Merit review

Merit review is the evaluation, conducted by a committee of researchers and knowledge-users, that assesses both the scientific merit and potential impact of research projects that engage knowledge-users.

Merit review is the evaluation approach used to assess research projects that engage knowledge-usersFootnote 1 throughout the research process to inform the research plan, carry out the project, and apply the research findings. This collaborative approach to research, known as integrated knowledge translation (KT)Footnote 2 at CIHR, is also known as community-based researchFootnote 3, mode 2 knowledge productionFootnote 4 and participatory researchFootnote 5, among others.

This way of doing research requires that both the scientific merit and potential impact of the projects be assessed using separate scores. In general, the potential impact score reflects the relevance/importance of the project to the knowledge-users and the likelihood that the project will have a substantive and sustainable impact on health outcomes, practice, programs and/or policy in the study context. The scientific merit score generally reflects the rigour and appropriateness of the proposed research methodology and the strength of the research team.

The composition of integrated KT research teams and/or the nature of KT research projects require that merit review panels expand the traditional definition of "peer" to include knowledge-users, whose expertise lies in the application of research. Because both researchers and knowledge-users contribute to the production and the translation of research, merit review panel composition must reflect this, drawing members from both researcher and knowledge-user communities.

Each application is reviewed by at least one researcher and at least one knowledge-user both of whom assess potential impact and scientific merit. The evaluation criteria are tailored to the specific funding opportunity. Potential impact and scientific merit are weighted equally. Only those applications receiving a fundable score on both potential impact and scientific merit can be considered for CIHR funding.

Examples of CIHR programs that use merit review:

  • Partnerships for Health System Improvement
  • Knowledge to Action
  • Knowledge Synthesis
  • Evidence on Tap - Expedited Knowledge Synthesis
  • Applied Chairs in Health Services and Policy Research
  • Applied Public Health Chairs
  • Proof of Principle
  • Operating Grant: HIV/AIDS Community Based Research
  • Catalyst Grant in HIV/AIDS Community Based Research
  • Research Facilitators in HIV/AIDS (Community-Based Research)
  • Doctoral Research Award: HIV/AIDS Community Based Research
  • Master's Awards: HIV/AIDS Community Based Research

Merit Review Evaluation Criteria

Research Question

Explanation of the research project and justification for the need to conduct the research:

  • To what extent does the project respond to the objective(s) of the funding opportunity?
  • To what extent is the research question clear and respond to an important information/decision-making need identified by the knowledge user(s) on the research team?
  • To what extent does the proposal demonstrate that the synthesis, scoping review or update is needed and has not already been done?

Research Approach

Detailed description of the research approach and justification for the proposed methods/strategies:

  • To what extent is it likely that the proposed methods will address the research question(s)?
  • To what extent is the study design appropriate and rigorous?
  • To what extent are the knowledge user team members meaningfully engaged where appropriate (e.g. in defining the research questions, informing the research plan, interpreting the findings, informing the end-of-grant KT plan)?
  • To what extent does the end-of-grant KT plan detail strategies appropriate for its goals and target audiences?


Demonstration that the researcher-knowledge user team has the requisite skills, experience and resources to complete the project in the proposed time frame:

  • To what extent are the knowledge users on the team committed to applying the findings when they become available and is their application achievable in the particular practice, program and/or policy context?
  • To what extent does the researcher-knowledge user team have the necessary expertise and track record to deliver on the project's objective(s), including the objectives of the end-of-grant KT plan? (includes expertise in the content area to be covered by the synthesis, expertise in synthesis methods, and expertise in information retrieval).
  • To what extent is the project accomplishable in the given timeframe with the resources available/described?


Results expected from the successful uptake of project findings:

  • To what extent will the project have a substantive and sustainable impact on health outcomes, practice, programs and/or policy in the study context?
  • To what extent will the project's findings be relevant to other practice, programs and/or policy contexts?
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