Knowledge Synthesis Grants

Skills and Work in the Digital Economy

September 2020 Competition

Value $30,000
Duration 1 year
Application deadlineFootnote * September 3, 2020 (8 p.m. eastern)
Results announced December 2020
Apply Web CV, application and instructions

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Digital technologies are transforming the economy and revolutionizing the nature of work. Workers, employers and policy-makers are confronting new challenges and opportunities as emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR), block chain, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), and 3D printing are disrupting value chains and global markets.

For many workers and industries, the COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath will significantly affect their transition to the digital economy. The pandemic has laid bare the economic and social vulnerabilities of gig workers and those employed in low-paying or unstable sectors; highlighted the implications of unequal access to technologies such as the internet; and drawn attention to the important community roles played by front-line service workers. The differentiated impacts of the pandemic on marginalized and underrepresented communities and individuals have led to wider conversations about systemic inequalities in the labour market.

At the same time, the need for social distancing has demonstrated the potential of digital solutions and remote work arrangements, revealing the many ways that technologies can complement and augment human labour. Work-from-home orders have also created space in which to question traditional policies and practices, such as set office hours and hierarchical management structures, opening the way for new, innovative ways of working.

The ongoing crisis has provided an opportunity to re-evaluate how we work; at a time when the survival of many industries is in doubt and hundreds of thousands of individuals face economic uncertainty, it may also become the principal driving force behind a more inclusive and equitable digital future.

Working in the Digital Economy is one of the 16 global future challenges identified through SSHRC’s Imagining Canada’s Future initiative. These complex issues were identified following an extensive foresight exercise and reflect key challenges that Canada is likely to face over the coming decades. All of the challenges cross multiple sectors and research disciplines, and require broad collaboration to address. Working in the Digital Economy is also a major focus for Canada’s new Future Skills Centre, a forward-thinking centre for research and collaboration dedicated to preparing Canadians for employment success and meeting the emerging talent needs of employers.

SSHRC, in collaboration with the Future Skills Centre, is launching this Knowledge Synthesis Grant funding opportunity to foster a deeper understanding of the state of knowledge on the implications of digital technologies for workers in a global landscape. The resulting synthesis reports will identify how academic, public, private and not-for-profit sectors can support workers in response to the new challenges and opportunities presented by digital technologies and the COVID-19 crisis. The reports will also suggest ways that educators, employers and policy-makers can encourage lifelong learning and create effective, resilient and inclusive workplaces in a rapidly changing economic landscape. Furthermore, understanding the ways in which new technologies are challenging traditional constructs of work and the workplace, governance, education, labour relations, and economic growth may empower individuals and organizations in a time of economic uncertainty.

Knowledge Synthesis Grants

Knowledge Synthesis Grants support researchers in producing knowledge synthesis reports and evidence briefs that:

  • support the use of evidence in decision-making and the application of best practices; and
  • assist in developing future research agendas.

Applicants must address the following three objectives in their proposals:

State of knowledge, strengths and gaps

  • critically assess the state of knowledge of the future challenge theme under consideration from a variety of sources, as appropriate;
  • identify knowledge strengths and gaps within the theme; and
  • identify the most promising policies and practices related to the theme.

Research data

  • assess the quality, accuracy and rigour (i.e., methodological approaches) of current work in the field; and
  • identify strengths and gaps in the quantitative and qualitative data available.

Knowledge mobilization

  • engage cross-sectoral stakeholders (academic, public, private and not-for-profit sectors) and/or First Nations, Métis and Inuit rights-holders throughout the project to mobilize knowledge related to promising policies and practices; and
  • use effective knowledge mobilization methods to facilitate the sharing of research findings with cross-sectoral stakeholders and Indigenous rights-holders.

Expected outcomes

Knowledge syntheses are comprehensive analyses of literature and other forms of knowledge on a particular question or issue. All types of knowledge synthesis approaches, tools and protocols, such as scoping reviews, systematic reviews and narrative syntheses, are encouraged under this funding opportunity. Synthesized results can include qualitative, quantitative or multi-method research

Knowledge Synthesis Grants are not intended to support original research. Rather, they are intended to support the synthesis of existing research knowledge and the identification of knowledge gaps. This call is particularly focused on the state of research knowledge emerging over the past 10 years.

In support of the objectives above, Knowledge Synthesis Grants will help in identifying roles that the academic, public, private and not-for-profit sectors may play in developing and implementing robust policies, best practices and tools.

