Knowledge Synthesis Grants

January 2020 Competition

Value $50,000
Duration One year
Application deadline January 7, 2020 (8 p.m. eastern)
Results announced March 2020
Apply Web CV, application and instructions

Adapting to live within the Earth’s carrying capacity is viewed as one of humanity’s most important challenges. Increasing pressures on the planet’s capacity to support life are generating important opportunities to explore changes in global ecosystems, to evaluate mitigation and adaptation measures, and to examine shifting values and cultures.

For many observers, developments such as rising global temperature, growing ocean acidification, frequent forest fires, decreasing biodiversity and disruptive weather patterns are symptoms of deeper issues. Human demands may be exceeding the absorptive and productive capacity of global ecosystems, with evidence indicating that pressures on several ecosystem services are near a tipping point.

A better understanding of the linkages across biodiversity and ecosystem services will help identify their potential interactions and the extent to which natural systems can continue to sustain life. The connections and interdependencies between natural and human systems likewise require further consideration, particularly with respect to adaptation and mitigation responses, governance and capacity-building, socio-economic and policy dimensions, individual and social behaviours, and Indigenous knowledge systems and legal systems. The resulting knowledge will inform possible transitions in coming decades to a more sustainable, equitable and healthy future for generations to come, and will be key to addressing pressing questions regarding humanity’s ability to live within the Earth’s carrying capacity.

Living Within the Earth’s Carrying Capacity is one of 16 new 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 in an evolving global context over the coming decades. All of the challenges cross multiple sectors and research disciplines, and require broad collaboration to address.

SSHRC, with support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), is launching a Knowledge Synthesis Grants funding opportunity to foster a deeper understanding of the state of knowledge regarding the absorptive and productive capacity of global ecosystems, as well as the connections between natural and human systems. The resulting syntheses will identify roles that the academic, public, private and not-for-profit sectors, as well as Indigenous rights-holders, may play in advancing and supporting mitigation and adaptation responses, and may inform the development of effective tools, robust policies and sustainable practices required to support the transition to an equitable, prosperous, healthy and sustainable future.

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. The horizon for impacts may be as much as 20 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, as well as Indigenous rights-holders, 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 nine months of receiving the grant.
  • Participate in a kick-off webinar (tentatively scheduled for April 2020).
  • Attend or send a delegate to a one-day knowledge mobilization forum in Ottawa, attended by multisector stakeholders and Indigenous rights-holders, to discuss the knowledge syntheses. Travel costs for the forum should be included in the budget submitted as part of the application. Details on the meeting (tentatively scheduled for December 2020) will be provided to successful applicants.
  • Identify and invite a non-academic partner or knowledge user to the knowledge mobilization forum, and include their travel costs in the budget submitted as part of the application.

Successful applicants will be provided with guidelines for completing their synthesis report and the two-page evidence brief. Examples of the final reports and evidence briefs produced in a recent Knowledge Synthesis Competition are available on the SSHRC website.

The themes below illustrate the many interconnected issues that encompass the global challenge of Living Within the Earth’s Carrying Capacity. The thematic subquestions 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 subquestions.

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.

The call for proposals invites applications from researchers in any discipline that may inform and contribute to the objectives of this funding opportunity. For this particular future challenge area, a multisectoral approach is sought that bridges academic research and its use across the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. Applicants are encouraged to submit proposals that feature multidisciplinary research teams.

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

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

Measures and evaluation frameworks

  • How are the impacts of current environmental challenges (such as climate change, deforestation, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss and extinction risks) on natural and human systems (including health issues) being captured, measured and evaluated?
  • What targets, metrics and indicators (human, economic, environmental and technological) have been established or proposed to monitor human activities and humanity’s relationship with the Earth’s carrying capacity?
  • How has technical capacity for scenario development and modelling evolved over time, and how might new technologies and analytical approaches provide more accurate forecasts?
  • What are the implications of differing sectoral or discipline-based constructs and measures of sustainability for policy development and the formation of adaptation and mitigation strategies?
  • Are data integration and linkages possible within and between various disciplines, given the use of different measures and indicators to monitor the Earth’s carrying capacity? What indicators might be added to catalyze the disciplinary and multidisciplinary integration of data?

Adaptation and risk mitigation

  • What existing tools, best practices and resources have been leveraged to assess the resiliency and adaptation potential of different natural, socio-economic, health and geopolitical ecosystems?
  • How have different sectors (such as fisheries, energy, mining, forestry, agri-food, human health and wellness, education, the arts, banking and insurance, technology, military / defence / national security, and tourism and recreation) responded to minimize risks related to severe environmental challenges?
  • What are examples of effective adaptation measures adopted by different sectors and how have these measures been established and accelerated?
  • What lessons can be learned from past interventions, policies and behaviours intended to lessen pressures on vulnerable ecosystems that instead had unintended or undesirable consequences?
  • How is unequal access to adaptive technologies and solutions within Canada and around the world being addressed? How do communities in urban, rural or remote settings address capacity-building to develop strategies that meet their specific objectives (such as mitigation, adaptation, protection, conservation, innovation and health promotion)?

