2023 Exploration Competition

Following technical problems in the Convergence portal, the notice of intent to apply deadline for the New Frontiers in Research Fund 2023 Exploration competition has been extended to October 12, 2023, 8:00 p.m. (eastern).


Notice of intent to apply deadline October 11, 2023, 8:00 p.m.
October 12, 2023, 8:00 p.m. (eastern) [deadline extended]
Full application deadline December 12, 2023, 8:00 p.m. (eastern)
Value Up to $125,000 per year (including indirect costs)
Duration Up to two years
Competition budget A minimum of $25 million over two years
Number of grants A minimum of 100
A proportion of awards equal to the proportion of applications submitted that are led by early career researchers will be reserved for these researchers.
Results announced By March 31, 2024
Grant start date By March 31, 2024
How to apply

All applicants must complete the notice of intent to apply and submit a full application.

See the Notice of Intent to Apply Guide and the Full Application Guide for more information. Other useful resources to assist in the completion of your application include Best Practices in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Research and the evaluation matrices.

For more information See Frequently Asked Questions or email NFRF-FNFR@chairs-chaires.gc.ca

On this page

Updates and information

Consult this section regularly for updates on the 2023 Exploration competition, including information about webinars. Read all current competition material to ensure your submission is complete.


Applicants and research administrators are encouraged to attend the Exploration webinars to learn more about the Exploration stream and the overall application process.

Notice of intent to apply
Date Time Language
September 12, 2023 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. (eastern) English

Join webinar

September 14, 2023 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. (eastern) French

Join webinar

Full application stage
Date Time Language
October 31, 2023 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. (eastern) French

Join webinar

October 31, 2023 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. (eastern) English

Join webinar


The goal of the Exploration stream is to inspire high-risk, high-reward and interdisciplinary research.

Exploration grants support research that pushes boundaries into exciting new areas. Researchers are encouraged to think “outside of the box” and undertake research that would defy current paradigms; brings disciplines together in unexpected ways and from bold, innovative perspectives; and has the potential to be disruptive or deliver game-changing impacts.

Exploration stream grants support projects that:

  • bring disciplines together beyond traditional disciplinary or common interdisciplinary approaches;
  • propose to explore something new, which might fail; and
  • have the potential for significant impact.

Exploration grants support research with a range of impacts—economic, scientific, artistic, cultural, social, technological, environmental or health-related. This list is not exhaustive; other types of impacts are also recognized. Diversity of perspectives is important, and the fund encourages research proposals led from any discipline, from those in the social sciences and humanities, to health, the natural sciences and engineering.

Value and duration

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


Research team

To encourage projects that push the boundaries in terms of interdisciplinarity, proposals must be submitted by research teams with at least two individuals. In addition to a nominated principal investigator (NPI), the team must include either a co-principal investigator (co-PI) or a co-applicant. Teams may include one co-PI and any number of co-applicants and/or collaborators.

To ensure that Exploration grants support high-risk, high-reward projects across the broadest spectrum of disciplines, individuals can participate in only one application of the NFRF Exploration grants stream at a time, as either an NPI, co-PI or co-applicant. If an NPI, co-PI or co-applicant also had such a role on a previous Exploration grant-funded project, they must have submitted their final report for the previous project at least one month before the full application deadline for the present competition. These restrictions do not apply to collaborators, to the NFRF Transformation and International streams, or to special calls. An individual may simultaneously apply for or be an award holder as NPI, co-PI or co-applicant for grants under separate streams (Exploration, Transformation, International and special calls).

Other research team members, such as trainees (graduate and other students, postdoctoral fellows, etc.) and research personnel (research associates, technicians, etc.), can participate in the project’s research activities, but are not invited as participants through the Convergence Portal.

Early career researcher

A proposal is considered to be led by early career researchers (ECRs) if both the NPI and co-PI (if applicable) are ECRs. An ECR is a researcher within five years from the start date of their first research-related appointment, minus the length of any eligible delays in research (e.g., illness, maternity, parental), as of the first day of the month in which the competition is launched (August 1, 2023, for this Exploration competition), where:

  • “research-related appointments” are defined as those where an individual has the autonomy to conduct research independently;
  • all eligible leaves (e.g., maternity, parental, medical, bereavement) are credited at twice the amount of time taken; and
  • professional leaves (e.g., training, sabbatical, administrative) are not credited.

