Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality Policy of the Federal Research Funding Organizations

1.0  Effective Date

The Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality Policy of the Federal Research Funding Organizations (the Policy) is effective as of March 1, 2013. This document will be updated as required.

2.0  Policy Objective

This Policy is to ensure the effective management of Conflict of Interest of any Participant in the Review Process; and to ensure, during the Review Process, confidentiality of Personal Information and Confidential Commercial Information submitted to, and shared amongst, the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) --collectively the Funding Organizations.

3.0  Application

The Policy applies to Participants in the Review Process.

4.0  Definitions

For the purpose of the Policy, the following definitions have been adopted:

Applicant means an individual, group of individuals or institution submitting an application to a Funding Organization.

Confidential Commercial Information includes confidential scientific and technical information, trade secrets, information supplied by a third party in confidence, information that could result in financial loss or prejudice, information about a third party’s competitive position, and information that could interfere with contractual or other negotiations of a third party.

Conflict of Interest means a conflict between a Participant's duties and responsibilities with regard to the Review Process, and a Participant's private, professional, business or public interests. There may be a real, perceived or potential conflict of interest when the Participant:

  1. would receive professional or personal benefit resulting from the funding opportunity or application being reviewed;
  2. has a professional or personal relationship with an Applicant or the Applicant’s institution; or
  3. has a direct or indirect financial interest in a funding opportunity or application being reviewed.

External Reviewers mean individuals who are not employed by any of the Funding Organizations and have a relevant expertise to provide a review of applications, normally in writing. Their review can be provided to a Review Committee or used directly by the Funding Organizations. External Reviewers do not attend Review Committee meetings.

Funding-decision Authority means a Participant of the Review Process who is responsible for the final funding decision for an application or a funding opportunity. The Funding-decision Authority can be from a Funding Organization or Funding Partner.

Funding Opportunity means a financial support opportunity that includes any program or initiative administered by a Funding Organization which can result in a grant, award, or prize.

Funding Organizations mean the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

Funding Partner means any organization (including private, public or not-for-profit)with which a Funding Organization has a relationship that is characterized by mutual cooperation, collaboration and a shared responsibility to achieve a specific funding goal through the creation of a funding opportunity. The Funding Partner is not an agent of the Funding Organization and each organization maintains a separate identity and independent accountabilities and share a clear understanding or agreement of the funding goal, objectives, and terms of the arrangement.

Nominative Information means any information which directly or indirectly reveals the identity of an Applicant.

Observers mean individuals who are invited by the Funding Organization to observe Review Committee deliberations. For instance, observers can be employees of a Funding Partner or members of the research community. These individuals do not participate in the discussions that form part of the Review Process, but have access to application documentation.

Participant means any person involved in the Review Process and includes Review Committee members, External Reviewers, and Observers.

Personal Information is in accordance with the definition of “personal information” in Section 3 of the Privacy Act. Personal Information is information about an identifiable individual that is recorded in any form and can include information about an individual's race, age, personal address, or medical history. The Privacy Act imposes legal controls on the collection, use, retention, disclosure, and disposal of personal information.

Responsible Authority means the Funding Organization employees designated to determine if a Conflict of Interest exists and how it is to be managed.

Review Committee means a review panel, selection committee or evaluation group that is responsible for reviewing applications against the funding opportunity evaluation criteria and for making funding recommendations to Funding Organizations.

Review Process means conducting application review to provide funding recommendations and then arriving at the final funding decisions. For some funding opportunities, this process extends to progress or outcome reviews that are conducted on a funded research project.

5.0 Principles

The Policy shall be interpreted and applied in a way that best reflects the following principles:

  1. To effectively manage Conflict of Interests to protect the fairness and impartiality of the Review Process and to protect the public interest;
  2. To ensure transparency and consistency in any measures taken to manage Conflict of Interests;
  3. To ensure that Personal Information and Confidential Commercial Information remain confidential unless the party which supplied the information has consented to the release of such information in accordance with the applicable legislation;
  4. To ensure that all Participants of the Funding Organization’s Review Process are accountable for their actions;
  5. To promote public confidence in the research enterprise; and
  6. To foster a culture of trust in the research community.

6.0 Policy Requirements

6.1 Eligibility to Compete for Funding

An eligible Applicant may apply for a funding opportunity unless:

  1. the Applicant is in a Conflict of Interest with regard to the funding opportunity (due to extensive and direct involvement in the development of the funding opportunity); or
  2. the Applicant has Funding-decision Authority for the funding opportunity.

6.2 Review Process

6.2.1 Review Committee Members

A person may be considered for membership on a Review Committee unless he/she:

  1. has Funding-decision Authority for the funding opportunity;
  2. is identified as the principal Applicant on an application to be reviewed by that committee;
  3. is currently ineligible to apply for and/or hold funds from the Funding Organizations, or any other research or research funding organization worldwide for reasons of breach of policies on responsible conduct of research--such as ethics, integrity or financial management policies, unless otherwise agreed by the Responsible Authority; or
  4. is currently under investigation for an alleged breach of Funding Organization policies.

Review of a Specific Application

A Review Committee member cannot be involved in the Review Process of an application if he/she is in Conflict of Interest.

6.2.2 External Reviewers

A person may be considered as an External Reviewer unless he/she:

  1. has Funding-decision Authority for the funding opportunity;
  2. is identified as the principal Applicant on an application to be reviewed by that committee, unless measures are put in place to mitigate the risk, as determined by the Responsible Authority;
  3. is currently ineligible to apply for and/or hold funds from the Funding Organizations, or any other research or research funding organization worldwide for reasons of breach of policies on responsible conduct of research--such as ethics, integrity or financial management policies, unless otherwise agreed by the Responsible Authority; or
  4. is currently under investigation for an alleged breach of Funding Organization policies.

Review of a Specific Application

An External Reviewer cannot be involved in the Review Process of an application if he/she is in a Conflict of Interest.

6.2.3 Observers

A person may be invited by the Funding Organization to observe a Review Committee meeting unless he/she;

  1. is an Applicant on an application to be reviewed by that committee;
  2. is currently ineligible to apply for and/or hold funds from the Funding Organizations, or any other research or research funding organization worldwide for reasons of breach of policies on responsible conduct of research--such as ethics, integrity or financial management policies, unless otherwise agreed by the Responsible Authority; or
  3. is currently under investigation for an alleged breach of Funding Organization policies.

Observing the Review of a Specific Application

A person cannot observe the Review Process of an application if he/she is in Conflict of Interest.

6.3 Disclosure and Compliance Measures

6.3.1 Disclosure of Conflict of Interest

Any Participant of any Funding Organization’s Review Process, who becomes aware of a Conflict of Interest, must promptly disclose the conflict to the Responsible Authority. The Responsible Authority will determine if it constitutes a Conflict of Interest and what measures--such as recusal--are required.

6.3.2 Other Disclosures and Compliance Measures

  1. Individuals under investigation for a breach of Funding Organization policies:

    A person who becomes the subject of an investigation for an alleged breach of Funding Organization policy(ies) must temporarily withdraw from participation in any Funding Organization Review Process. A current participant who becomes the subject of such an investigation should immediately inform the relevant Funding Organizations’ staff of their temporary unavailability. A person under investigation must decline all invitations to participate in Funding Organization Review Processes. Participation in a Review Process may resume or commence if, once the investigation is complete, the President of the relevant Funding Organization has determined that the individual is once again eligible to participate.

  2. Breach of policies related to Responsible Conduct of Research:

    A person who is currently ineligible to apply for and/or hold funds from the Funding Organizations, or any other research or research funding organization worldwide, for reasons of breach of policies on responsible conduct of research -- such as ethics, integrity or financial management policies -- may not participate in any Review Process of the Funding Organizations.  

6.4  Confidentiality

The Funding Organizations are subject to the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act. These laws govern the collection, use and disclosure of information under the control of the federal government and certain federally funded organizations. Documentation submitted to the Funding Organizations by the Applicant may be provided to the Review Committee members, External Reviewers and Observers. The documentation may contain Personal Information and Confidential Commercial Information.

By law, Applicants have the right of access to the information provided by Review Committee members and External Reviewers about their applications. The names of External Reviewers must be kept confidential to ensure they can provide an impartial review of an application. Review Committee members’ names can be released at the discretion of the Funding Organization. Written materials used in the Review Process are generally made available to Applicants when they are notified by the Funding-decision Authority of the funding opportunity results.