Successful applicants will be expected to do the following:

  • Complete a synthesis report (maximum 40 pages) and two-page evidence brief within six months of receiving the grant.
  • Participate in a kick-off webinar (tentatively scheduled for January 2021).
  • Participate in an in-person or virtual knowledge mobilization forum six months after the grant has been awarded, to promote research findings with cross-sectoral stakeholders and knowledge users. The format of the forum has yet to be determined. Grant applicants must include travel costs for a one-day forum in Ottawa as part of the budget submitted with their applications. If the forum takes place virtually, the funds set aside for travel can be reallocated towards additional knowledge mobilization activities. Successful applicants will receive further details on the forum (tentatively scheduled for June 2021).

Successful applicants will receive guidelines for completing their synthesis report and the two-page evidence brief. Researchers are expected to make their synthesis reports publicly available—such as through their webpage or through an institutional repository—and to include the link in their evidence brief. SSHRC will make all evidence briefs publicly available on its website. See examples of the final reports and evidence briefs produced in a recent Knowledge Synthesis Grant funding opportunity for additional guidance.


The themes below illustrate the many interconnected issues that encompass the global challenge of Skills and Work in the Digital Economy. The thematic questions are intended to provide guidance to applicants.  Proposals examining other issues relevant to a theme are also welcome, as are proposals that combine themes or questions.

Researchers may include international comparisons and case studies in their proposals, but must demonstrate how the research has the potential to inform policy issues in Canada.

This Knowledge Synthesis Grant funding opportunity is guided by the following perspectives:

  1. Drawing on domestic, international and/or cross-sectoral evidence, what can the Canadian academic community tell us about these issues?
  2. How might the findings guide public policy, practice and research agendas for Canada and the world?

Education and training: Skills, competencies and lifelong learning

  • How are employers, educators and policy-makers encouraging and supporting the creation of a skilled workforce and a responsive system of lifelong learning that can meet evolving labour demands?
  • How are employers from different sectors communicating their labour needs and working with policy-makers and educators to help students and workers understand and acquire in-demand skills?
  • How are innovative education initiatives, work-integrated learning programs, and grassroots movements (e.g., online courses, massive open online course [MOOCs], not-for-profit educational platforms, apprenticeships, video games/massively multiplayer online role-playing games [MMORPGs], makerspaces, etc.) preparing individuals for employment in the digital economy?
  • Which training and upskilling approaches have been effective in preparing workers for mobility across sectors and occupations in the face of digital disruptions and opportunities? Which approaches have been particularly successful in reaching and assisting low-income workers and those from disadvantaged groups?

Work and the worker: Innovation and engagement

  • How are digital technologies transforming the nature of work in different sectors?
  • How has COVID-19 driven innovation and adaptation in the workplace?
  • As individuals experiment with generating income through activities other than wage labour, how are new technologies redefining traditional understandings of “work”?
  • How are technologies and new ways of working affecting employee engagement? Will the transition to a digital economy provide more opportunities for individuals to find meaning in their work?
  • Who is driving change in organizations and sectors by championing new technologies and new ways of working?

The workplace: Workspaces and interpersonal relationships

  • How are new technologies and/or COVID-19 influencing the design, structure and location of physical workspaces? What are the broader implications of evolving workspaces for workers, employers, and communities, particularly related to inclusion?
  • What approaches have employers adopted in implementing remote work programs? What metrics are being used to evaluate the success of remote work arrangements?
  • With increasing numbers of individuals working from home, what are the implications for work-life balance? How are employers supporting the mental health of their remote employees?
  • In what ways are digital technologies such as telepresence, robotics and virtual reality altering relationships and redefining roles in the workplace?
  • How are management structures adapting to meet the needs of fast-paced digital workplaces? To what extent do technologies reinforce or challenge traditional hierarchies?

Society: Changing social dynamics

  • Are new technologies being leveraged to create a more inclusive workforce and economy, or is unequal access to technologies and the internet exacerbating existing socio-economic and geo-political divides (i.e., gender wage gaps, class divides, discrimination against marginalized and underrepresented groups, rural-urban divide, etc.)?
  • What forms of social protection and income security are needed for workers and workplaces in the digital economy? What new practices have been adopted in Canada and elsewhere to support gig workers and employees in vulnerable sectors?
  • How has the COVID-19 crisis changed perceptions of front-line service workers, and how might these perceptions influence the transition to the digital economy?

