CCS Research Inclusive Excellence Action Plan
Cancer affects all Canadians, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, or geographical location. For more than 70 years, the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) has been driving progress in cancer research, in Canada and beyond. We recognize that the strongest research ecosystems, which produce the most impactful and innovative outcomes, are those that leverage the diversity that is Canada’s strength. Research ecosystems that reflect the population are known to ask more diverse research questions, have more innovative approaches, ideas and solutions and are thus more likely to produce outcomes that have impact at a population level. Therefore, the integration of the principles of equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility into any research organization is essential for achieving inclusive excellence in outcomes and outputs.
CCS funds researchers at Canadian universities, research institutes and health care agencies across the country. Our goal is to fund the very best cancer research in Canada. We have developed, and continue to refine, a widely respected, gold-standard peer review process to achieve this goal. We also recognize the importance of integrating analysis of the role of sex and gender, plus other intersectionalities (SGBA+), into experimental design, especially given the variable impacts of cancer on different populations and demographics within Canadian society1. Moreover, we are aware that we must be vigilant about disparities and biases in research culture, which can impact various aspects of our processes, from missing highly qualified and talented researchers in nomination pools to mis-calibrated reviewer evaluations as a consequence of well-studied implicit (and sometimes explicit) bias. Recognizing that inclusive excellence is our goal, we are actively collecting and analyzing as much data as possible about our applicants and our results so we can thoroughly assess the outcomes of all our funding programs to ensure we are achieving inclusive excellence. CCS competition data from the past five years suggests that females represent about 1/3 of the applicant pool and about 1/3 of the grantee pool. We also recently conducted an analysis of all years for our flagship programs: Innovation, Innovation to Impact, and Impact Grants and our Awards for Excellence in Cancer Research. We found no difference in rates of success between male and female genders, in proportion to the applications received for most of our programs. However, we did identify a difference between male and female success rates for our Impact Grants competitions, where females at both the Letter of Intent and Full Application stages are less likely to be approved for funding. While research suggests that subtle bias can creep into research funding allocations2 and the distribution of awards3 despite the best of intentions of reviewers, we recognize and welcome the opportunity to reflect on recent outcomes and re-visit our processes to ensure that they fully reflect our commitment to inclusive excellence. While we cannot, at this time, dis-aggregate data further to determine outcomes for other groups, we are committed to continuing to monitor our processes and collect data to ensure that we are receiving, evaluating and funding the most diverse and impactful research proposals.
CCS will become a leader in the charitable sector in the promotion of inclusive excellence with respect to our research funding and awards programs, reflected throughout our processes from program development through to results.
Below, we outline a number of mechanisms, across programs and processes, that will be employed to begin to address the effects of pre-existing systemic bias as well as unconscious bias.
- Transparency: To address both the reality and perception of bias, we will enhance transparency about our funding statistics as well as our peer review panels. Data will be published to our website (cancer.ca/research) and updated on a regular basis. We will also publish this action plan, along with progress updates.
- Understanding diversity: The collection of relevant data is crucial to inform planning and monitor progress towards integrating EDI into our processes. As a first step, we will work with our IT team to ensure that we have the proper processes and systems in place to safely collect and store data relating to applicant demographics and peer-reviewed outcomes. We will also institute a mandatory self-identification form as part of the application and nomination packages with the option to opt out of responding to any or all of the questions. Our guidelines will encourage self-identification and provide assurance of confidentiality and clear information about who will have access to the data and how the data will be used.
- Collaborating for greater impact: Initial discussions with the Canadian Cancer Research Alliance (CCRA) members has led to CCRA committing to conduct a full in-depth analysis of gender balance across the cancer research landscape, including by career stage, geographic region, type of research, etc., and identify common metrics. Subsequently, CCRA members will work together to identify and implement mitigation strategies within our respective organizations.
- Attracting more diverse applicants to all of our programs: We will employ a number of approaches to achieve this outcome, including using more inclusive language in our calls for applications, affirming our commitment to diversity in all our funding calls and processes, and by encouraging investigators to consider how they build inclusive excellence into their own research (for example, by thoughtful incorporation of SGBA+ in experimental design) and their research teams (for example, through integration and application of EDI principles).
- Peer Review Process: 1) We will continue to work to diversify our peer review panels, maintaining excellence and experience as core criteria for participation, and adding an expectation for reviewers (regardless of demographic) to have core competencies in SGBA+ as an experimental measure of rigour and understanding and application of EDI principles as drivers of innovation and excellence. A policy for panel composition will be created and published on our website, to increase accountability towards this objective. 2) Since December 2019, all CCS review panel members are required to complete CIHR’s Unconscious Bias Training prior to applications being assigned for review. Our Advisory Council on Research (ACOR) members will also be required to complete the module at least once per year 3) Review criteria and panel meeting conduct will be updated to include EDI-specific language and reference biases – unconscious or otherwise as per best practices developed and implemented by the tri-councils. Panel Chairs and CCS staff will alert panel members to any statements that may reinforce bias and the final rating process will include specific reflections on potential bias and attention to EDI.
- Funding Recommendations: Panel chairs will be asked to reflect and comment on the panel’s approach to unconscious bias in their report to ACOR. They will also be asked to consider potential bias in making their funding recommendations to ACOR. ACOR will consider these comments and recommendations, as well the available budget (and available allocated budget for EDI purposes) in making their final funding recommendation to CCS’s CEO.
- Sex and gender considerations in research: To ensure comprehensive coverage beyond who CCS funds to what CCS funds, we will immediately begin to update our funding opportunities to include requirements to consider sex and gender in research design, methods and analysis, as well as dissemination of results, where appropriate. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) possess a range of in-depth resources that CCS will explore to fully integrate sex and gender considerations into the research we fund.
- Analyze and reflect: As we move towards full implementation of our action items, we will continue to analyze the data and reflect on the success of each component, modifying as we go to achieve our objective. As we encounter success, we will examine the potential to broaden our impact to a more diverse range of EDI dimensions, including visible minorities, people with disabilities, LGBTQ2S+ and Indigenous peoples.
- Canadian Cancer Statistics Advisory Committee. Canadian Cancer Statistics 2019. Toronto, ON: Canadian Cancer Society; 2019. Available at: cancer.ca/Canadian-Cancer-Statistics-2019-EN (accessed April 2020)
- Witteman et al 2019. Are gender gaps due to evaluations of the applicant or the science? A natural experiment at a national funding agency. The Lancet 383 (10171) : 531-540. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)32611-4
- Bol, T., et al. 2018. The Matthew effect in science funding. PNAS 115 (19) 4887-4890
Last modified on: June 9, 2020