Imagining Canada’s Future Ideas Lab: Canada and the Circular Economy

SSHRC invites letters of interest from researchers wanting to participate in a virtual, interactive and interdisciplinary research design workshop taking place over two weeks at the end of October 2021 (October 18 to 29, 2021).

This virtual workshop is the first stage of the Imagining Canada’s Future (ICF) Ideas Lab, a multistep funding opportunity. At this workshop, up to 30 researchers will participate in facilitated activities before organizing themselves into multidisciplinary teams to develop and pitch innovative project ideas. During the second stage of the ICF Ideas Lab, teams whose partnerships and project ideas successfully met the evaluation criteria for workshop pitches will be invited to apply for funding to further develop their projects.


Theme: Canada and the Circular Economy

The circular economy is a means of addressing key environmental and economic concerns and offers a sustainable alternative to the current linear model of production-consumption-waste. Circularity focuses on extracting as much value as we can from our resources—through recycling, reusing or refurbishing products and materials—while eliminating waste and greenhouse gas emissions at the design stage. For many of its proponents, the circular economy goes beyond the management of resources to addressing deeper issues relating to consumption, human behaviour and our relationship with the natural world.

Increasingly, Canadians are concerned about the waste we generate and the environmental impacts of our current systems of production and consumption. Canadian policy-makers and industries have turned their attention to green growth and clean technologies as a means of reducing waste and emissions, while local and regional governments are exploring policy tools and practices to promote more sustainable ways of living. Individual Canadians are beginning to examine their behaviours in light of global climate crises, seeking out sustainably produced goods, and turning to resource-sharing services and resale platforms to minimize their environmental footprints.

Interest in the concept of the circular economy as a pathway to sustainability is growing in Canada, driven not only by environmental concerns but also by fears of potential disruptions to global supply chains and awareness that other jurisdictions are successfully transitioning to more circular economic models. A number of industry and business leaders in Canada are adopting circular business models to save money, improve efficiency and open up new market opportunities. Universities, colleges and not-for-profits are encouraging collaborative activities and public policy initiatives on the topic of circularity. At the international level, the Government of Canada is supporting discussions on accelerating a global transition by co-hosting the World Circular Economy Forum in 2021.

However, while elements of circularity can be found throughout Canadian society, the broader circular economy model itself is not widely understood. The concept is not popularly used in Canadian political or economic discourse, and there is currently no national strategy to encourage and support a large-scale transition to a circular economic model. The implications of such a transition, and the systems-level changes that would be required to achieve it, require further consideration that acknowledges Canada’s unique socio-economic and political frameworks. The circular economy offers numerous potential benefits for society, the economy and the environment, but it also has the potential to be immensely disruptive to our current linear systems.

As interest in the circular economy increases in Canada, there are opportunities for the research community to frame and shape the issue. ICF Ideas Labworkshop participants will consider what the circular economy might mean in the Canadian context from an interdisciplinary perspective, addressing questions such as the following:

  • Can the circular economy meet Canadian economic and ecological needs?
  • What are the potential barriers to circularity in Canada?
  • What are the potential implications of a low-carbon, low-waste economy on various sectors, as well as the possible impacts of circularity on different groups and communities in Canadian society?
  • Can policies and tools from other jurisdictions that are transitioning toward circularity be adapted to meet Canadian needs and existing systems, or does Canada require unique solutions?

The innovative, interdisciplinary research projects developed at the ICF Ideas Lab will contribute to a better understanding of the circular economy in the Canadian context, thereby supporting a stronger, more sustainable economy and a healthier society for Canada.

What is an Ideas Lab?

An Ideas Lab is an innovative way to stimulate and support interdisciplinary projects that present creative solutions to pressing global challenges. There are three components to the ICF Ideas Lab framework: the workshop, the application for the funding opportunity and the project development phase.

Stage 1: Virtual workshop

The workshop is central to the Ideas Lab framework. The workshop brings together researchers from different disciplines and institutions and encourages them to step outside of their comfort zone to think about the selected challenge in new and creative ways. Participants must be present for all ICF Ideas Lab workshop activities and must be prepared to fully engage with others during the intensive workshop phase.

Under the guidance of a facilitator and a small number of peer mentors, workshop participants will explore the theme of Canada and the Circular Economy. During the initial Interact and Clarify stages of the workshop, participants will consider how different disciplines and sectors might frame the challenge. The entire group will then develop a common language and terminology to move beyond disciplinary boundaries and to encourage innovation and discovery.

During the Create, Develop and Implement stages in the second half of the workshop, participants will break into smaller teams to develop project ideas. Initially, participants will be able to contribute to many different teams but they will be required to commit to one project idea before the end of the workshop. Throughout the creation process, they will be supported by the peer mentors, who are experts in relevant fields who will provide feedback on ideas and push the teams to propose innovative and groundbreaking research. On the last day of the workshop, teams will pitch their project ideas to the peer mentors, who will act as the merit review committee throughout the ICF Ideas Lab process and life cycle.

