Impact and Innovation Unit

2021-22 Annual Report

Download in PDF format (832 KB, 19 pages)

1. Foreword

Like most, our priorities in 2021-22 continued to be dominated by the global pandemic. While the work of Impact Canada remained heavily focused on supporting the government’s COVID-19 response, we saw growth and expansion in other areas of health as well new partnerships to help address the climate crisis. Impact Canada was set up within the Impact and Innovation Unit with a clear goal in mind – develop new policy and program methods to better design and implement government priorities that make a meaningful impact in the lives of Canadians. While the simultaneous global crises of COVID-19 and climate change continue, this context provided the Government of Canada the ability to both rapidly and more effectively mainstream Impact Canada methods.

Over the course of the last fiscal year, our team was able to refine a new world-leading behavioural science research architecture that codified an evolution in the application of behavioural science in the public sector. Based on rapid and bespoke data collection and analysis, in-house scientific and policy expertise, as well as extensive internal and external collaborative networks, our new model is comprised of:

  • Implementing large scale longitudinal monitoring studies to rigorously identify multi-faceted behavioural challenges in real time;
  • Conducting rapid online experiments and other in-field research activities to understand drivers and barriers to behaviour change for core challenges; and
  • Using advanced quantitative analysis to uncover surprising and actionable patterns in our rich datasets, allowing us to flag emerging challenges early on.

In addition to ongoing COVID-19 and other health work, this new research architecture has now expanded to support the government’s climate agenda through the new Program of Applied Research on Climate Action in Canada (PARCA). In partnership with Environment and Climate Change Canada and Natural Resources Canada, PARCA is exploring the behavioural challenges underpinning environmental sustainability and climate change mitigation and adaptation. The findings will help us design and test solutions that can influence policymaking, public program design and implementation, and public communications.

I believe our transition from incremental and siloed projects to rigorous and multi-dimensional applied programs of research has positioned us at the cutting edge of what units like ours can achieve in government.

This past year has also been filled with excitement and activity from our other key business line: Impact Canada Challenges. Throughout the last five years, our portfolio of work has grown to 30 challenges and initiatives valued at over $735M. I am particularly proud of efforts to support partner organizations navigating Challenge programs through the rapidly changing pandemic landscape, keeping existing challenges on track and supporting the development of new ones. 2021-2022 was challenging but incredibly rewarding, with the culmination of several Challenges announcing their winners, including:

  • $1 million grand prize of the Women in Cleantech Challenge, to incent female entrepreneurship in Canada’s cleantech sector, going to Amanda Hall, CEO of Calgary-based Summit Nanotech.
  • $1 million grand prize of the Charging the Future Challenge, aimed at accelerating battery innovations, to Toronto-based e-Zinc.
  • $500,000 grand prize of the Hull Design Efficiency Challenge, aimed at reducing GHG emissions in the Atlantic Canada boatbuilding industry, awarded to TriNav Marine Design.

This last fiscal year has proven to be a turning point for Impact Canada. We have witnessed the transition of novel evidence-based and outcomes-based policy and program approaches from a ‘nice-to-have’ to a fundamental methodology that can meaningfully address top government priorities and inform policy during a time of crisis.

As we tackle the challenges facing Canadians, we’re excited to pair our methods for increased impact in key priorities areas, across ecosystems and as well to continue to evolve and scale proven approaches.

signature of rodney ghali

Rodney Ghali
Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet
Impact and Innovation Unit
Privy Council Office

2. About Impact Canada

2.1 Raison d’être

Established in 2017, Impact Canada (Impact and Innovation Unit, Privy Council Office) uses novel public methods to address identified gaps in effectively translating policy objectives into meaningful and measurable outcomes for Canadians.

2.2 Key Business Lines

  • Impact Canada Challenges

    Impact Canada’s funding methods focus on more effectively deploying Grants and Contributions – a traditionally under-optimized, yet highly influential level – shifting from paying for expenditures or activities to rewarding the achievement of outcomes.

    Challenges use financial and non-financial incentives to encourage participants to tackle problems where solutions are not apparent, or current responses are not achieving the desired results.

    Want to run a Challenge?

    Challenges are evolving from an emerging concept to a mature program methodology, designed to crowd-in innovative ideas and solutions from a wide variety of actors and sources. Challenges use incentives (both financial and non-financial), to encourage participants to tackle problems where solutions are not apparent, or current responses are not achieving the desired results. Over the last five years, we have learned a lot about designing and delivering challenges. For more information on running challenges, refer to the Impact Canada Challenge Guide - a practitioner’s guide that aims to provide an understanding of how challenges are currently being designed and implemented in a Canadian government context.

  • Applied behavioural science and advanced policy research

    World-leading data-driven programs of applied behavioural science research to inform policy development, program interventions and strategic communications through rigorous analysis and research methods. Overall, this work is leading to a better understanding of what works and for whom through advanced behavioural segmentation.

2.3 Methodology

  • Our approach

    We use rigorously designed and evidence-based methodologies that are continuously refined and adapted.

    1. Identify/understand

    Initial research to identify and define the specific problem that needs to be addressed or target outcomes of interest and key behaviours to target.

    2. Design/test

    Developing and validating the design, or set of designs, and interventions with our partners.

    3. Scale

    Analysis, evaluation, and broad dissemination of results and solutions.

    For more information on our design processes, visit the Impact Canada Challenges and Behavioural Science web pages.

