April 9, 2010
Chad Gaffield, President
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council
340 Albert Street
P.O. Box 1610
Ottawa, ON K1P 6G4
I write on behalf of the Executive Committee of the Canadian Historical Association/Société historique du Canada in response to the notice that the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council will entertain responses to its document, “Briefing on SSHRC’s Renewed Program Architecture,” after the initial March 31st deadline.
First, let me explain that our delay to respond does not reflect any lack of interest in
the proposed changes to SSHRC’s programmes, but rather is a surfeit of other concerns, notably about proposed changes in Libraries and Archives Canada/Bibliothèque et Archives Canada.
Second, be assured that the CHA/SHC supports the objectives of developing a simpler and more flexible set of programmes, as well as the need to communicate results widely among academics and the wider public. As you know, historians, especially historians of Canada, have long endeavored to disseminate their research results and have often cooperated with other parties in defining research agendas.
However, we have objections about the proposed division of the granting committees, alterations to the adjudication process, and the funding portion of the partnerships grants.
The concept of dividing what had been the Standard Research Grants programme into two, with one supporting the development of “new research questions and approaches,” and the other to support “long-term research initiatives,” has considerable merit, in so far as it recognizes different stages and types of research and offers longer-term research grants. However, the details of how the adjudicating committees will operate are not adequately described and possibly deleterious.
In the case of Research Development Grants, five committees to cover many disciplines and interdisciplinary fields seems insufficient, particularly if the committees may, as the document indicates, be “collapsed to create fewer multidisciplinary committees” or “split into separate, more narrowly defined committees”. While this configuration may promote greater flexibility and more imaginative projects, might it not produce confusion on the part of applicants and considerable administrative time spent assigning projects to committees and reshuffling adjudication committees?
Another set of queries about the RDG programme is how and whether the division of the applications into new and established scholars and into small and large budget grants will function? We have doubts about the viability of the single system of scoring applications, and in particular the assignment of only 20% of the scoring for the record/productivity of senior scholars. Would it not be preferable to have separate scoring schema for new and established scholars, and to recognize the greater significance of experience in the latter case? We also question the absence of external reviewers for large grant applications in the RDG programme.
In the Research Grant programme, the proposed number of evaluation committees is much more realistic, but the single scoring scheme raises concerns. Here the single standard of 40% weighting for the “aim and importance of the endeavour,” 40% weighting for the plan, and 20% for expertise, underestimates the difference in the importance of experience/record between new and established scholars. To protect senior and junior scholars but also to demonstrate ability to carry out a program of research, distinct weighting schemes would be more reasonable. If there are concerns about subjective assessments of experience or record, would it not be possible to provide committees guidelines for assessing record or experience?
Regarding the partnership grants, we object to the requirement that partners contribute a minimum of 50% of the total budget. This requirement effectively eliminates important and potentially innovative partnerships with less affluent private organizations, including small businesses, and most not-for-profit organizations, and thereby skews historical research and ultimately the historical record.
I hope that you will share our queries and suggestions with your colleagues at SSHRC and keep us informed of any responses to them and indeed any decisions about this important subject.
Mary Lynn Stewart
President, Canadian Historical Association/Société historique du Canada
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