Research Excellence at CIHR

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Message from Rhonda Kropp
Associate Vice-President, Learning Health Systems

I am pleased to announce the release of CIHR's Research Excellence Framework, a major step in advancing our strategic plan commitment to research excellence in all its diversity.

This Framework positions CIHR on a clear path towards achieving our vision where Canadian health research is recognized as inclusive, collaborative, transparent, culturally safe, and focused on real-world impact. We are looking to ensure agency-funded research is scientifically excellent and ultimately leads to impacts that benefit all people in Canada, including those historically underrepresented in the health research system.

We recognize that moving this Research Excellence Framework into practice will require meaningful changes to our policies and programs, and that it will benefit from a holistic, collaborative, and transparent approach. As such, we are also releasing an associated implementation plan that details the suite of early actions we will be taking towards inclusive research excellence.

We are grateful for the many collaborations that informed this work, and we welcome the opportunity to continue learning from others — as we collectively look for ways to improve health and maximize the impact of health research in Canada.

Research Excellence: Current Context

There is significant and growing interest in Canada and internationally in what is meant by research excellence, and how it impacts the research ecosystem.Footnote 1,Footnote 2 This has been made clear through calls for more responsible research assessmentFootnote 3, Footnote 4, Footnote 5, a re-imagining of what is considered excellentFootnote 6, Footnote 7, acknowledgement that research culture can be problematicFootnote 8, Footnote 9, and that current incentive structures are biased.Footnote 10

CIHR is legislated through the CIHR Act to "excel, according to internationally accepted standards of scientific excellence, in the creation of new knowledge and its translation into improved health for Canadians, more effective health services and products, and a strengthened Canadian health care system".Footnote 11 While CIHR's expectations for agency-funded research have evolved over time – as exemplified through its actions related to sex and gender in research, equity, diversity and inclusion, Indigenous Health Research, official languages, patient-oriented research, knowledge mobilization, open access, research data management, and training and mentorship – the agency has never explicitly described how it views research excellence. However, CIHR's 2021–2031 Strategic Plan includes a commitment to advance research excellence in all its diversity, in part through championing a more inclusive concept of research excellence, and so a formal definition is needed.

Research Excellence: Understanding the Issue

To inform its conceptualization of research excellence, CIHR undertook several evidence-gathering activities: a comprehensive literature review; an international environmental scan; and an initial series of discussions with the health research community. These activities informed CIHR's understanding of how problematic behaviours, barriers and biases are limiting what is currently conceptualized as excellent research and who are considered excellent researchers (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Biases, behaviours and perpetuation of systemic barriers associated with a narrow concept of research excellence

A flowchart depicting CIHR's system realities, research ecosystem realities, systemic barriers and the resulting narrow concept of excellence. A long description follows.
Figure 1 – Long Description

In Figure 1, a flowchart illustrates biases, behaviours and perpetuation of systemic barriers associated with a narrow concept of research excellence. The left side of the figure, labeled 'CIHR's ecosystem realities,' highlights factors such as limited public funding, many qualified researchers, legislative imperative to fund "excellence." An arrow extends to the right indicating the need to identify and report on "excellence." On the right, a section labeled 'research ecosystem realities' includes incentive structures to identify and evaluate "excellence," leading to the consequences of hypercompetition, biases introduced within the research ecosystem, metrics-based assessment, and problematic behaviours and a lack of desired behaviours in some actors. Collectively, these elements contribute to a narrow concept of "excellence." Below the headings "CIHR's system realities and Research ecosystem realities," with two arrows pointing up, is the text "systemic barriers have influence over the entire ecosystem."

Evidence demonstrates that existing incentive structures designed to identify excellence have resulted in a hypercompetitive environment and reliance on metrics-based assessment of outputs (such as journal impact factors). Many biases (e.g., racialFootnote 12, Footnote 13, genderFootnote 14, Footnote 15, languageFootnote 16, Footnote 17, program designFootnote 18, and assessment practice biasesFootnote 19, Footnote 20) and behaviours (e.g., contributions to a toxic research environmentFootnote 21, Footnote 22, Footnote 23, limited knowledge mobilizationFootnote 24, Footnote 25, and inadequate mentoring and trainingFootnote 26, Footnote 27) perpetuate a narrow concept of excellenceFootnote 28 — one that does not inherently recognize and value diversity among researchers, research or the full range of research contributions that can address scientific and societal problems. Furthermore, systemic barriers (e.g., physical, geographical, or social) have had a negative impact over the entire research ecosystem and consequently in how research excellence has been defined, pursued, and assessed.Footnote 29, Footnote 30, Footnote 31, Footnote 32

Collectively, these biases, behaviours and barriers reduce the diversity of perspectives, methods and contributions that are rewarded within the research ecosystem, resulting in research wasteFootnote * and minimizing the potential impact of already scarce research funds. Therefore, it is imperative that CIHR broaden its concept of excellence, to ensure agency-funded research has impacts that benefit all people in Canada, including those historically underrepresented in the health research funding system.

CIHR Research Excellence Framework

CIHR's strategic plan envisions that, by 2031, Canadian health research will be internationally recognized as inclusive, collaborative, transparent, culturally safe, and focused on real world impact. To align CIHR's activities and investments towards this vision, CIHR has crafted a definition of research excellence, based on three guiding principles and comprising eight key components.

CIHR recognizes that many other research funders and organizations are exploring the concept of research excellence and ways to reward a broader range of contributions and outputs. As such, CIHR's approach to research excellence will continue to be evidence-informed and will evolve as part of ongoing dialogue with national and international partners as well as the Canadian health research community.


CIHR believes that excellent research is rigorous, inclusive and conducted in ways that meaningfully integrate a diversity of perspectives, disciplines, and methods in order to maximize impact and benefit to society.

Excellent research recognizes that biological, socio-economic, cultural and experiential differences impact health and should be considered for research and related activities to be of benefit. An inclusive concept of research excellence positively influences who sets research priorities; who conducts, participates in and benefits from research; how research is conducted; and how it is assessed.

Guiding Principles

The following foundational principles will guide CIHR's work in integrating a more inclusive approach to research excellence across its programs, policies and practices:

Key Components

A pie chart with eight segments that lists the eight key components of research excellence, each in a different colour with an associated icon. A description of each segment follows.

The following key components should be considered and addressed within all CIHR-funded research whenever relevant and appropriate:

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