Research interruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic (e.g., closures) are recognized as, and may be counted as, an eligible delay (credited at twice the amount of time) beginning March 1, 2020.

If a first academic appointment was a part-time appointment/position, years of experience are counted at 50%, until the researcher’s appointment to a full-time academic position. More details are available in the Frequently Asked Questions.

Nominated principal investigator

The NPI:

  • is responsible for the direction of the project and the coordination of proposed research activities, in conjunction with the co-PI (if applicable);
  • completes and submits the NOI and full application, through the research administrator at their institution;
  • assumes 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. A primary affiliation is defined as the primary organization at which an individual is employed, 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 the full application deadline;
    • allows the individual to pursue the proposed research project, engage in independent research activities for the entire duration of the funding, supervise trainees (if applicable, as per the institution’s policy), and publish the research results; and
    • obliges the individual to comply with institutional policies on the conduct of research, supervision of trainees (if applicable), and employment conditions of staff paid using tri-agency funding.

Individuals who are full- or part-time students, postdoctoral fellows or research associates are not eligible to apply as NPIs, regardless of whether they also meet the definition of an independent researcher.

The NPI’s primary affiliation must be with a Canadian institution currently holding full institutional eligibility with one of the agencies. See the list of eligible institutions for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) or Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

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 applicants’ institutions to initiate this process, as appropriate.

Co-principal investigator

The co-PI shares responsibility with the NPI for the direction of the proposed activities, and their research activities related to the project may be supported by grant funds.

The co-PI must also be considered an independent researcher.

They may be affiliated with a Canadian or international organization, but must not be affiliated with a federal, provincial, territorial or municipal government department or a for-profit organization. Students, postdoctoral fellows, research associates, etc. are not eligible to participate as a co-PI.


Co-applicants contribute to the execution of the research project, and their related research activities may be supported by grant funds.

Co-applicants may be, but are not limited to, researchers and professors, practitioners, policy-makers, educators, decision-makers, health-care administrators, Indigenous Elders, Indigenous Knowledge Keepers, community leaders, or individuals working for a charity. If the co-applicant is a researcher or professor, they must be considered an independent researcher.

Co-applicants may be affiliated with a Canadian or international organization, but must not be affiliated with a federal, provincial, territorial or municipal government department or a for-profit 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 their research activities are not supported by 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 international organization.

Any individual whose contributions to the project will be supervised by the NPI, co-PI, co-applicant and/or another collaborator cannot be considered a collaborator.


A federal government employee who is formally affiliated with a Canadian academic institution as an adjunct professor is eligible to be a collaborator. Where students who are registered at an academic institution and formally supervised by an adjunct professor will be participating in the research project, the adjunct professor is eligible to be a co-applicant, but the use of funds by the adjunct professor is limited to salaries or stipends and travel costs for the students under their supervision. Federal government employees who are adjunct professors are also eligible to be co-PIs or co-applicants in exceptional cases where their planned contributions to the project do not fall within the mandate of their federal organization and will not be performed within their employer’s facilities or with their employer’s resources.

Individuals whose primary affiliation is with an Indigenous government are eligible to be co-PIs if they are considered independent researchers, or to be co-applicants or collaborators. Their eligible expenses are limited to those that are related to the execution of the project that are not within the mandate of the Indigenous government.

Individuals indirectly employed by a federal, provincial or municipal government (e.g., employees in police services, education, health care) are eligible to be co-applicants. Their eligible expenses would be limited to those that are related to the execution of the project that are not within the mandate of the individual’s organization of employment. If an individual is indirectly employed by a federal, provincial or municipal government, but they are also an independent researcher and their primary affiliation is a Canadian institution holding full institutional eligibility with one of the agencies (and meet all other eligibility criteria), they may apply as an NPI or co-PI, co-applicant or collaborator.

Subject matter (fit to program)

Exploration grants support projects that are high risk, high reward and interdisciplinary. They may involve disciplines, thematic areas, approaches or subject areas eligible for funding across the three agencies. Eligible projects include those with specific short-to-medium-term objectives, as well as discrete phases in longer-range research programs.

To meet the minimum requirement to be considered interdisciplinary, a proposed research project must combine elements from at least two different disciplines (as defined by a group-level classification based on the Canadian Research and Development Classification). Projects that integrate 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. Interdisciplinarity is evaluated by a multidisciplinary review panel.

The following elements are indicative of projects that do not meet program expectations for high risk, and are considered ineligible: research that is the obvious next step; data collection without interpretation of underlying mechanisms or patterns; professional practice or consulting services (contract research); 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; application of existing technology or commercialization of a product/process; routine analyses; and/or acquisition and maintenance of research equipment.

Applications for projects that are the same or similar, in whole or in part, to ones that have been funded by other federal research granting agency programs should not be submitted to the NFRF program. Applications for projects the same as or similar to projects that have been unsuccessful in receiving funding from other agency programs may be submitted to the NFRF program in cases where the lack of success is due to the high-risk and/or interdisciplinary nature of the project, rather than limited funds in a highly competitive pool.

Applications not meeting any of the requirements outlined above may be deemed ineligible 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).

Applications for funding the same or very similar research cannot be simultaneously submitted to two different funding opportunities, including to funding opportunities at different agencies.

Application process

To apply for this Exploration grant, an NPI must submit a notice of intent to apply (NOI) by the agency deadline: October 11, 2023, at 8:00 p.m. (eastern). Co-PIs and co-applicants must have accepted their invitations to participate through the Portal prior to the submission of the NOI. The research team must then submit a full application by December 12, 2023, at 8:00 p.m. (eastern).

Applicants must complete the NOI and full application using the Convergence Portal, and follow the instructions outlined in the NOI and full application guides.

NOIs and full applications received after the deadlines or that are incomplete will be removed from the competition.

All NOIs and full applications are first submitted to the research administrator (research grants office or equivalent) at the NPI’s primary affiliation. The administrator must submit the NOI or full application through the Convergence Portal before the relevant deadline. Research administrators are free to set their own internal deadlines.

Competition timeline

Date Milestone
August 15, 2023 Competition launches
Convergence Portal opens for NOIs
October 11, 2023 NOI deadline
October 13, 2023 Convergence Portal opens for full applications
December 12, 2023 Full application deadline
By March 31, 2024 Award results released
Start date of awards

Review process


Indigenous research

SSHRC’s Indigenous Research Statement of Principles and Guidelines for the Merit Review of Indigenous Research should be used as references for researchers preparing applications related to or involving Indigenous research. The 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 postsecondary institutions and partner organizations that support Indigenous research.

Equity, diversity and inclusion in research design

Equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in research design involves designing research so that it takes EDI into account, through approaches such as, but not limited to, intersectionality, GBA+ and antiracist approaches, and disaggregated data collection. Analyses should include consideration of diversity and identity factors such as age, culture, disability, education, ethnicity, gender expression and gender identity, immigration and newcomer status, Indigenous identity, language, neurodiversity, parental status/responsibility, place of origin, religion, race, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status. The purpose of EDI in research design is to promote rigorous research that is sensitive to sex and gender, as well as many other identity factors, such as race, ethnicity, religion, age, and mental or physical disability. These considerations must be integrated into the research design, when appropriate, including through research questions, methods, theoretical frameworks, literature reviews, analyses, and the interpretation and dissemination of findings.

Applicants and reviewers should refer to SSHRC’s Guide to Addressing Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Considerations in Partnership Grant Applications, Guide to Including Diversity Considerations in Research Design for Doctoral and Postdoctoral Award Applicants, and NSERC’s Guide on integrating equity, diversity and inclusion considerations in reserach at each stage of the research process. These are similar to the guidance that health researchers would be familiar with under SGBA/GBA+, as described in CHIR’s Sex- and Gender-Based Analysis (SGBA) website section.

