Developing CIHR's anti-racism action plan: Status update and next steps

In 2021, CIHR released its 2021-2031 Strategic Plan, in which we committed to implementing actions to address systemic racism faced by researchers in the health research funding system. To support this work, CIHR is co-developing an anti-racism action plan with health researchers who have been impacted by racism, with the aim of addressing systemic racism across all aspects of the CIHR funding system. Although we are making progress, we have a lot of work ahead of us. Our commitment to be a learning organization means that we are taking the time to do this work substantively – this includes changing course based on what we learn, and taking the time to build, repair, and maintain relationships.

While the CIHR anti-racism action plan may address some issues that are relevant to the intersection of colonialism and racism, we acknowledge that actions to address issues that are specific to Indigenous researchers and communities must recognize and respect First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples as rights-holders in Canada and consider pathways to Indigenous self-determination. We are seeking guidance from our partners on how best to address racism experienced by Indigenous researchers and communities and will keep you updated on our work to address anti-Indigenous racism in the health research funding system as the work progresses.

Below you will find a summary of the key activities completed to date to develop the anti-racism action plan as well as the upcoming steps that CIHR will take.

Progress to date

Why we took this step How we approached it What we learned and next steps

October 2020 to May 2022

Step 1. Broadly understand the issues faced by researchers impacted by racism.

We committed to addressing racism in the health funding system in our Strategic Plan. However, we lacked knowledge and needed to understand how systemic racism affects researcher experiences.

Engaged with community-based organizations, health charities, professional associations, and Institute Advisory Boards on systemic racism in the research funding system (15+ groups).

Hosted online engagement from March to April 2021. 51 individuals provided input.

Completed environmental scan on racism in the health research funding space, synthesizing 54 references including peer-reviewed research, commentaries, academic magazines, open letters, and publications from funding agencies, universities, not-for-profits, and the Canadian federal government.

In the absence of disaggregated data, we relied on quantitative data based on categories set out by the Employment Equity Act, combined with evidence from research conducted in the UK and the US on drivers that influence disparate outcomes faced by Black researchers.

Clear broad themes emerged with regards to who we fund, what we fund, and issues encountered in CIHR's policies, practices, and programs.

However, we realized that we required a more focused approach to engage with distinct communities, such as Black researchers and Indigenous researchers.

We also knew it would be essential to collaborate with Indigenous leaders in health research to guide how we engage with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis researchers on the topic of anti-racism, and so we sought guidance from the Institute of Indigenous Peoples' Health on how best to move forward.

June 2021 to June 2022

Step 2. Understand the details of how issues manifest, their root causes, and what researchers want to see changed.

We needed to delve deeper into what we heard, with researchers who have been impacted by racism and start to identify pathways to enable CIHR to make the changes that researchers would like to see.

Established an interim External Advisory Committee  to guide engagements with researchers impacted by racism and advise on the development of the action plan. The committee first met in June 2021 with a one-year mandate.

Developed a provisional outline of the action plan to organize what we have heard so far and held small group virtual engagement sessions from March to May 2022 with 81 members of the research community to garner reactions and feedback on the outline.

Community members we engaged with generally agreed with the direction of the outline, and provided detailed critiques of the proposed actions, argued for greater accountability, articulation of a theory of change, and increasing attention to structural racism rather than anti-discrimination.

The External Advisory Committee also pointed out the need to recognize the intersection and interaction of racism and colonialism, citing shared histories amongst Indigenous and Black communities.

Next steps

As of November 2022, the one-year term of the External Anti-Racism Advisory Committee has ended. However, work remains to complete a draft action plan that includes a clear path forward for CIHR, with accountability measures described. Over the coming months, we will explore the establishment of an advisory board with a longer-term mandate to help guide us towards the finalization and publication of an action plan by fall 2023. In parallel, we will seek guidance from our partners on how best to engage with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities to discuss distinct interventions to address racism against Indigenous Peoples in the health research funding system.

We look forward to continuing to share our progress as we work towards fulfilling our commitment to removing systemic barriers from CIHR's research funding system. If you have any questions in the meantime, please contact:

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