methods and/or technologies; and/or
  • having a high degree of impact and/or affecting a large community.


While a focus on high risk may seem at odds with feasibility, the risk must be related to the idea being proposed and not the lack of a concrete plan or ability to execute the activities. Feasibility considers elements such as:

  • research problem being addressed;
  • knowledge, expertise and capacity of the research team;
  • current research in the field;
  • workplan and timeline;
  • proposed approach, including GBA+/SGBA where appropriate;
  • engagement and reciprocity with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples (for Indigenous research) where appropriate; and
  • suitability of the research environment.

Competition Stages

  • NOIs will be used for administrative purposes (identifying external reviewers, committee composition).
  • LOIs will be evaluated by the multidisciplinary review panel.
  • Applications will be reviewed by external reviewers and evaluated by the multidisciplinary review panel, taking into account the feedback provided by the external reviewers.

Internal review

Any NOIs, LOIs or applications that do not meet the program's eligibility requirements and application guidelines will be withdrawn from the competition.

External review

External reviewers with relevant subject matter expertise will evaluate applications according to the high risk, high reward and feasibility selection criteria.

Multidisciplinary review panel

A multidisciplinary review panel composed of national and international members with broad expertise will evaluate the LOIs and applications. To uphold the program's commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), and to ensure the highest quality of review, members of the panel will be diverse, taking into consideration the following:

  • area of expertise;
  • sector;
  • ability to review applications in either official language;
  • representation from the four designated groups (women, Indigenous peoples, visible minorities and persons with disabilities);
  • regional representation across Canada;
  • institution size; 
  • career stage;
  • knowledge of best practices regarding EDI; and
  • experience in Indigenous research.

Review Process―LOI

Each LOI will be assessed by three members of the multidisciplinary review panel. These members will have access to all sections of the LOI and NOI and will assess the proposal according to the following selection criteria:

  • interdisciplinarity (pass/fail)
  • high risk (50%)
  • high reward (50%)

Members’ ratings for the high risk and high reward criteria will determine an overall score for each LOI. These scores will be used to identify the top-rated LOIs to proceed to the application stage. In cases where there is a discrepancy in the assessments between members, with at least one member rating an application highly, the LOI will be discussed by the members. Similarly, LOIs with high overall scores but mixed assessments for the interdisciplinarity/fit to program criterion will also be discussed. Following these discussions, members may revise their ratings.

Review Process―Application

A minimum of three external reviewers will be recruited to evaluate each application. The focus of external reviews will be on the proposal, and reviewers will be asked to comment on the high risk and high reward criteria, as well as the feasibility criterion as it relates to the research plan only. To support this evaluation, the external review process will be double blind, with the applicants not knowing the identity of the external reviewers and the external reviewers not being provided information to identify the applicant/research team.

Each application will be also be assigned to five members of the multidisciplinary review panel. Members will have access to the entire application, in addition to the external reviewer reports. The multidisciplinary review panel members will assess proposals against the following selection criteria:

  • EDI (pass/fail)
  • high risk (40%)
  • high reward (40%)
  • feasibility (20%)

Members’ ratings for the high risk, high reward and feasibility criteria will determine an overall score for each application. These scores will identify the top-rated applications that will be discussed at the review committee meeting and then ranked. The top-ranked applications will be recommended for funding to the Canada Research Coordinating Committee (CRCC).   

Steering committee

The CRCC is the steering committee for the NFRF program. The committee ensures that the evaluation process is rigorous, objective and transparent, in keeping with the standards of excellence expected by the agencies and consistent with the program’s objectives. The committee also makes decisions regarding which applications to fund based on the review panel’s recommendations.

Communication of results

Applicants will be informed of competition results via the Convergence Portal. All applicants will be provided, in addition to the notice of decision, a summary of the evaluation of their application, where applicable. Additional details about the review process are available in the Reviewer Manual, which will be available prior to the LOI deadline.

All applicants and grant holders must comply with the Regulations Governing Grant Applications and with the regulations set out in the Tri-Agency Financial Administration Guide.

Grant holders must also comply with the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications (see Open Access overview for more information). Researchers are encouraged to manage, in accordance with both community standards and best practices, data arising from their research (see also the tri-agency policies and guidelines on Research Data Management).

Recipients of SSHRC funding must comply with SSHRC's Policy on Intellectual Property and Copyright.

Use of Grant Funds

The information provided below explains to grant holders and research administrators the regulations governing the use of NFRF grant funds. They supersede all previous statements on grant regulations.

The NFRF program uses the Tri-Agency Financial Administration Guide (TAFAG) as the general guidelines for eligibility of expenses and use of funds related to the direct costs of research. Exceptions to those policies for Exploration grants, as well as clarification for situations where the granting agencies have different rules and policies, are noted in the New Frontiers in Research Fund Exploration Grants Guide. This document should be used in conjunction with the TAFAG; only exceptions or clarifications are noted here; additional information remains the same as in the TAFAG. If you are unsure about the eligibility of a particular expense, please contact the NFRF team. (Rules regarding the use of the indirect costs portion of the grant can be found on the Research Support Fund website.)

Terms and conditions

The agencies reserve the right to:

  • determine the eligibility of applications, based on the information therein;
  • interpret the regulations and policies governing its funding opportunities;
  • apply conditions to individual grants; and
  • alter, without advance notice, the terms and conditions of grant awards — any and all major changes in regulations will be announced promptly.

For more information, contact: NFRF-FNFR@chairs-chaires.gc.ca

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