2021 Innovative Approaches to Research in the Pandemic Context: Competition Overview


Notice of intent to apply deadline September 21, 2021, 8 p.m. (eastern)
Full application deadline October 26, 2021, 8 p.m. (eastern)
Value $250,000 (including indirect costs)
Duration One year
Competition budget $20 million
Number of grants A minimum of 80
A proportion of awards equal to the proportion of applications received from early career researchers will be reserved for them.
Results announced January 2022
Grant start date January 2022
How to apply

All applicants must complete the notice of intent to apply (NOI) 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

Consult this section regularly for updates on the 2021 rapid response 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 webinars to learn more about the competition and the overall application process.

There are a limited number of attendee spots per session. Institutions are strongly encouraged to arrange group webinar sessions for their researchers. Webinars will be recorded and the presentations made available following the session. Please contact your institution’s research grants office for more information.

Notice of intent to apply stage and full application guide
Date Time Language
August 12 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. (eastern) French

Join webinar

August 12 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. (eastern) English

Join webinar

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a documented disruptive effect on researchers’ ability to continue planned research activities, particularly community and field-based research. However, the pandemic also provides a unique opportunity to explore new directions in research methodologies, such as innovative approaches to increasing research inclusiveness through the proactive engagement and empowerment of community and other stakeholders to conduct research themselves. This exploration could include developing and testing new approaches to community science, patient-oriented research, Indigenous-led research and more.

While there are challenges, including, for example, the high cost of technologies used in remote data collection, new approaches to conducting research also bring opportunities, such as deepening community leadership in the research process. The development of new ways of doing research is high risk, in that it has the potential to fail. If successful, new research methodologies are also high reward—significantly enhancing the capacity for knowledge generation, dissemination and use in Canada and around the world. New research methodologies have the potential to benefit researchers, the communities engaged in and empowered by the research, and all those impacted by the outcomes of the research. They may be used beyond the COVID-19 pandemic and their positive impacts may be long lasting. They may be adopted widely to complement or replace existing methodologies, or be used only when emergency situations, such as pandemics or natural disasters, preclude the use of existing methodologies.

The goal of this rapid response call is to accelerate the exploration of new approaches and the development and testing of new directions in research methodologies. It is expected that this call will predominately support new ways of conducting community and field-based research, since the pandemic has had the greatest impact on researchers’ ability to collect data and conduct this type of research.

Rapid response grants will support projects to continue work that was interrupted or stalled by the pandemic and that trial and test a novel and innovative research approach with the potential to benefit Canada and the world. Proposals must be time sensitive and demonstrate a new way of doing research in situations where conventional or established research methods cannot be used due to COVID-19-related restrictions.

The maximum budget for the direct costs of the research project is $200,000. Awards are one-year grants and are eligible for an automatic one-year extension. Grantees will have two years to complete their projects and spend grant funds. Requested amounts should reflect the funds required to carry out the project and must be justified. 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.

Project team

Applications to this call may be submitted by either a nominated principal investigator (NPI) alone or by a team, which may include up to one co-principal investigator (co-PI) and any number of co-applicants and/or collaborators.

Individuals may participate in only one application to this competition, in any role. There are no restrictions to participation for an individual who has applied for or will apply for, or who is a current award holder (as an NPI, co-PI or co-applicant) on any other NFRF grant (Exploration, Transformation, Global Platform).

Early career researcher

For a proposal to be considered led by early career researchers (ECRs), both the NPI and co-PI (if applicable) must be 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 of the month in which the competition is launched (August 1, 2021, for this 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 FAQs.

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 federal research funding 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) (the agencies).

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, before 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 may access 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 may access grant funds.

Co-applicants may be independent researchers, or, they may be, but are not limited to, practitioners, policy-makers, educators, decision-makers, healthcare 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 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 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 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. When 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. 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 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 related to the execution of the project that are not within the mandate of the individual’s organization of employment.

Subject matter (fit to program)

These rapid response grants support the exploration and development of novel and innovative research methodologies. The project may involve any discipline, thematic area, approach or subject area for funding across the three agencies. For this call, it is not required for projects to be interdisciplinary; however, the applicant is encouraged to consider how the development of a new methodology could be applied to different disciplines, if appropriate. Eligible projects include those with specific objectives that are attainable within the short term.

