Ethics Performance Measurement Report
April 2016 - March 2017

Executive Summary

This is the second report prepared by CIHR, framed by the CIHR Ethics Action Plan, and detailing the results of the performance metrics set out in the Ethics Performance Measurement Strategy (PM Strategy), as endorsed by the CIHR Standing Committee on Ethics. This report builds on existing momentum for ethics at CIHR, expanding baseline data for comparisons over time with respect to CIHR's performance in meeting its commitments.

Why is CIHR measuring its performance in ethics?

CIHR's Ethics Action Plan has six priorities:

  1. Strengthen ethics leadership through shared accountability mechanisms.
  2. Ensure ethics considerations inform decisions related to priority-setting, programs, policies, processes and partnerships.
  3. Nurture and monitor research capacity in ethics in Canada and its application within priority target areas.
  4. Capture and assess the impact of ethics activities within the Open Programs and strategic initiatives.
  5. Develop and implement a new ethics communication strategy.
  6. Review the ethics leadership model and action plan after five years.

CIHR has a legislated mandate to:

  • promote, assist and support health research that meets the highest standards of ethics,
  • foster the discussion of ethical issues and the application of ethical principles to health research, and
  • monitor, analyze and evaluate issues, including ethical issues, pertaining to health and health research.

In late 2012, CIHR's Governing Council commissioned an external Task Force on Ethics Reform to review the ethics function at CIHR and make recommendations for improvements. The Task Force submitted its final report in June 2013 with recommendations. In response to the Task Force Report, CIHR developed an Ethics Action Plan which CIHR's Governing Council (GC) endorsed and GC Standing Committee on Ethics finalized and approved in January 2015.

As part of the Ethics Action Plan, the Standing Committee on Ethics was expanded and refreshed with new Terms of Reference. The Committee's new responsibilities include advising on CIHR's Ethics Action Plan and on a framework that measures and reports the performance of CIHR in ethics.

An Ethics Performance Measurement Strategy was developed with the advice and endorsement of the CIHR Standing Committee on Ethics to measure progress in meeting CIHR's commitments under the Action Plan.

What is CIHR measuring and what are the results?

CIHR's Ethics Performance Measurement Strategy focuses on measuring progress toward strengthening:

  • accountability for ethics within CIHR
  • CIHR's national ethics leadership
  • the ethics knowledge base and ethics research community in Canada and
  • the impact of ethics research on decision-making and practices.

Efforts were made to keep performance indicators (and associated data collection requirements) to a manageable number for practical reasons, while still ensuring key performance elements are covered.

What grants and awards did we count?

We counted applications for CIHR grants and awards that are directly or indirectly related to ethics. Ethics could be a primary focus or a non-primary focus (a component of a grant or award). We counted Law or Socio-cultural factors only where they were a primary focus. Socio-cultural factors such as marginalization, stigmatization, equity, cultural appropriateness, and loss or devaluation of language and culture, were considered relevant. An application could have Ethics as a non-primary focus, and Law or Socio-cultural factors as a primary focus (the overlapping areas in the diagram).

Grants and awards related to ethics
Long description
  • Ethics
  • Socio-cultural factors related to ethics
  • Law

Examples of funded research exploring ethical, legal, or socio-cultural aspects of health and health research

  • Developing a framework for the ethical design and conduct of pragmatic trials to improve the quality and value of health care systems and practices
    Monica Taljaard, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
  • An Indigenous collaborative care best practices model: Using participant simulations to promote culturally safe healthcare along the cancer journey
    Patty Chabbert, Canadore College
  • Harm reduction: Public health reasoning in law and public policy in relation to morally controversial behaviours
    Daniel M. Weinstock, McGill University
  • Practice, policy, and ethical implications of Canadian nursing roles in medical aid in dying: A knowledge synthesis and qualitative investigation
    Barbara K. Pesut, University of British Columbia

Here are some examples of the progress measured so far:

Desired Outcome: Strengthened accountability for ethics within CIHR

Performance highlights: CIHR has a continued strong presence of ethics representation on its decision-making and advisory bodies. CIHR took action in response to all seven new issues addressed by its Standing Committee on Ethics. CIHR took action on the same number of new issues that were addressed by the SCE in 2015-2016.

Desired Outcome: CIHR ethics leadership strengthened at a national level

Performance highlights: CIHR led or participated in over 22 meetings and presentations with national scope and relevance to ethics in 2016-2017.

These meetings included updates on CIHR's activities in ethics at the annual conferences of the Canadian Bioethics Society (CBS) and the Canadian Association of Research Ethics Boards (CAREB). CIHR also led or co-led discussions at conferences, workshops, meetings and teleconferences, on a range of issues, such as equity in funding, unconscious bias in peer review, ethics in Indigenous research, and ethical aspects of new genetic technologies. For the 2015-2016 report, relevant ethics activities and products of only the Ethics Office and senior management were reported. From 2016-2017 on, the scope of relevant activities has been expanded to be CIHR-wide, and includes the ethics leadership activities of CIHR Institutes.

On the education front, there was substantial increased interest in CIHR's online "Ethics in Research" workbook and case studies. There were 4,066 online visits to the Workbook in 2016-2017, up from 921 visits in 2015-2016.

Desired Outcome: Strengthened and expanded national ethics knowledge base

Performance highlights: CIHR's investments in ethics-related grants and awards remained similar over this two-year period. CIHR's investments in ethics as a percentage of CIHR's total investments were:

  • 0.26% ($2.64 million) for ethics as a primary focus;
  • 0.07% ($0.69 million) for law as a primary focus; and
  • 1.57% ($16.05 million) for socio-cultural factors related to ethics as a primary focus.

Success rates for ethics-related grants and awards varied across research funding competitions – both above and below overall competition success rates. For example, in the Fall 2016 Project Program open competition, the success rates for ethics-related applications were:

  • for ethics as a primary focus: 1 funded out of 10 applications submitted - a 10% success rate.
  • for ethics as a non-primary focus: 2 funded out of 9 applications submitted – a 22.2% success rate.
  • for law as a primary focus: 3 funded out of 5 applications submitted - 60% success rate.
  • for socio-cultural factors related to ethics as a primary focus: 4 funded out of 16 applications submitted – a 25% success rate.

For comparison: The competition success rate for all applications submitted to the Fall 2016 Project Program competition in any area of health research was 16.47% (475 funded out of 2884 applications submitted).

The identification of trends in grants and awards investments and success rates, beyond year to year variability, will require a longer time frame.


In 2016-2017, CIHR continued to demonstrate accountability for ethics within its governance and advisory structures within CIHR, and in leadership at the national level. CIHR's investments in ethics-related grants and awards remained similar compared to 2015-2016 investment levels. Success rates for ethics-related grants and awards varied across research funding competitions—both above and below overall competition success rates.

There are now two years of results, which is the start of measuring CIHR's progress towards commitments. However, it is too early to distinguish year to year variability from consistent trends upward or downward. CIHR will continue to monitor and report regularly on its performance in ethics, to demonstrate transparency and accountability.

For a copy of the full report, please direct all inquiries to the CIHR Contact Centre. Officers are available Monday to Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET.

Date modified: