The Application Assessment Process and the Awarding of Grants

On this page:

  1. Granting Policy
  2. Peer assessment
    • Composition of peer committees
    • Standing committees of peers
    • Disclosure of peer assessor names
    • Use of official languages
    • Conflict of interest
    • Context briefs
    • Internal assessments
  3. Assessment of project grant applications
    • Preliminary assessment
    • Peer assessment meetings for project grants
    • Transition from project to core funding
  1. Assessment of core grant applications
    • Committee meetings and assessment of organizations
    • Decrease in core funding
      • Major Warning
      • Concerned Status
      • Major changes to artist-driven organizations (Explore and Create)
  2. Decisions
    • The role of peers
    • Communicating results
    • Reviewing and reversing grant decisions
  3. Respectful workplaces

Granting Policy

The Granting Policy (PDF) adopted by the Canada Council effective 1 April 2017, sets out the core values for the Council's granting activities. The policy provides a general framework for the assessment of grant applications, as well as the grant awarding mechanisms.

Peer assessment

The Granting Policy underscores the Canada Council's commitment to peer assessment. Indeed, most Council decisions as to which artists, projects or arts organizations will be funded are based on peer assessment.

Composition of peer committees

Program officers propose the composition of those committees for which they are responsible on the basis of three factors: diversity of professional specialization; diversity of artistic practices; and characteristics that contribute to the representativeness and credibility of peer committees, namely demographic diversity, Indigenous peoples, cultural diversity, gender, age, official languages, regions, persons with disabilities and Deaf people. Final composition of the committee is approved by the program director.

Council is, of course, well aware that no specific committee can represent every facet of Canada at any given time, but the overall composition of its committees in a particular year must reflect this diversity to the greatest possible extent. Council may also provide its committees with documentation and expertise, both internal and external, to help the peers make informed recommendations.

Standing committees of peers

To strengthen the overall expertise of peers sitting on committees, Council makes use of standing committees of peers. While continuing to call upon a large number and a wide range of peers, those on the standing committees are appointed for a longer period of time, with the goal of enabling them to become familiar with a significant number of applications and thus be in a position to better exercise their judgment on a comparative basis. Their term will vary depending on whether they are assessing project grants or core grants; this ensures both continuity and renewal in committee composition.

Disclosure of peer assessor names

In order to make the assessment process as transparent as possible, the names of peers taking part in the assessments are published on Council’s website on a quarterly basis at the same time as the release of grant/prize results. 

Use of official languages

In order to protect and promote the full recognition and use of both of Canada’s official languages in assessing grant applications, Council makes use of either peer committees that work in both official languages or committees whose working language is French only or English only.

Conflict of interest

The Canada Council's assessment processes reflect clear conflict of interest policies that comply with a strict code of ethics. Conflicts of interest may be real, apparent or potential.

The Canada Council recognizes that conflicts of interest may arise when it asks those active in the arts community to assess competing submissions.

Moreover, the Council's peer assessors, like all employees and members of its Board of Directors, are subject to Council's conflict of interest guidelines and must disclose any conflict of interest to ensure the integrity of the assessment and decision-making process.

Any peer assessors who declare a conflict of interest with respect to a grant application do not participate in deliberations concerning that application.

Context briefs

While the Canada Council's peer assessors and staff have deep knowledge of the arts, not everyone will be familiar with all artistic practices or contexts. This is particularly true of practices rooted in Indigenous, culturally diverse, official language minority and Deaf and disability arts communities. Regardless, it is the responsibility of the peer assessors to assess all applications in a competition. To facilitate their responsibilities and complement their knowledge, it is important that committees are effectively equipped with information, context, or other appropriate resources related to these arts communities and practices. Context briefs are written documents that help address this need. Their purpose is to:

  • ensure that internal and peer committees are equipped to make informed recommendations
  • foster understanding among peer assessors and staff of emerging, minoritized, or other less-well-known artistic practices
  • safeguard the ongoing integrity of Council’s granting process.