Stage 2: Funding opportunity

Following the workshop, the merit review committee will review and evaluate the presentations and related documents describing the project ideas. Teams with project ideas that meet the evaluation criteria will be invited to submit fully developed funding applications for Stage 2 of the ICF Ideas Lab. The Stage 2 funding is intended to support the teams as they further advance their projects and establish multisectoral partnerships.

Teams will have up to two months to complete and submit their proposals for Stage 2. A merit review committee consisting of the workshop’s peer mentors and a small number of external experts will evaluate and identify meritorious applications. Up to three grants of up to $250,000 will be awarded. Participation in the Ideas Lab workshop is no guarantee of funding.

Stage 3: Development of partnerships and project advancement

Teams that receive grants will have two years to further develop their partnerships and advance their research projects. During this time, it is expected that teams will formalize their partnerships and undertake preliminary research. At the end of the two years, the teams will be expected to seek out full project funding from research agencies to implement the fully developed research project.

Award holders will be required to attend a working forum toward the end of the grant period, where they will have opportunities to discuss their projects in more detail with the peer mentors and invited knowledge users from different sectors. At the forum, teams will also be provided with information about possible sources of full project funding.



The ICF Ideas Lab is open to researchers from the social sciences and humanities as well as other disciplines.


Applicants must be researchers from a social sciences or humanities discipline, and affiliated with a Canadian institution that holds institutional eligibility. Researchers who maintain an affiliation with a Canadian postsecondary institution, but whose primary affiliation is with a non-Canadian postsecondary institution, are not eligible for applicant status.


Individuals (including postdoctoral researchers) are eligible to be co-applicants if they are formally affiliated with any of the following:

  • Canadian eligible postsecondary institutions; not-for-profit organizations; philanthropic foundations; think tanks; or municipal, territorial or provincial governments; or
  • international postsecondary institutions.


Any individual who makes a significant contribution to the project is eligible to be a collaborator. Collaborators do not need to be affiliated with an eligible Canadian postsecondary institution.

Individuals from the private sector or federal government can participate only as collaborators.


Application process

Stage 1: Virtual workshop

Applicants must complete the application in accordance with the accompanying instructions. Applications must be submitted electronically by an authorized research grants officer, or equivalent, from the applicant’s institution, or by a representative of the not-for-profit organization who has financial signing authority and is not participating in the project.

Applicants needing help while preparing their application should communicate with SSHRC well in advance of the application deadline.

Applications must include the following:

  • a completed applicant eligibility profile;
  • a letter of interest no longer than 2,000 words that explains how the applicant’s research interests, academic and professional experience, and past collaborations and knowledge mobilization activities will allow the applicant to contribute to this Ideas Lab; and
  • a curriculum vitae (CV) no longer than 10 pages. The CV should highlight experiences and outputs that demonstrate innovation, interdisciplinarity, ability to collaborate and/or an interest in the workshop theme. Applicants are encouraged to review the evaluation criteria and scoring for applying to participate in the workshop when preparing their CVs.

All application materials must be received by 5:00 p.m. PDT on July 16, 2021.

Stage 2: Funding opportunity

Teams invited to apply for funding will be provided with access to an application form and detailed instructions in November 2021. As part of the application process, teams will be required to submit more detailed project proposals, including project budgets. The deadline for submission of funding applications will be 5:00 p.m. PDT on January 20, 2022.


Imagining Canada's Future Ideas Lab Website 



Stage 1: Virtual Workshop - Applications submitted through the convergence portal and require Research Services to review and submit on behalf of the applicant with a deadline of 5:00 p.m. PDT on July 16, 2021. *Signature sheet due to ORS and Application in "Submit Mode" no later than 3 business days in advance of deadline. 

Stage 2: Funding Opportunity - by Invitation (notified in November 2021). Submission deadline is 5:00 p.m. PDT on January 20, 2022. Details application instructions to be provided with invitation in November.

Upcoming Deadlines

January 20, 2022January 20, 2022 Verified Date
January 17, 2022 Jan. 17, 2022 January 17, 2022 16:00:00 January 17, 2022 16:00:00 America/Vancouver Application Deadline: Imagining Canada’s Future Ideas Lab: Canada and the Circular Economy SSHRC invites letters of interest from researchers wanting to participate in a virtual, interactive and interdisciplinary research design workshop taking place over two weeks at the end of October 2021 (October 18 to 29, 2021). Theme: Canada and the Circular Economy. Teams from the workshop who's ideas are identified as being meritorious will then be invited to apply for up to $250,000 to support the teams as they further advance their projects and establish multisectoral partnerships. .