Response to the announcement regarding the Spring Project Grant competition and first wave of mitigation steps
Message from the President

April 3, 2020

Following our announcement yesterday, CIHR received many comments and questions from the research community.

I know that for many of you this was very difficult news and while there are a number of mitigation strategies embedded in the announcement, these will never accommodate all of the challenges that are upon us at this time. I also understand that this is coming at a time of great uncertainty and fear with regard to how our research programs and careers will be impacted. I know that you are looking to CIHR to get through this, and I fully understand that the message we sent was not the message that many of you were hoping to receive. I'd like to take this opportunity to provide you with additional insights into our decisions, as well as additional details about the steps that lie ahead. In doing so, I will try to address a couple of the themes that emerged from the feedback that we received over the past day.

First, we received many questions regarding CIHR's plans for the funding that was allocated to the Spring 2020 Project Grant competition. CIHR had planned to invest $275M in this competition and, as with all competitions, this investment would have been made over multiple fiscal years. As noted in the original message, a number of measures will be implemented to help mitigate the impact of cancelling the competition:

These measures are anticipated to cost $31M and this will be taken from the $275M that was planned for the Spring 2020 competition.  The remaining amount will still be allocated to the Project Grants to help mitigate increased application pressures on future competitions. In addition, CIHR's emergency funding for COVID-19 research will not be taken from the Project Grant envelope.  It is specifically a component of the Government of Canada response to this crisis. The specific budgets available for those future Project Grant competitions will be announced when the next funding opportunity launches this summer. However, as noted, it is important to remember that dollars available are spread across multiple years, so while the amount of $275M is available, it is a multi-year investment.

Next, I have also heard extremely clearly that early-career researchers are at particular risk. Please be assured that CIHR is also exploring specific measures to assist early-career researchers. We have received a wide array of thoughtful suggestions as to how to address this particular aspect of the COVID-19 crisis; we will carefully integrate these suggestions as we move forward.

Finally, there were many suggestions to proceed with online peer review via Web conferencing tools – as well as a sense that CIHR was "blaming" reviewers for the cancellation. This was never intended nor will it ever be the case.  However, in acknowledging the tremendous challenges that we are all facing in our personal lives (some unique amongst the wider community but also shared in many ways), the messaging was lost. Rather, it is an operational reality that online review was simply not feasible to meet funding timelines under pandemic conditions. At this point in time, and for the foreseeable future, CIHR's employees and operations are now focused on the Government of Canada's response to COVID-19, as are the resources of the Government. In addition, the quality of the peer review would have been compromised due to IT limitations (bandwidth), operational mechanics (the office is closed, staff are working from home, and have not been in the office since March 13), and the difficulty of creating new systems for meetings of the scope and scale of the Project Grant competition (over 1,000 peer reviewers, amongst 58 panels, meeting on average two full days).  While I very much appreciate everyone's willingness to try something new and get creative, online peer review is not an option at this time.

I do want to emphasize that our decisions were not made in isolation, but rather, made in the context of a rapidly evolving health crisis that landed in the midst of one of the most important time periods for Canadian researchers and the CIHR. After deliberating options with Governing Council, Science Council, partners at the U-15, Universities Canada, HealthCareCAN, and the University Delegates Network, among others for most of March, we had no viable option other than to postpone the Spring Project Grant and reinvest the residual funding in the Fall Project Grant competition. We are doing the best we can with the tools available to us – and I promise that we are continuing to explore potential solutions and support as the COVID-19 situation evolves.

As I am sure you can appreciate, the situation on the ground continues to change rapidly. None of us has been through this before, and everyone is doing their best to make sound decisions. We are committed to keeping you informed as we work to get through this together. Thank you for your continued patience, resilience, and support at this difficult time.

And please take care, this crisis will pass but it will take all of us working together.

Michael J. Strong, MD, FRCP, FCAHS, FAAN
President, CIHR

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