Applications must propose the development of a new way of doing research. The planned methodology must be novel within the research community and not just a new approach for the applicant. The onus will be on the applicant to explain the novelty of the approach.

Applications for projects that will trial and test a new methodology are eligible as long as they represent a new project, even if they have similar objectives to applications that have been submitted to or funded by other federal research granting agency programs. Applications for projects that are the same as or similar (in whole or in part) to applications that have been funded by any federal research granting agency programs, including NFRF Exploration, are not eligible and should not be submitted.


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 when receiving a notice of award.

To apply for this Exploration grant, NPIs, along with a co-PI and/or co-applicants, must submit a NOI by September 21, 2021. The research team must then submit a full application by October 26, 2021.

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 that are received after the deadlines or are incomplete will be withdrawn 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.

Date Milestone
August 4, 2021 Competition launches
Convergence Portal opens for NOIs
September 21, 2021 NOI deadline
September 28, 2021 Convergence Portal opens for full applications
October 26, 2021 Full application deadline
January 2022 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 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 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. 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. GBA+ considerations must be integrated into the design of the new research methodology. Applicants and reviewers should refer to Women and Gender Equality Canada’s information on GBA+ as well as the Sex- and Gender-Based Analysis (SGBA) section of CIHR’s website for definitions for sex, gender and GBA+, as well as information on applying GBA+ to the development and assessment of research proposals.

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.

For the NFRF program, GBA+ is distinct from the EDI criterion.

Selection criteria

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

Fit to program

Applications must clearly establish that the proposed idea is a novel or innovative research methodology that responds to limitations of current methodologies owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Equity, diversity and inclusion

EDI is a core element of the NFRF program.

Applicants must clearly demonstrate their commitment to EDI in their research teams, including among students, postdoctoral fellows, 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).

An application must not include any personal information about members of the research team in the EDI section; the focus is on the team’s commitment to EDI, not its EDI profile.

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

High risk

These rapid response grants are intended to stimulate the innovation of new research methodologies. Researchers are encouraged to think “outside the box” to develop novel methodologies that defy traditional research standards and are applicable to the current and post-pandemic context. In the context of this call, high risk refers to the novelty of the proposed research methodologies, which may include frameworks, methods and techniques. Applications will have to explain how the proposed approach is novel, as it relates to the latest methodologies and techniques. It is recognized that innovation carries risk and, consequently, it is expected that a number of funded projects may not meet their objectives.

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

  • proposing unique research methods and techniques; and
  • challenging the current standards of approaches to research.

High reward

High reward in this call is defined as the potential to significantly advance current research methods or techniques, and to have a corresponding impact on one or more fields of research and the communities involved in or affected by the research. Applications must explain the anticipated impact of the new research methodology; the communities or disciplines that may adopt it; the potential impact that greater engagement, community participation and community leadership will have on the communities and the research; and why it is expected that the new methodology may continue to be used in a post-pandemic context, either as a standard practice or in emergency contexts.


Feasibility considers the project plan and the research team’s ability to execute the activities. It includes elements such as:

  • research challenge being addressed;
  • knowledge, expertise and capacity of the research team;
  • current research in the field;
  • work plan and timeline;
  • proposed approach, including GBA+ 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 to compose the multidisciplinary review panel.

Full applications will be reviewed by members of 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 withdrawn from 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 three members of the multidisciplinary review panel. The review panel will be multidisciplinary, reflecting the variety of disciplines in submitted proposals. Applications will be assigned to members based on disciplinary knowledge and expertise.

Review panel members will have access to the entire application and will assess proposals against the following selection criteria, using the evaluation matrices as a guide:

  • fit to program
  • EDI
  • high risk
  • high reward
  • feasibility

Excellent applications—those that meet the expectations set out in this funding opportunity for all criteria—are considered fundable. In the event that more excellent applications are submitted than there are available funds, a randomized selection process will be used to select the applications to be awarded grants from among those deemed “fundable.”

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 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. For more details about the review process, see the Reviewer Manual.

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 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 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 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.

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 holding a contract of less than three years with the institution (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);
  • limited costs towards course load reduction, for replacement of faculty to support faculty members’ involvement in the research project (up to $9,000 per course load reduction per semester per faculty, or the equivalent of 0.1 full-time-equivalent positions); 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.

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

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