Governance: Regulations and ethics

  • What metrics are being used by policy-makers to evaluate the economic and social impacts of digital technologies? Do these metrics include or exclude different segments of the population, particularly marginalized and underrepresented groups?
  • How is the transition to the digital economy affecting taxation processes and social infrastructure?
  • What legal and ethical challenges do employers and regulators face as a result of the changing definitions of “workplace” and “worker?” How is misclassification of employment being addressed? What regulatory frameworks have been adopted in Canada and elsewhere in this context?
  • How is the issue of digital surveillance in the workplace being addressed?
  • In what ways are new technologies advancing and/or hindering labour relations and the rights of workers? How are unions, lobbyists and law-makers determining the rights of workers in emerging industries and in new employment arrangements (e.g., gig workers)? What are the implications for collective representation and collective bargaining, and for union organizing?

Geopolitical considerations: Local, regional and global contexts

  • How are new technologies affecting international trade relations and what are the implications for workers in traditional and emerging industries?
  • How might employment regulations and standards be established and enforced in a globalized economy, where workers can live in one jurisdiction and work in another? What role is there for international institutions and global governance mechanisms?
  • Has the transition to the digital economy enhanced or hindered sustainable development efforts and practices? What are the environmental implications of new technologies and an increasingly globalised workforce?
  • How is COVID-19 affecting the international flows of people, ideas and resources (e.g., the supply chain)? How is the pandemic challenging assumptions about globalization and the value of digital technologies in enabling globally dispersed workforces?
  • How have digital technologies contributed to economic growth at the local level? What are the systemic barriers to rural, remote and urban regions leveraging technologies to become more self-sufficient, and how might they be overcome?

SSHRC welcomes applications involving Indigenous research.

Value and duration

Knowledge Synthesis Grants are valued at $30,000 for one year. Knowledge mobilization activities (that is, conference presentations and outreach activities) can take place throughout the year. All synthesis reports must be completed by June 2021 prior to the one-day forum. Up to 35 grants may be awarded.

By applying for this funding opportunity, successful applicants consent to SSHRC and the Future Skills Centre sharing the resulting synthesis reports and evidence briefs with other interested organizations and individuals. This does not in any way limit how researchers may otherwise publish or use the results of their research.


Subject matter

Most SSHRC funding is awarded through open competitions. Proposals may involve any disciplines, thematic areas, approaches or subject areas eligible for SSHRC funding. See the guidelines on subject matter eligibility for more information.

Projects whose primary objective is curriculum development are not eligible for funding under this funding opportunity.


Applications may be submitted by an individual researcher or a team of researchers (consisting of one applicant and one or more co-applicants and/or collaborators).

Applicants must be affiliated with an eligible Canadian institution before funding can be released. Researchers who maintain an affiliation with a Canadian institution, but whose primary affiliation is with a non-Canadian postsecondary institution, are not eligible for applicant status.

Applicants who have received a SSHRC grant of any type but have failed to submit an achievement report by the deadline specified in their Notice of Award are not eligible to apply for another SSHRC grant until they have submitted the report.

Postdoctoral researchers are eligible to be applicants if they have formally established an affiliation with an eligible institution at the time of application, and maintain such an affiliation for the duration of the grant period.


Grant funds may only be administered by an eligible Canadian institution. Institutions proposing to administer a grant awarded under this funding opportunity must hold or obtain institutional eligibility. See SSHRC’s list of eligible institutions.

Indigenous not-for-profit organizations being assessed for or holding institutional eligibility to administer multiple grants over a five-year period are eligible to administer Knowledge Synthesis Grants. They must obtain institutional eligibility before funding is released.

Institutions must contact Corporate Strategy and Performance if they have questions about institutional eligibility.


An individual (including postdoctoral researchers) is eligible to be a co-applicant if they are formally affiliated with any of the following:

  • Canadian: Eligible postsecondary institution; not-for-profit organization; philanthropic foundation; think tank; or municipal, territorial or provincial government.
  • International: Postsecondary institution.


Any individual who makes a significant contribution to the project is eligible to be a collaborator. Collaborators do not need to be affiliated with an eligible Canadian institution.

Individuals from the private sector or federal government can only participate as collaborators.

Multiple applications and holding multiple awards

See SSHRC’s regulations on multiple applications and holding multiple awards for more information.


Grant holders will be expected to report on the use of grant funds, on funded activities undertaken during the grant period, and on outcomes. Successful applicants will be informed of reporting requirements upon receiving their Notice of Award.

Application process

Applicants must complete the application form in accordance with accompanying instructions. Applications must be submitted electronically by an authorized research grants officer, or equivalent, from the applicant’s institution, or by a representative of the not-for-profit organization who has financial signing authority and is not participating in the project.

Applicants needing help while preparing their application should communicate with SSHRC well in advance of the application deadline.

Evaluation and adjudication

Applications are adjudicated, and available funds awarded, through a competitive merit review process. SSHRC bases funding decisions on the recommendations of the adjudication committee and on the funds available. Committee discussions are guided by the principle of minimum essential funding.

The goal of SSHRC and the Future Skills Centre is to support syntheses covering a range of themes relating to the global challenge of Working in the Digital Economy. Grants may not necessarily be allocated evenly across themes; where there are value-added differences in approach and coverage, more than one grant may be allocated to a single theme. In addition to using the evaluation criteria below, and in keeping with established KSG practices, SSHRC will consider the overall coverage of themes among recommended applications in its funding decisions, to ensure that a broad distribution of topics will be addressed by the synthesis reports.

Knowledge Synthesis Grants are not intended to support original research. Rather, they are intended to support the synthesis of existing research knowledge and the identification of knowledge gaps.

SSHRC’s Guidelines for the Merit Review of Indigenous Research are relevant for researchers (applicants and project directors) and students preparing SSHRC applications related to Indigenous research. SSHRC provides these guidelines to merit reviewers to help build understanding of Indigenous research and research-related activities, and to assist committee members in interpreting SSHRC’s specific evaluation criteria in the context of Indigenous research. SSHRC relies on a community of merit reviewers with experience and expertise in Indigenous research to judge the extent to which the guidelines may be applied to a particular research proposal. The guidelines may also be of use to external assessors, postsecondary institutions and partner organizations that support Indigenous research.

Evaluation criteria and scoring

The following criteria and scoring scheme are used to evaluate the applications:

  1. Challenge—The aim and importance of the endeavour (40%):
    • expected contribution to the funding opportunity’s stated objectives;
    • significance of the applicant’s chosen topic or area(s) for synthesis, based on the issues identified in this call for proposals;
    • potential influence and impact in informing policy and practice in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors; and
    • identification of research gaps that might be addressed by a forward-looking research agenda in the chosen area(s).
  2. Feasibility—The plan to achieve excellence (30%):
    • ability to meet the objectives of the funding opportunity;
    • appropriateness of the methodology or approach and of the work plan, including timelines for the design and conduct of the activity;
    • quality and appropriateness of knowledge mobilization plans, including effective dissemination, exchange and engagement with stakeholders within and/or beyond the research community, where applicable; and
    • appropriateness of the requested budget.
  3. Capability—The expertise to succeed (30%):
    • qualifications of the applicant/team to carry out the proposed project (such as expertise in the research area, synthesis methods, information retrieval and Indigenous research); and
    • evidence of other knowledge mobilization activities (such as films, performances, commissioned reports, knowledge syntheses, experience collaborating/interacting with stakeholders, and contributions to public debate and the media) and of impacts on policy and practice.

Scoring table

Adjudication committee members assign a score for each of the three criteria above, based on the following scoring table. The appropriate weighting is then applied to arrive at a final score. Applications must receive a score of 3.0 or higher for each of the three criteria to be recommended for funding.

Score Descriptor
5-6 Very good to excellent
4-4.9 Good to very good
3-3.9 Satisfactory to good
Below 3 Unsatisfactory

Communication of results

SSHRC informs all applicants in writing of the outcome of their applications within a month after adjudication. Results are not provided by telephone or email.

Regulations, policies and related information

SSHRC reserves the right to determine the eligibility of applications, based on the information therein. SSHRC also reserves the right to interpret the regulations and policies governing its funding opportunities.

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

Grant holders must also follow the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications. See the Open Access overview for more information. The SSHRC Research Data Archiving Policy has been retired. In March 2021, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and SSHRC launched the Tri-Agency Research Data Management Policy. As of April 1, 2021, this new policy replaces SSHRC’s Research Data Archiving policy, for all active grants.

Specific rules for the use of grant funds

  • No team members (applicant, co-applicant or collaborator) may be remunerated with grant funds. This includes postdoctoral researchers serving in any of these capacities.
  • Consultation fees are eligible for expert and/or professional and technical services that contribute directly to the proposed research, as long as the service is not being provided by a team member or other persons whose status would make them eligible to apply for a SSHRC grant.

Guidelines and related support material

All applicants for SSHRC funding should consult the following guidelines while preparing their applications:

Contact information

For more information, contact:

Tel.: 343-552-9333

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