Confidentiality Obligations

Review Committee members, External Reviewers and Observers must ensure that:

  1. all documentation and information that the Funding Organizations entrust to Review Committee members, External Reviewers and Observers is maintained in strict confidence at all times. It must be used only for the purpose for which it was originally collected--namely, to review applications and make funding recommendations as applicable;
  2. review documentation is stored in a secure manner to prevent unauthorized access. It must be transmitted using secure techniques and when it is no longer required, it must be destroyed in a secure manner. Any loss or theft of the documentation must be reported to the Funding Organization; and
  3. all enquiries or representations received by Review Committee members, External Reviewers or Observers about an application or its review must be referred to the Funding Organization. Review Committee members, External Reviewers or Observers must not contact the Applicants for additional information or disclose matters arising from the Review Process to the Applicants.

Additional requirements for Review Committee members and Observers:

  1. Review deliberations are confidential. Comments made by Review Committee members during the review of applications and the conclusions of the Committee’s review must never be discussed or disclosed with individuals not involved in the Review Process unless required by legislation or the courts.
  2. The identity of successful Applicants and the details of the grants/awards must remain confidential until a decision is made by the Funding-decision Authority and officially announced to the Applicants and the public. The identities of unsuccessful or ineligible Applicants are not made public and must not be divulged unless required by legislation or the courts.
  3. During the meeting, observers must be as unobtrusive as possible to minimize disruption and must not remove from the meeting room written notes or documentation related to reviewer assignments, ratings or reviewer comments on applications.

6.4.1 Sharing of Information with Funding Partners

Funding Partners cannot disclose an Applicant’s Personal Information and/or Confidential Commercial Information, except in accordance with the Privacy Act and Access to Information Act, and unless the Applicant is made aware of the proposed disclosure and agrees to the disclosure related to:

  1. the type of information from the Applicant to be shared;
  2. to whom the information will be shared; and
  3. the purpose for which the information will be shared.

6.4.2 Where a Review is undertaken by the Funding Organizations and a Funding Partner

Where a Funding Organization undertakes a joint review with a Funding Partner, all material terms of the partnership should be detailed in a collaborative agreement. This agreement should include:

  1. the scope and limitations of joint decision-making;
  2. the nature of shared documentation and whether or not it is nominative;
  3. an undertaking that documents and information shared with the Funding Partner, or by the Funding Partner, shall be limited to that required for administrative and review purposes, unless otherwise agreed to;
  4. an undertaking by the Funding Partner to adhere to this Policy and other relevant Funding Organization’s policies;
  5. an undertaking by the Funding Organizations to adhere to the Funding Partner's policies provided that they are not in conflict with those of the Funding Organizations;
  6. an undertaking by Funding Organizations and the Funding Partner to observe all relevant laws, including federal privacy and access to information legislation;
  7. an undertaking by the Funding Partner not to disclose any documents provided by Funding Organizations to a third party; not to use them for any purpose other than for reviewing applications, or any other purpose agreed to by the Applicants; to retain the documents for appropriate record keeping; and to dispose of the documents in a secure manner in accordance with appropriate retention schedules as defined by the Funding Organizations.

7.0 Review Committee Members’, External Reviewers’ and Observers’ Agreement

Review Committee Members, External Reviewers and Observers involved in the Review Process must agree to abide by the Policy prior to commencing their participation by signing or electronically agreeing to the Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality Agreement for Review Committee Members, External Reviewers and Observers (PDF, HTML).

8.0 Roles and Responsibilities

The Policy is administered by the Responsible Authority of the relevant Funding Organization. Where there is dispute regarding a finding of Conflict of Interest or any other decision taken under the Policy, the finding or decision may be brought to the Responsible Authority of the relevant Funding Organization for a ruling. The Responsible Authority of the relevant Funding Organization’s ruling may be appealed in writing to the President of the Funding Organization, who may overturn or uphold the Responsible Authority of the relevant Funding Organization’s ruling in writing.

9.0 Breach of Policy

Any breach of this Policy must be reported immediately to the relevant Funding Organization which will review the matter. The Funding Organization reserves the right to take appropriate action including, but not limited to, the removal of the Participant or Funding Partner from the Review Process. Any action that a Funding Organization may or may not take will not prevent a person whose privacy rights have been compromised from seeking legal action against the respondent.

10.0 References

The Review Process is subject to the following legislation:

  1. Access to Information Act
  2. Privacy Act

The Policy is informed by, and Participants are asked to adhere to the spirit of, the following legislation:

  1. Conflict of Interest Act
  2. Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act
  3. Tri-Agency Framework: Responsible Conduct of Research.