Five years ago, my colleagues and I on the Canada Research Coordinating Committee (CRCC) came together with one clear vision: to coordinate federal support for an increasingly diverse and inclusive research enterprise, equipped to address complex global challenges, push the bounds of knowledge and mobilize rapidly in a crisis. Working together, we engaged researchers, institutions and communities across the country to define priority initiatives and move quickly – from vision to action.
When COVID-19 struck in late 2019, Canada’s research response to the pandemic became another—immediate—priority for us. At the same time, it affected every ongoing initiative. Two years later, we added the development of a comprehensive research training strategy with appropriate funding levels as an important new priority and we are now looking ahead to strengthen our international engagement, coordinate a Canadian approach to open access publishing and advise the federal government on research security.
Throughout these short and often tumultuous years, the Committee has become a strategic forum for us: to build consensus and provide advice, direction and oversight on forward-looking initiatives to strengthen the Canadian research enterprise. Today, our organizations are working actively together on coordinated initiatives in seven priority areas:
International, Interdisciplinary, High-risk / high-reward research
In 2018, the CRCC created a game-changing program – the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) – now recognized for driving unprecedented international, interdisciplinary, high-risk / high-reward, rapid-response research. To date, the program has supported more than 800 Canadian-led projects. It has become a leading funder of global research on the COVID-19 recovery and mobilized international funders around a joint initiative on climate change adaptation and mitigation. In addition, it has experimented with novel ways to promote equity, diversity and inclusion in research. As a result, researchers from the four federally designated groups as defined by the Employment Equity Act (women, persons with disabilities, Indigenous Peoples, visible minorities) have been successful in NFRF competitions in proportion to their application rates while early career researchers (ECRs) lead almost half of all funded projects.
Equity, diversity and inclusion
Recognizing that research is strengthened by bringing diverse perspectives to the ways questions are defined and pursued, the CRCC has taken action to enhance equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the research enterprise, notably through implementation of the Tri-Agency EDI Action Plan. The action plan includes initiatives that increase fair access to research support and promote equitable participation in the research system. To ensure that these initiatives are based on expert advice and evidence, the agencies established external advisory bodies, and adopted a harmonized self-identification questionnaire that helps them track and address systemic barriers across their research programs.
In addition, the agencies have developed guidelines for the integration of EDI considerations in research and established mandatory EDI training for staff and peer review committee members. They have worked with postsecondary institutions to foster equitable, inclusive and diverse research cultures through the Dimensions Charter, endorsed by 147 institutions, and the Dimensions pilot program. The agencies have also launched institutional capacity-building grants to assist smaller universities and colleges implementing EDI initiatives and have integrated EDI considerations and requirements in major institutional programs.
Indigenous research and reconciliation
As part of the federal government’s commitment to fulfilling the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, the CRCC supported the funding agencies’ engagement and collaboration with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities in 2018-19, allowing them to co-develop an interagency strategic plan that will advance culturally relevant and respectful models of support for research conducted by and with Indigenous Peoples.
To ensure that implementation of the plan remains rooted in Indigenous perspectives, the agencies, as well as CFI, have worked closely with Indigenous partners to build a community that reflects diverse experiences and knowledge. In this spirit, two external advisory bodies, composed of First Nations, Inuit and Métis members, were established: the Reference Group for the Appropriate Review of Indigenous Research, to evaluate merit and peer review models across the agencies, and the Indigenous Leadership Circle in Research, to provide guidance and oversight for the strategic plan’s implementation. Collaboration with Indigenous partners has enabled important work to continue, even through the challenges of COVID-19, and will remain at the heart of the strategic plan’s implementation.
Early career researchers
Acknowledging ECRs’ vital role in diversifying and strengthening the research enterprise, the CRCC called on the federal funding agencies to provide targeted support for their work. In 2018-19, the agencies allocated 250 new Tier 2 Canada Research Chairs for emerging scholars, with an additional $20,000 research stipend each year for first term chairholders. Furthermore, they adopted a harmonized working definition of an ECR and allocated dedicated funding within their flagship programs proportional to ECRs’ representation in each applicant pool, while also offering ECRs opportunities to participate and gain experience in the peer review process.
With direction from the CRCC, Canada’s research funding agencies are developing a comprehensive research training strategy, with appropriate funding levels, to help institutions attract and prepare a diverse population of students and postdoctoral researchers for careers in and outside academia. Its development is guided by an external advisory committee and focuses on five themes: EDI, evolving career paths, Indigenous research and training, international mobility, and harmonization and streamlining of policies and programs.
Canada’s federal research funding agencies have already launched two initiatives aligned with this priority. In 2022, SSHRC and NSERC provided financial support to Indigenous master’s students through the Canada Graduate Scholarships—Master’s program and, in 2023-2024, all three agencies will increase the number and proportion of Black students and postdoctoral researchers directly supported through their scholarship and fellowship programs.
To help sustain Canada’s research enterprise through the COVID-19 pandemic, the CRCC oversaw delivery of the Canada Research Continuity Emergency Fund, which gave temporary wage support for 32,000 research personnel, helping ensure the continuity of 22,000 projects. The CRCC also served as a forum for sharing information and advice among member organizations, federal agencies and international partners, and encouraged accelerated communication between government and the academic research community through the CanCOVID platform.
Recognizing the importance of international collaboration in addressing global challenges, the CRCC has helped broaden Canada’s international networks by collectively engaging with the heads of research agencies in France, Germany, South Africa, the UK and the US, laying the groundwork for future cooperation through the NFRF program and other initiatives. CRCC member organizations have also adopted a common international framework, outlining shared objectives and principles to help position Canada as a valuable partner in global research and innovation.
The progress we’ve made, since 2018, is testament to the commitment of colleagues across CRCC member organizations and Canada’s ever-growing research community. While much work remains, our collective efforts are already inspiring and supporting a more equitable, connected and innovative research enterprise. I look forward to the future of Canadian research as we continue to move, together, from vision to action.
I invite you to read more about our work in our newly published progress report, Vision to Action: 2018-23.