The topics of contexts briefs include a range of artistic practices and sectors, such as artists and community collaboration, circus arts, culturally diverse arts, Deaf and disability arts, Indigenous arts and cultures, official language minority communities, etc.

Internal assessments

While peer assessment is the basis for the majority of the Canada Council’s funding decisions, Council also makes use of internal assessments for some project grant components. Internal assessments are used to speed up the assessment process and allow quick responses for certain types of applications. Internal assessments are generally for grant applications submitted under program components focused on the impact of activities, and where there is no assessment of artistic merit. The grant amounts under these components are usually relatively small. Travel grants are an example.

Assessment of project grant applications

Preliminary assessment

Council makes use of a preliminary assessment stage for project grant components that receive a high volume of applications. In this initial stage, each committee member is asked to identify which applications are less competitive in terms of the assessment criteria, and which they feel do not feel should be discussed at the committee meeting. Applications that are not competitive against the assessment criteria are then deemed unsuccessful.

Peer assessment meetings for project grants

At the beginning of the meeting, the program officer responsible reminds the committee members of the program objectives and assessment criteria for the component, along with Council's strategic priorities, notably in matters of equity.

The committees review and discuss each application that has been accepted at the preliminary assessment phase. The committee members then assign a score to each category of assessment criteria.

Each program component has three or four categories of assessment criteria. With a combined total score of 100, there is a minimum threshold assigned to each category. This minimum must be achieved in each category for an application to be recommended for a grant.

The overall score, which is the total of the scores in each of the categories, is used to establish a ranking of projects. This ranking order, which is signed by all peers, forms the basis of Council’s granting decisions. The ranking order indicates if the application is “unsuccessful” or “recommended”. Due to budget limitations, not all “recommended” applications will receive funding.

For information about the weighting of the assessment criteria and minimum thresholds for project grants, please consult the program component guidelines.

Transition from project to core funding

Organizations that are interested in applying for core grants should continue to apply for project support until they are successful in attaining a core grant. If an organization receives a project grant and is later awarded a core grant that includes or overlaps with the project grant's activities, Canada Council will examine the situation and discuss options with the organization. Applicants with core funding cannot also hold a composite grant.

Assessment of core grant applications

Committee meetings and assessment of organizations

As with project grant applications, the committee meeting begins with a reminder to committee members of the program objectives, assessment criteria for the program component, and Council's priorities, notably in matters of equity. There is no preliminary assessment process for core grant components.

Core grant applications from organizations are judged on the basis of assessment criteria grouped into categories, with a combined total score on 100, and a minimum threshold for each category.

The scores will determine the ranking of these organizations into three groups:

  • GREEN indicates that the committee recommends increased funding or initial core funding
  • YELLOW indicates a recommendation to continue existing funding
  • RED indicates that the committee sees serious shortcomings with respect to the assessment criteria for the component or a significant decrease in the level of the applicant's activities.

A committee may recommend that organizations in the RED zone have their funding decreased and/or be issued a Major Warning. The minimum threshold for each category must be met to be ranked in the GREEN or YELLOW groups.

For information about the weighting of the assessment criteria and minimum thresholds for core grants, please consult the program component guidelines.

Decrease in core funding

Further to an assessment, a peer committee may recommend a decrease in core funding for an organization showing serious shortcomings in terms of the criteria for the component, or a significant ongoing decline in its level of activities. The decrease in the grant is from 5% to 15% of the previous level of core funding, and the new grant is for a two-year period.

If an organization has its core grant decreased twice in a row because of negative assessments, a third negative assessment will automatically lead to a Major Warning.

Major Warning

An organization receiving core funding may be issued a Major Warning owing to serious concerns with respect to their competitiveness against assessment criteria and objectives; a significant decline in the level of activities; or organizational health and viability. A Major Warning is a serious measure that may result in the complete withdrawal of Council's financial support. 