Governance and capacity-building

  • How can knowledge about adaptation and risk mitigation strategies and associated results be effectively managed and shared by different levels of government in Canada?
  • What strategies have been proposed or employed by policy-makers to effectively engage stakeholders and Indigenous rights-holders in the development and implementation of adaptation responses (such as health promotion strategies and conservation strategies)? What are best practices in communicating scientific data, models and scenarios to decision-makers, stakeholders and the general public?
  • How can sustainability transitions in major systems of social provisioning, economic sectors, regions and communities be encouraged and accelerated? What lessons can be drawn from ongoing sustainability transitions around the world, as well as from historical experience with previous large-scale societal transitions?

Indigenous knowledge systems and experiences

  • What mitigation and adaptation responses to environmental challenges have been implemented by First Nations, Métis and Inuit in Canada, and by other Indigenous peoples around the world?
  • What roles have traditional and contemporary knowledge and legal systems played in the development of Indigenous mitigation and adaptation responses?
  • How might First Nations, Métis and Inuit knowledge systems and experiences contribute to efforts to address sustainability challenges on a national and international scale?

Economic policy considerations

  • How have governments developed and incentivized sustainable production and consumption patterns and clean economic growth (such as regulations, taxation, subsidies, programs and public procurement)? What are the barriers or gaps in current policies?
  • What role, if any, have issues such as inclusive growth models and the equitable sharing of carrying capacity played in the development and implementation of adaptation and mitigation responses in Canada or internationally?
  • What are examples of established business or economic sectors (such as manufacturing, resources and vehicles) that have successfully shifted their business model toward sustainability? What role, if any, did governments play in enabling those shifts?

Socio-cultural and health considerations

  • What roles do cultural values and knowledge systems play in determining human interactions with the natural world and global ecosystem services, and how have values and cultures been integrated into discussions surrounding sustainability?
  • How are new ways of working and new forms of employment (such as part-time work, flexible work and job sharing), as well as interventions such as universal basic income, social determinants of health and universal social protection, predicted to play a role in rethinking the economy-environment-society interface?
  • How are new technologies such as artificial intelligence, data analytics, sensors, robotics, bioengineering, nanotechnology, neurotechnologies and 3D printing changing attitudes and behaviours and challenging the economy-environment-society interface?
  • What knowledge systems have informed conversations about food security and healthy nutrition in the context of sustainability and accessibility? How can this knowledge be leveraged to address other sustainability health-related challenges?
  • How will measures designed to create a more sustainable society, such as green finance and incentivized consumption patterns, challenge or reinforce existing levels of socio-economic inequality within Canada and on a global scale?

Knowledge Synthesis Grants are valued at $50,000 for one year. All synthesis reports must be completed by December 2020 prior to the one-day forum. Knowledge mobilization activities (that is, conference presentations) can take place throughout the year. Up to 20 grants may be awarded.

By applying for this funding opportunity, successful applicants consent to SSHRC, NSERC and CIHR sharing the resulting synthesis reports and evidence briefs with other interested organizations and individuals.

Subject matter

Knowledge Synthesis Grant proposals may involve any of the disciplines and approaches or subject areas eligible for SSHRC, NSERC or CIHR funding. Please see selecting the appropriate federal granting agency for more information.

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


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

See Institutions below for more information on institutional eligibility requirements and processes for Knowledge Synthesis Grants.

Applicants who have received a SSHRC grant of any type but have failed to submit an end of grant 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. Please 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 apply. Institutional eligibility must be obtained before funding is released.

Institutions may contact Corporate Strategy and Performance to begin the institutional eligibility application process, or 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 institutions; not-for-profit organizations; philanthropic foundations; think tanks; or municipal, territorial or provincial governments.
  • International: Postsecondary institutions.


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 postsecondary institution.

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

Multiple applications and holding multiple awards

Please see SSHRC’s regulations regarding 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.

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.

Applications are adjudicated, and available funds awarded, through a 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, NSERC and CIHR, through this funding opportunity, is to support syntheses covering a range of the subthemes outlined within each of the broad thematic areas, as set out above.

Please note that grants may not necessarily be allocated evenly across subthemes; where there are value-added differences in approach and coverage, more than one grant may be allocated to a single subtheme. In addition to using the criteria below, the overall coverage of themes among recommended applications will be taken into consideration, to ensure a broad distribution of topics will be addressed.

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.

Guidelines for the merit review of Indigenous research

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 applications:

  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Capability—The expertise to succeed (30%):
    • qualifications of the applicant/team to carry out the proposed project (such as expertise in the content area, synthesis methods, information retrieval and Indigenous research); and
    • evidence of other knowledge mobilization activities (such as films, performances, commissioned reports, knowledge syntheses, experience in collaboration / other interactions 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 the month following adjudication.

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 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 SSHRC’s 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.

Guidelines and related support material

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

Successful applicants will be required to share the results of their project with SSHRC, NSERC and CIHR. These agencies will use this information to develop their policies and practices. They may also share this information with other interested sectors of the Government of Canada, as well as with other organizations. This does not in any way limit how researchers may otherwise publish or use the results of their research.

For more information about this funding opportunity, please contact:

Tel.: 343-552-9333

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