Summary Report: Virtual Engagement Sessions to Discuss CIHR's Anti-Racism Action Plan

CIHR's Strategic Plan 2021-31 commits to co-developing an action plan to address systemic racism in the CIHR funding system. From March to May 2022, CIHR hosted a series of eight small group virtual engagement sessions to discuss our approach for an anti-racism action plan. The goals of the sessions were to discuss participant-identified barriers that CIHR's anti-racism action plan could work towards addressing and to prioritize the actions CIHR should take to address these barriers. 

Most of the session participants were health researchers and trainees from communities impacted by racism. The sessions were facilitated by, professional consultants with specialized knowledge of anti-harassment and diversity, equity, and inclusion. This report summarizes the themes discussed during the engagement sessions.

While barriers and racism experienced by Indigenous researchers were mentioned in the engagement sessions, in recognition of the distinct history, experiences and rights of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples, CIHR will be engaging separately with Indigenous partners on this topic. These discussions will be led by the Scientific Director of CIHR's Institute of Indigenous Peoples' Health.

Key Takeaways 

CIHR's virtual engagement sessions to discuss the approach for CIHR's anti-racism action plan yielded valuable input on how to refine the action plan. To this end, participants emphasized the following:

Overview of Engagement Sessions

Overall, 81 individuals participated in the small group virtual engagement sessions:

For legal and privacy reasons, CIHR did not collect disaggregated demographic data; however, almost all participants self-identified during the sessions as belonging to Indigenous, Black, or another community impacted by racism.

CIHR provided materials to support participation in advance of the small group virtual engagement sessions, including: an executive summary of an environmental scan on systemic racism in the health research funding system, and a draft outline of CIHR's anti-racism action plan, including draft objectives and key activities, for input.

Discussion of barriers experienced by communities impacted by racism

Overall, participants confirmed that the barriers identified through the environmental scan resonate with their knowledge of or experiences in the health research funding system, and underscored the following additional considerations:

Discussion of priorities for CIHR's anti-racism action plan

Overall impressions

Overall, participants agreed with CIHR's high-level concept for an anti-racism action plan. However, some participants argued that it does not go far enough to address the colonial underpinnings and systemic nature of racism, and voiced skepticism regarding CIHR's willingness or ability to make systemic change. In this regard, participants emphasized long-term investment and sustainability of efforts given the depth of systemic change required. Additionally, participants noted that the draft outline for the action plan does not mention how CIHR will advance commitments across its various partnerships and external relationships. Finally, accountability emerged often in discussions, whereby participants stressed the importance of building accountability into the action plan, with clear and openly communicated objectives, benchmarks, and routine evaluations to ensure the action plan has systemic impact.

Clarity, framing, and language

Key themes that emerged during the virtual sessions were about the importance of the language used in and the framing of CIHR's future anti-racism action plan, such as: 

Top priorities that participants felt CIHR should focus on in the action plan

At the end of each workshop, participants were invited to select the priorities that they felt were most promising for CIHR to focus on in the draft outline of the anti-racism action plan. The activities that received the most votes were the following:

Additional priorities suggested by participants

Throughout session discussions, participants made several suggestions for additional priorities that CIHR should focus on in the action plan. Many of these suggestions revolved around changes to CIHR policies, processes, and peer review practices, such as:

Implementation considerations

In response to the draft outline of CIHR's anti-racism action plan, session participants raised several considerations related to implementation that fall into two broad categories: facilitating culture change and how to ensure interventions are impactful and do not engender further harm within communities.

Culture change

Impactful Interventions

What's Next?

CIHR would like to thank the virtual engagement session participants for sharing their valuable insights. CIHR continues to synthesize evidence and findings to date and is consulting with partners and community members to develop and implement the anti-racism action plan.

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