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Our review process

Our review process

Our merit-review process relies on experts from across Canada and around the world to ensure we fund only the best research infrastructure projects.

What makes our merit-review process unique?

  • Is designed to reward research excellence
  • Is rigorous, competitive and independent
  • Is strategic by awarding funding to projects that align with an institution’s research strengths
  • Is aligned with the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) which promotes using a range of outputs and impact measures, rather than journal publications alone, to assess the overall value of research.

How do we award funding?

Institutions apply

First, eligible Canadian institutions apply for funding through one of our funding opportunities.

We do a preliminary review

We review each proposal to make sure it’s complete and that the requested infrastructure is eligible.

We recruit experts from around the world to participate in our merit-review process

Every year, we engage hundreds of experts from around the world to contribute to our review process. We seek out individuals who bring a range of expertise and experience to the process and we endeavour to convene reviewers who collectively reflect our values of equity, diversity and inclusion.

The merit-review process begins

Our well-established merit-review process is at the heart of how we support excellent Canadian research.

Find out how our merit-review process works

Our Board of Directors makes the final decision

Proposals recommended for funding go to our Board of Directors for final funding decisions.

Institutions leverage our funding to secure partner funding

We typically fund up to 40 percent of a project’s research infrastructure costs. Institutions leverage our support to attract the remaining 60 percent from partners in the public, private and non-profit sectors.

The Government of Canada publicly announces the new funding

We work with the Government of Canada to publicly announce the list of funded projects. This is an opportunity for institutions to showcase the excellent work of their researchers.

How does the CFI choose which projects to fund?

We have a well-established, rigorous, competitive and independent merit-review process that rewards research excellence. We rely on experts from around the world to ensure that only the best projects are funded.
Whether it’s to discover something new about the universe, or to develop new technologies that improve the way we live, researchers across Canada are thinking big. But to transform big ideas into big breakthroughs, they need state-of-the-art facilities and equipment to help them along.
At the Canada Foundation for Innovation, we invest in research infrastructure for projects that have the greatest potential to enhance our capacity to innovate, and bring tangible benefits to Canadians. We do this through a unique merit-review process that recognizes excellence and ensures only the very best proposals get funded. Here is how the process works.
Stage one: Expert review committees
We receive project proposals from institutions and group them together by research field.
Then, we have committees of experts from around the world assess proposals in their area of expertise. The committees submit a report to the CFI, outlining the strengths and weaknesses of each proposal. These proposals then move on to stage two.
Stage two: Multidisciplinary Assessment Committees (MAC)
Here, we convene several Multidisciplinary Assessment Committees composed of experienced individuals from across the globe, with a deep understanding of the research and innovation landscape, and the potential for significant outcomes.
A MAC can review up to 40 proposals across different research disciplines, and determine which proposals best fit the criteria set out for a specific funding competition. Criteria may vary from one competition to another, but they generally assess the excellence of the proposed research activities, the expertise of the research team and the partnerships they develop, the projects’ ability to enhance the capacity for innovation, without forgetting the potential benefits to Canadians.
Since we often end up with more deserving proposals than we can fund, we move on to stage three.
Stage Three: Special Multidisciplinary Assessment Committee (S-MAC)
The Special Multidisciplinary Assessment Committee identifies, amongst all excellent proposals, the ones that best meet the competition objectives without surpassing the available competition budget.
Finally, S-MAC recommendations are sent to the CFI Board of Directors, who offer the final approval. So that’s how our merit-review process works.
We’re very grateful to the many experts who come to us from around the world and volunteer to help us invest in Canada’s future. This kind of collaboration is one of the ways in which research builds communities.

How does our merit-review process work?

Our process for reviewing proposals is structured, because it assesses them against an established set of criteria for each competition and relies on a series of steps to ensure that successful projects meet a high standard.

But it’s also flexible enough that we can tailor it to the complexity of different funds, competitions or projects.

For example, proposals requesting less than $400,000 from our John R. Evans Leaders Fund can be evaluated through a written review by two or more experts and with no committee required. In contrast, proposals to our Innovation Fund that request a large sum or involve many disciplines, for example, may require extra steps to be thoroughly reviewed.

However we configure the process, the result is the same: a rigorous, independent evaluation that results in funding for the most excellent research infrastructure projects.

What happens at each stage of the merit-review process?