A rationale must be provided in cases where a research team believes no aspect of their research may benefit from an analysis to take into consideration sex, gender or other identity factors.

There is a distinction between EDI in research design, which is evaluated by the members of the multidisciplinary review panel as part of the feasibility criterion, regarding how well EDI considerations are integrated into the research design, and EDI in research practice, which focuses on EDI practices in the research team composition and trainee recruitment; fostering an equitable, inclusive and accessible research work environment for team members and trainees; and highlighting diversity and equity in mentoring, training and access to development opportunities (see below).

Selection criteria

There are five selection criteria for funding opportunities offered under the NFRF program. The weightings and application of the criteria vary among different NFRF streams (Exploration, Transformation, International and special calls) to reflect the goals of each. An overview of the criteria as they apply to the evaluation of Exploration proposals follows. The elements considered under each criterion are outlined in more detail in the evaluation matrices.


Applications must clearly demonstrate that the proposal integrates approaches from at least two disciplines that do not traditionally collaborate together, or combines them in a novel way. This is in contrast to a multidisciplinary approach, which involves participants from different disciplines working independently on a common research question.

The application must also explain why an interdisciplinary approach is required, and/or the added value this approach brings to the research problem.

Equity, diversity and inclusion in research practice

EDI in research practice is a core element of the NFRF program. Applicants must clearly demonstrate their commitment to EDI in their research practice, including among trainees (graduate and other students, postdoctoral fellows, etc.), co-PIs, co-applicants and/or collaborators, as applicable. They must explain what actions they will take, the outcomes expected, and the assessment planned for each of the following three key areas:

  • team composition and recruitment processes;
  • training and development opportunities; and
  • inclusion.

Actions taken are expected to remove barriers and provide opportunities for the meaningful integration of individuals from all groups, including the four designated groups (women, Indigenous Peoples, members of visible minorities and persons with disabilities). Consideration of other identities, such as 2SLGBTQIA+, is also appropriate.

An application must not include any personal information about members of the research team (including the number of team members belonging to each of the designated groups) in the EDI in research practice section; the focus is on the team’s commitment to EDI in its research practice, not on the team’s EDI profile.

For more information, see NFRF’s Best Practices in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Research.

High risk

Exploration grants are intended to fund high-risk research. Researchers are encouraged to think “outside of the box,” undertake research that defies current paradigms, and bring disciplines together in unexpected ways and from bold, innovative perspectives. It is recognized that innovation carries risk and, consequently, it is expected that a number of funded projects will fail to meet their objectives.

High risk can be defined by elements such as, but not limited to:

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

High reward

The potential for high reward balances the risk that projects might fail. The high reward criterion evaluates the project’s potential impacts and reach.

High reward can be defined by elements such as:

  • having an economic, scientific, artistic, ideological, cultural, social, technological, environmental or health impact;
  • having an impact on large communities, or unique communities or subpopulations with the potential to provide lessons for other contexts;
  • transforming and/or disrupting conventional thinking;
  • resolving a longstanding issue or debate; and/or
  • significantly advancing current knowledge, methods and/or technologies.


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

  • research problem being addressed;
  • knowledge, expertise and capacity of the research team;
  • consideration of current research in the field;
  • workplan and timeline;
  • proposed approach, including diversity considerations (EDI in research design) where appropriate;
  • project’s engagement and reciprocity with First Nations, Inuit and/or Métis Peoples (for Indigenous research), where appropriate; and
  • suitability of the research environment.

Competition stages

NOIs will be used for administrative purposes (identifying and composing the multidisciplinary review panel).

Full applications will be reviewed by the multidisciplinary review panel.

Internal review

Any NOIs or full applications that do not meet the program’s eligibility requirements and application guidelines will be deemed ineligible for the competition.

