Online Dialogue on Systemic Racism and Canada's Health Research Funding System: What we heard


CIHR's Strategic Plan 2021- 2031 and Action Plan for Year 1 commit to engaging with organizations and members of the research community with lived experience and expertise to co-develop an action plan to address systemic racism in the CIHR funding system. As part of this commitment, CIHR hosted an Online Dialogue on Systemic Racism in the health research funding enterprise from February 4 to April 9, 2021. The launch of the online dialogue was announced to the research community through various established CIHR communications channels and networks, such as the CIHR Access Newsletter and CIHR's Twitter account, as well as with help from our partners.

The objectives of the dialogue were to:

The online dialogue is one input of many, including environmental scanning and planned virtual small group listening sessions, as well as feedback and advice from CIHR's External Anti-Racism Advisory Committee that will inform the development of our action plan on anti-racism.

The following summary provides observations based on thematic analysis of participant comments.

Summary of Results

Overall, of the 183 people who registered, 51 participated by providing comments and/or voting on comments (agreeing/disagreeing). There was a total of 124 comments.

Within the online dialogue, participant comments ranged from program and process solutions to broader system-level and cultural shifts that are necessary in order to address barriers and racism in the health research funding system. Many comments fell into the following themes: research design, research funding, peer review, capacity development, research culture, and lived experiences and barriers. The summary below represents alignment in commentary across participants, and may not fully represent the diverse views of individual participants.

Research Design

Most comments revolved around integrating considerations of race and racism in research.

Examples of proposed solutions include:

  • Requiring applicants to CIHR funding opportunities to collect race-based data, in addition to other identity factors such as sex and gender in research
  • Implementing an anti-racism approach throughout the entire research process, and
  • Ensuring that communities marginalized by racism identify their own research priorities.
Research Funding

Most comments revolved around funding mechanisms that would increase representation of scholars and trainees marginalized by racism in the research ecosystem, and areas of research that require more funding, such as racism and health disparities.

Examples of proposed solutions include:

  • Creating funding pools and/ or proportional funding for specific populations, such as racialized and Indigenous researchers
  • Developing a new CIHR institute to focus on health and health disparities in communities where members are marginalized by racism, and
  • Ensuring greater flexibility in eligibility and application requirements, such as allowing postdoctoral researchers to apply for and hold grants in their names.
Peer Review

Most comments revolved around accountability and transparency within CIHR's peer review system, diversity on peer review panels, and expertise of panel members.

Examples of proposed solutions include:

  • Implementing a process for flagging, reporting and appealing discriminatory and racist reviews
  • Creating an empowered role for an equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) representative on peer review panels
  • Setting targets for representation on peer review panels, and
  • Addressing gaps in expertise on peer review panels in areas such as interdisciplinary research, decolonized methodologies, and anti-racism.
Capacity Development

Most comments revolved around capacity development needed for trainees and researchers affiliated with academic institutions and those affiliated with non-academic institutions.

Examples of proposed solutions include:

  • Providing training on anti-racism approaches to research, and
  • Making available mentorship opportunities for trainees and early career researchers marginalized by racism to participate in peer review, such as pairing junior reviewers with senior reviewers who identify with the same ethno-racial background.

For researchers not affiliated with academic institutions, participants highlighted the need for support for grant application development, opportunities for networking with the academic research community, and opportunities to gain practical research experience.

Research Culture

Various comments throughout the online dialogue fell into the broad theme of research culture.

Examples of proposed solutions include:

  • Offering leadership opportunities (e.g., Chair and Scientific Officer positions on peer review panels) to scholars marginalized by racism, and
  • Expanding research excellence criteria in order to recognize mentorship, equity, diversity and inclusion, and anti-racism contributions, and other university service work, noting that much of this work often falls to researchers marginalized by racism.
Lived Experiences and Barriers

Various comments centered on the lived experiences and barriers faced by participants.

Examples of proposed solutions include:

  • Recognizing the increased burden on trainees and researchers marginalized by racism related to workload, community engagement, and university service work
  • Acknowledging the impact of racism on individuals' careers, and
  • Building awareness regarding the misperception that scholars marginalized by racism typically do research within their own communities, and in particular that Indigenous scholars only do community-based research. Such biases can exacerbate barriers to funding and career advancement for these trainees and scholars in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

CIHR would like to thank the members of the community, including researchers, trainees, people with lived/living experience and other members of the public, who dedicated time and effort to the online dialogue. Employees with organizations such as the Black Health Alliance and Michael Smith Foundation in Health Research, helped CIHR develop the forum questions and spread the word that the online dialogue was live, and CIHR is deeply appreciative to all those who supported and participated. Thank you for joining the conversation!

What's Next

CIHR is in the process of synthesizing evidence and findings to date, including consultations with partners and community members, internal environmental scans, and the results of this online dialogue.

This synthesis of information will feed into the development of further targeted engagements with racialized communities, trainees and researchers, as well as with Indigenous communities, trainees and researchers. Please visit our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion webpage or CIHR's Twitter account for updates.


If you have any questions about the development of CIHR's anti-racism action plan and/or related engagement activities, please write to us at

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