Application review and grant allocation process

The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) grant allocation process plays a crucial role in promoting high-quality cancer research in Canada. Donors to CCS and people in Canada must be confident that funds donated for cancer research will be allocated to scientifically excellent, relevant and impactful research activities in Canada. CCS informs the public of its activities via our website, social media and mailing list.  

There are four basic steps in the adjudication and funding process: application, expert review, advisory council review and funding decision: 


Investigators submit an application with a research proposal detailing the aims and objectives of the research, its relevance to and potential impact in cancer, the proposed research design and methods, knowledge translation, available resources, team and environment and, as appropriate, preliminary results. Other materials and/or rationale specific to each competition may be requested.

The application itself, all materials accompanying the submission and the reviews of the application are confidential. All reviewers must sign an Agreement of Confidentiality to signify that they agree to respect such confidentiality.

Expert review

CCS uses an expert review process. The aim is to ensure that the most relevant and impactful ideas, with the greatest scientific merit, obtain sufficient financial support to permit the ideas to be tested. Reviewers use a rigorous process to identify the applications which have the greatest potential for contributing to the reduction of the incidence, morbidity and mortality from cancer. 
CCS composes expert review grant panels for its competitions. The Chairs and members of the panels include experienced Canadian and international scientists, people with lived experience, end-users / decision-makers, and reviewers with other experience as appropriate. Reviewers are chosen on the basis of their knowledge of cancer research, their experience of cancer, their experience in cancer care and other dimensions as well as their capacity for a thoughtful and informed review. You can read more on what is expected of our reviewers in the reviewer code of conduct here. 

(a) Grant panels

Each grant panel consists of expert reviewers with diverse backgrounds and experience. If multiple panels are needed for a competition, the Chairs of the panels first decide which panel has the appropriate expertise to review each application. Once the application has been directed to a panel, two to four reviewers are assigned to each application depending on the expertise level needed for a fair evaluation of the application and the experience present among the panel members. 

If additional expertise is needed to provide an adequate appraisal of any application, an external reviewer with expert knowledge in the area may be secured.  

All members of the panel are requested to read the application, but only the ‘assigned’ reviewers are required to provide written reports. 

In some cases, junior investigators in cancer research can apply to observe panel meetings or participate as junior reviewers. This provides training on the review process and may help to structure their own grant proposals in the future. 

(b) Review and reviewer reports

Ahead of the panel meeting, reviewers assigned to each application review the proposals and provide a brief written report. While reviewing, they consider various criteria such as the research strategy and scientific approach, relevance and potential impact, understandability, knowledge mobilization, and the research team and environment. Reviewers consider the incorporation of equity, diversity and inclusion throughout the application. Feedback on these topics is recorded in the reviewer report. The reviewer reports form the basis for discussion at the panel meeting and contribute to the ranking of the applications. Collectively, reviewers assess all aspects of the proposal and are provided rating scales to guide their review. Reviewers are asked to provide details on what they consider to be the strengths and weaknesses of the application. During the panel meeting, panel members are also invited to comment on problems they have identified and on possible modifications. Other aspects relating to policies may also be discussed. Reviewer reports are made available to each member of the panel, except those with a conflict of interest.

(c) Rating and ranking of applications

In scoring the application, the panel members use rating scales specific to each competition.  For rating scales, see our website section on Evaluation Scales.  

Prior to the panel meeting, each assigned reviewer gives preliminary scores to an application, which are used to identify the applications most competitive for funding, to be discussed at the panel meeting. Applications that are discussed at the panel meeting (per (b) above) are then re-scored by the assigned reviewers, and then all panel members, to generate a final ranking for the proposal which will be considered in the funding recommendation. 

In evaluating each application, every panel member is required to decide whether the work embodies scientific excellence and is likely to have an impact on cancer incidence, mortality, or the quality of life of people living with and beyond cancer in Canada. Panel members are asked to score +/- 0.5 of the assigned reviewer average(s) – with outliers being declared to ensure adequate discussion has taken place. 

A Scientific Officer is responsible for recording the discussion of each application at the panel meeting. These comments, as well as the reviewer reports (minus the identity of the reviewers and scores), are provided to applicants as the basis of a constructive critique of the proposal. Applicants are encouraged to use these comments to improve their research proposals.  

For more information about our research funding and research competitions, see our current funding opportunities and our funding announcements. 

Advisory Council review
The next step in the review process is a report from the panel Chairs to the Advisory Council on Research (ACOR). ACOR is composed of experienced researchers and people with lived experience, who represent a broad range of research areas and cancer experiences. This council assesses the input from the review panels and makes recommendations for funding. More on the role, function and membership of ACOR can be found here
The panel Chair’s role is to present a report that provides a summary of the panel’s expertise, the applications that were reviewed, and the review process, followed by a recommendation for funding based on the rank order of applications discussed and scored at the meeting and the panel’s overall enthusiasm for those applications. Since all applications which are scored > 3.5 will in principle be considered for funding, the role of ACOR is to determine where a cut-off should be made, if there are not sufficient resources to fund all grants that score above 3.5.  
The collective expert opinions of the grant panels are respected by ACOR and the only modifications usually made to the recommendations of the panels involve the setting of the specific funding cut-off levels based on budgetary predictions or other organizational priorities. Additional partnership or donor dollars may permit the funding of additional grants than originally budgeted. 
Funding Decision
The recommendations of ACOR, together with a statement of the financial implications, are considered by the CEO for final approval to ensure expenditures are within the Board approved budget. 
Last modified on: August 15, 2023