Multidisciplinary review panel

A multidisciplinary review panel composed of national and international members with broad expertise will evaluate the applications. To uphold the program’s commitment to EDI, and to ensure the highest quality of review, members of the panel will be diverse, taking into consideration the:

  • 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—full application

Each application will be assigned to five members of the multidisciplinary review panel. Members will have access to the entire application (i.e., materials from the NOI and full application). The members will assess proposals against the following selection criteria:

  • EDI in research practice (pass/fail)
  • interdisciplinarity / fit-to-program (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 to be discussed at the review committee meeting. An application with an overall rating of fail for either EDI in research practice or interdisciplinarity is not considered fundable. Applications must have an overall rating of pass (unanimous pass) or mixed (majority pass) in these criteria to be considered fundable. The multidisciplinary review committee will make a final recommendation on applications for funding to the NFRF Steering Committee. Applications discussed at the deliberation meetings and not recommended for funding will receive a message to the applicant, with feedback from the multidisciplinary review panel.

Steering committee

The Canada Research Coordinating Committee (CRCC) provides strategic direction and oversight for the NFRF and serves as the high-level steering committee for the fund. As a tri-agency program, program oversight is delegated to the NFRF Steering Committee, which includes the presidents of CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC, and the deputy ministers of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, and Health Canada. The NFRF Steering Committee makes decisions regarding which applications to fund, based on the multidisciplinary review panel’s recommendations. It also ensures 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.

Communication of results

Applicants will be informed of competition results via the Convergence Portal. In addition to the notice of decision, all applicants will be provided a summary of the evaluation of their application, with the final overall score by criterion. Applicants whose applications were discussed by the multidisciplinary review panel, but were not successful in the competition will also receive a message to the applicant, providing feedback from the reviewers. For more details about the review process, see the Reviewer Manual.

Regulations, policies and related information

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

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

Recipients of SSHRC funding must comply with SSHRC’s Intellectual Property and Copyright policy.

Use of grant funds

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

The NFRF program uses the Tri-agency Guide on Financial Administration as its general guidelines for eligibility of expenses and use of funds related to the direct costs of research. Exceptions to those policies for Exploration grants are noted below. If unsure about the eligibility of a particular expense, please contact the NFRF team. Rules for the indirect costs portion of the grant can be found on the Research Support Fund website.

Note: Exploration grants are eligible for an automatic one-year time extension to allow grant recipients to bring research/activities to a close. Any remaining grant funds can be spent, but no additional funds will be provided.

The deferral of grant installments is not normally permitted for NFRF grants.

Compensation-related expenses


The following are eligible salary expenses only for NPIs, co-PIs and co-applicants affiliated with an eligible Canadian college:

  • salary for research activities of a part-time faculty member (the total salary support of part-time salary plus NFRF grant salary support cannot exceed that for a full-time faculty member at the institution, when calculated on an annual or hourly basis);
  • salaries and nondiscretionary benefits for technical and professional staff carrying out research and technology, and/or for knowledge transfer personnel (salaries and nondiscretionary benefits for research administrators and business development personnel are not eligible);
  • salaries of replacement faculty hired to backfill a college faculty members’ involvement in the research project; and
  • college student salaries, including nondiscretionary benefits or stipends, to support students’ involvement in the research project.

Termination of a grant

The agencies will terminate a grant when the grantee no longer holds an eligible position at an eligible institution, unless the grant is transferred to an eligible co-PI or co-applicant. It is at the agencies’ sole discretion whether to allow such a transfer. See the Frequently Asked Questions for more information about grant transfers.

Residual balances

All grants paid have a primary holder, namely the person whose name appears on the notice of award.

Any NFRF funds remaining at the end of the Authority to Use Funds period must be returned to SSHRC. Cheques returning unspent funds to SSHRC must be payable to the Receiver General and accompanied by a signed Form 300, indicating an unspent balance in the same amount as the refund.

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 their funding opportunities;
  • apply conditions to individual grants; and
  • alter, without advance notice, the terms and conditions of grant awards, with any and all major changes in regulations being announced promptly.


Grant holders must report on the use of grant funds, on funded activities undertaken during the grant period, and on outcomes. 

The NPI must submit a final report through the Convergence Portal three months after the award end date. The report must include information about the highly qualified personnel who worked on the research, and whether the project met its objectives. This report is in addition to financial reporting requirements.

Contact information

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

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