Our review process could rely on up to three different committees of experts — an Expert Committee, a Multidisciplinary Assessment Committee and sometimes a Special Multidisciplinary Assessment Committee. These committees assess each proposal based on the objectives of the competition and three main criteria:

  • the quality of the research and the need for infrastructure
  • the project’s contribution to strengthening the institution’s capacity for innovation
  • the potential benefit of the research to Canada.

Stage 1: Expert Committees

  • A committee of experts with a breadth of experience evaluate the proposals from that field.
  • They use a five-point rating scale to indicate how well each proposal meets the competition’s assessment criteria.
  • We send the Expert Committee’s report and the proposals to the Multidisciplinary Assessment Committees to begin stage 2 of the review.

What is the role of the Expert Committee?

Expert Committees play a key role in the CFI's merit-review process. Find out what the committees do, and how their members are chosen.
At the Canada Foundation for Innovation, we invest in the infrastructure that researchers need to think big, innovate and push the boundaries of knowledge.

We provide funding to eligible Canadian institutions for equipment, technology, and the spaces necessary to conduct world-class research, as well as support for their ongoing operations and maintenance.

For each of our various funding competitions, we invite institutions to submit project proposals that outline their research goals and the infrastructure they'll need to reach them.

We then recruit experts from around the world to participate in our merit-review process.

Here's how it works and what you, the Expert Committee, need to know:

First, we group proposals together by research field and assign a committee of experts in that field to assess them.

An Expert Committee is typically composed of a Chair and two to six members, depending on the number and breadth of proposals that we'll review. The Chair ensures that the Expert Committee functions effectively and objectively in accordance with CFI policies.

As a member of the Expert Committee, your job is to review each proposal independently and submit individual assessments to the CFI before meeting with other committee members.

Using a five-point rating scale, you will need to judge how well each proposal meets the competition’s assessment criteria. You will need to substantiate your ratings by listing the strengths and weaknesses you've identified for each criterion. We also ask that you comment on the appropriateness of the proposed budget.

This exercise allows you to identify key talking points that will help focus your committee's discussion, so you can reach a consensus efficiently. If there are many proposals assigned to your committee, they may be divided up between members to ensure that every proposal gets thoroughly reviewed.

All materials necessary to make your assessments can be found in CAMS, our awards management portal. You will need to activate your CAMS account to access the materials. With the members of your committee, you will be asked to reach a consensus on the strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately on ratings for each assessment criteria.

Expert Committees evaluating up to three proposals generally meet by teleconference, unless the proposals are particularly large or complex.

Committees evaluating more than three proposals will meet in person for one to two days, depending on the number of proposals. For large and complex projects, Expert Committees may even meet with representatives of the research team and the applicant institution to ask specific questions about the project.

A CFI representative will be present and taking notes at every meeting. They will then draft a report for each proposal, outlining the Expert Committee's conclusions and send them to the committee Chair for approval.

These reports, along with the proposals, are then handed off to the Multidisciplinary Assessment Committee, or MAC, for stage 2 of our merit-review process.

At this stage, we regroup proposals based on the size of the applicant institution and the amount of infrastructure funding requested from the CFI. Guided by the Expert Committee reports, MAC members are asked to evaluate proposals based on the competition's objectives and recommend which projects to fund.

If the number of proposals recommended by the MAC exceeds the competition's available budget, a third committee known as the Special Multidisciplinary Assessment Committee, or SMAC, is responsible for narrowing down the choices. The recommended proposals are then sent to the CFI Board of Directors for approval.

As you can see, the Expert Committees are the foundation of our valued merit-review process. Your expertise allows us to fund trailblazing projects with the greatest potential for impact, projects at the forefront of exploration and knowledge that address global challenges and make meaningful contributions to Canada's social, health, environmental and economic development.

Stage 2: Multidisciplinary Assessment Committees

The Multidisciplinary Assessment Committees are recruited by the CFI for their breadth of experience and expertise and their capacity to assess proposals in a multidisciplinary context.

  • Multidisciplinary Assessment Committees build on the Expert Committees’ reports to evaluate how well the proposals meet the competition’s objectives.
  • Multidisciplinary Assessment Committees recommend which proposals to fund and recommend those which meet our standard of excellence.
  • If the proposals recommended exceed the competition's available budget, we convene a third committee —a Special Multidisciplinary Assessment Committee —to narrow down the list of recommended projects.

What is the role of the Multidisciplinary Assessment Committee?

The Multidisciplinary Assessment Committee plays a key role in the CFI's merit-review process. Find out what the committee does, and how its members are chosen.
At the Canada Foundation for Innovation, we invest in the infrastructure that researchers need to think big, innovate and push the boundaries of knowledge. We provide funding to eligible Canadian institutions for equipment, technology and the spaces necessary to conduct world-class research, as well as support for their ongoing operations and maintenance.

For each of our various funding competitions, we invite institutions to submit project proposals that outline their research goals and the infrastructure they'll need to reach them.

We then recruit experts from around the world to participate in our three-stage merit review process.

Here's how it works and what you, the Multidisciplinary Assessment Committee, need to know:

First, we group proposals together by research field and assign a committee of experts in that field to assess them. This group of experts are asked to evaluate how well each proposal meets the competition's assessment criteria and comment on the appropriateness of the proposed budget.

The CFI will draft a report for each proposal, outlining the Expert Committee's conclusions. These reports, along with the proposals, are then handed off to the Multidisciplinary Assessment Committee, or MAC, for stage two of our merit-review process.

At this stage, we regroup proposals based on the size of the applicant institution and the amount of infrastructure funding requested from the CFI, and we assign each group of proposals to a committee.

A Multidisciplinary Assessment Committee is typically composed of a Chair and approximately 10 members from around the world. MAC members are chosen for their broad understanding of the research environment, the niches of excellence in the institutions and the breadth of potential outcomes across research disciplines or for their expertise in managing large or complex research projects. They are appointed as an individual, not as an advocate or representative of their research field, discipline or of any organization.

Each committee is assigned up to 35 proposals across a variety of research fields, and each committee member is asked to perform a thorough review on approximately 10 of these proposals.

However, we do expect committee members to read all the proposals and expert reports assigned to their committee, so that they can be fully engaged in the discussions.

As a MAC member, your job is to evaluate how well each proposal meets the competition’s objectives. Guided by the Expert Committee reports, you will use a five-point rating scale to demonstrate the degree to which proposals meet each objective.
You will need to substantiate your ratings by listing the strengths and weaknesses you've identified for each objective, and then submit your individual assessment to the CFI before the committee meeting. We ask that you not duplicate the efforts of the Expert Committee, who have already evaluated the proposals based on the competition's assessment criteria.

All materials necessary to make your assessment, including the Expert Committee reports, can be found in CAMS, our awards management portal. You will need to activate your CAMS account to access the materials. You will then be asked to participate in an in-person meeting to discuss the merits of each proposal assigned to your committee.

Your committee must reach a consensus on the strengths and weaknesses of each proposal and the degree to which these satisfy the competition objectives. Together, you will need to formulate an overall opinion of each project and recommend which ones to fund.

The CFI will draft a consensus report for each proposal, which the MAC Chairs will need to approve.

If the number of proposals recommended by the MAC exceeds the competition's available budget, a third committee known as the Special Multidisciplinary Assessment Committee, or SMAC, is responsible for narrowing down the choices.

The recommended proposals are then sent to the CFI Board of Directors for approval.
As you can see, the Multidisciplinary Assessment Committees play a critical role in our merit-review process. Your expertise allows us to fund trailblazing projects with the greatest potential for impact, projects at the forefront of exploration and knowledge that address global challenges and make meaningful contributions to Canada's social, health, environmental and economic development.

Stage 3: Special Multidisciplinary Assessment Committee

When we end up with more meritorious proposals than we can fund, we move on to stage three, a Special Multidisciplinary Assessment Committee.

The Special Multidisciplinary Assessment Committee identifies the proposals that best meet the competition objectives without surpassing the available competition budget. It recommends the best portfolio of projects to invest in to the CFI Board of Directors for final approval.

What are our expectations for reviewers?

We expect reviewers to maintain the highest ethical standards and to adhere to the Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality Policy of the Federal Research Funding Organizations. This means reviewers must identify and avoid any unconscious bias they may bring to the process that stems from the ethnicity, gender, career stage or any other personal attribute of the researchers named in the proposal.

Reviewers, researchers, institutions and the CFI have a shared responsibility to conduct our merit-review process in a way that sustains the trust of the public and of the research community and that preserves a system of evaluation that is accurate, constructive, and free from bias.

Participate as an expert reviewer in our merit-review process

Are you an expert in your field of research and looking for ways to:

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Become an expert reviewer

Email us at experts [at] innovation.ca to find out how to become an expert reviewer.