An initial Major Warning leads to an annual grant rather than a multi-year grant, as well as a 15% to 20% reduction in the grant amount. A further Major Warning, resulting from a second assessment, leads to an additional decrease in the core grant (percentage to be determined by the Council) or complete cancellation of the grant. A third Major Warning leads to a final decrease or cancellation of the core grant.

A Major Warning is normally issued as part of the peer assessment process, but may also be issued by Council over the course of a funding cycle based on serious concerns about the organization’s health or viability. This may include situations where an organization has failed to maintain financial stability or comply with its legal obligations, including a failure to provide a working environment free from discrimination, harassment and sexual misconduct. 

Notwithstanding the above, the awarding of a grant is at the sole and absolute discretion of the Canada Council. The amount of a grant may be reduced or cancelled if there is a reduction in Council's parliamentary appropriation or for any other unforeseen reason.

Concerned Status

Concerned Status may be assigned to an organization whose organizational health is unstable and may place Council's investment at risk. Concerned Status may be applied to a core recipient experiencing organizational instability either upon assessment and recommendation by peers, or during a grant cycle if the Council’s investment is perceived to be at risk. Concerned Status is only applied on the basis of organizational health, and not on artistic merit or performance. It does not necessarily lead to reduced core funding, but allows Council to inform the organization of its expectations and monitor the situation.

Major changes to artist-driven organizations (Explore and Create)

While a decrease in funding is normally based on a negative peer assessment, Council may also review its grant or the amount of a grant in the event of major changes within an artist-driven organization.

This may involve a significant change in the very nature of an organization, which may lead Council to decide that it should be transferred to a different component, such as Artistic Catalysts or Support Organizations. The organization would then be assessed on a comparative basis using the assessment criteria for the new component.

A change might also involve the departure and replacement of the artistic leadership. In such instances, the new leadership will be compared to the previous leadership as well as to other grant recipients under this component.

In all instances, Council will request recommendations from a peer committee.

Decisions

The role of peers

While assessment by peers is essential to well-informed decision-making, Council does not ask peers to determine the grant amounts. It is the program staff, in particular the Program Officer and Director, who determine the amounts awarded to successful applicants. Decisions are based on the assessments and comments of peers, with due consideration to the budgets available. The peer committee’s role is to provide a qualitative assessment of grant applications, not to make financial decisions.

Council bases its funding decisions on the peer committee assessments, with due regard to any specific strategic priorities pertaining to factors like equity, Indigenous peoples or new recipients. Council is accountable for its funding decisions.

Communicating results

Council strives to inform artists, groups and arts organizations who have submitted applications of the outcome of competitions in a timely fashion. Information on when you will receive your results is located on our Deadlines and Notification of Results web page.

Results may not be given by telephone, but only in writing.

Reviewing and reversing grant decisions

Funding decisions of the Canada Council for the Arts are final. Decisions cannot be appealed unless evidence suggests that significant procedural flaw occurred during the assessment process. The Council retains the right to cancel any grant previously awarded. The Council may initiate a process to review and potentially reverse a grant decision where there are serious concerns about the recipient or the funded activities. Examples of serious concerns include failure to meet the terms and conditions of the grant, failure to comply with legal obligations, and misrepresentation and risk of insolvency.

Respectful workplaces

The Canada Council for the Arts believes there is no place for harassment, sexual misconduct or abuse of power in any workplace. All successful grant recipients must sign a Grant Acknowledgment Form that sets out general terms and conditions of the grant. This form includes a declaration section that confirms that the grant recipient will abide by all applicable municipal, provincial or territorial legislation, including but not limited to that relating to employment standards, occupational health and safety, and human rights. The declaration also includes a commitment to provide safe working conditions and to foster a workplace free from discrimination, harassment and sexual misconduct. Failure to meet the terms and conditions of the grant may lead to a review and reversal of a grant decision.

Organizations that receive core funding may be placed on Concerned Status where there are concerns about their organizational health. These concerns may include a failure to provide a working environment free from discrimination, harassment and sexual misconduct.

More information is available on our Commitments web page.