  • Fellowship program

    Impact Canada conceptualized and implemented the fellowship program to attract external talent with specialized skills in key disciplines to increase capacity and upskill the existing workforce in Impact Canada methods. At present, 22 Fellows are working with partner departments to support both Impact Canada Challenges and behavioural science projects.

    Learn more about the Impact Canada Fellowship program!

  • Impact Canada Platform

    The Impact Canada platform creates a highly transparent one-stop shop for our partners, clients, and innovators, enabling communication, implementation and data collection to drive strong stakeholder engagement that is inclusive and relevant to the public.

    Delivering through a data and program management platform:

    The Impact Canada platform, managed by IIU’s Public Engagement Team, is a centralized website for Impact Canada that includes a public-facing site and a comprehensive user-restricted back-end. It has become an essential resource for innovators looking to participate in our challenges and for disseminating the results of our research and activities.

    Secure user-restricted ‘portals’, accessible on the Impact Canada platform, enable data sharing between federal partners, applicants, evaluators, and jury members. Each portal is fully customized to meet the needs of our partners. They are also used to support applicants progressing to later stages of challenges by providing access to valuable resources, guidance, and stage requirements directly on the platform.

    In addition to maintaining the Impact Canada platform, IIU’s Public Engagement Team provides additional supports to Challenge partners, including:

    • Content and Design: In-house web and graphic design support, ensuring a common look and feel across all initiatives.
    • Document Processing: Automated application processing and branding.
    • Application Tracking: Secure and real-time access to partially completed and submitted applications and statistics.
    • Data Analytics: Timely site usage data reporting and analysis for optimum design and performance.
    • Ticket-based Support: Electronic system to manage site update requests.
    • Communications: Promoting ongoing initiatives on social media with original graphics, animations, and videos.

3. A flourishing ecosystem of work: Highlights from 2021-2022

3.1 Climate Change

In Canada and around the world, we’re already experiencing the impacts of climate change: hotter summers, more intense storms, more frequent floods, and a reduction in biodiversity. The science is clear: the Earth is warming, global and local climates are changing, and human activities are the primary cause. To avoid a dangerous level of warming, Canada is committed to cutting our global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 40-45% by 2030 and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

To support the ambitious implementation of these goals, we are applying behavioural science, advanced policy research and Impact Canada Challenges to inform program design towards required outcomes and find innovative solutions to complex problems:

  • Program of Applied Research on Climate Action in Canada (PARCA)

    In September 2021, in partnership with Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), the IIU launched a multi-year program of research on climate change. The Program of Applied Research on Climate Action in Canada (PARCA) is applying behavioural science insights and methods with robust policy analysis to promote climate action.

    We are learning about how Canadians think, feel and act in response to climate change and the risks it creates. We are developing and testing, online and in the real world, specific behaviourally-informed solutions with the potential to reduce GHG emissions and promote climate adaptation at the individual and community level. This work is generating new insights on a rapid timeframe to inform policy development, program design, and public communications.

    A large network of internal and external partners, including partners at multilateral organizations and an advisory committee of subject matter experts, will guide the research program to help ensure its relevance, rigour, and impact.

    PARCA Longitudinal Study Waves 1 and 2

    The first wave of the PARCA longitudinal study surveyed 2,104 Canadians aged 18 and older between December 13, 2021 and January 6, 2022. Half of participants indicated that they were very worried about climate change, and few were hopeful. While most Canadians believed industry and institutions should be doing a lot more to limit further climate change, they were still open to making some changes in their own lives to help limit climate change.

    The second wave of the study surveyed 2,143 Canadians (1,217 return participants) aged 18 and older between February 17 and March 8, 2022. In general, there was a trend of somewhat less attention being paid to climate change with most indicators decreased slightly from Wave 1.

    Other key insights included:

    • Respondents severely underestimate the role of human activity in Earth’s warming;
    • Willingness to pay more for products and services that help to limit climate change is more strongly associated with beliefs and values than with demographic factors, including household income;
    • Affordability is the biggest barrier to pro-climate action;
    • The highest levels of support were for nature-based and circular economy policies, while mitigation policies have mixed support; and
    • Trust in government is lowest on the topic of integrity (influence by industry), and highest on reliability.
  • Addressing barriers to clean technology development and adoption: Cleantech challenges announce grand prize winners

    In 2018, Natural Resources Canada launched the $75M clean technology stream to address persistent barriers in cleantech development and adoption, setting ambitious but achievable goals in order to identify and develop breakthrough solutions.

    In the 2021-2022 fiscal year, four of the Cleantech challenges announced Grand Prize Winners:

    Women in Cleantech Challenge

    Launched in 2018, the Women in Cleantech Challenge aimed to change the future of innovation and support women in STEM. Of 148 competitors, 6 finalists were selected to participate in an intensive 30-month business accelerator program competing for funding to invest in their business. On November 30th, 2021, Amanda Hall was named the winner of the $1 million grand prize! Amanda Hall is CEO of Calgary-based Summit Nanotech. Hall’s roster of scientists and business experts are developing a green lithium-ion extraction process to reduce the world’s reliance on fossil fuels. When applied to heavy industry, Hall’s solutions are highly scalable, and can serve some of the world’s most emission-heavy clients.

    Charging the Future Challenge

    Toronto-based e-Zinc was awarded the $1-million prize through the Charging the Future Challenge, aimed at accelerating battery innovations that have the potential to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The company developed a breakthrough electrochemical technology for storing energy in zinc metal. Its low-cost, flexible, and long-duration energy storage solution could help increase the share of the world’s energy markets powered by renewable energy.

    Power Forward Challenge

    The $1-million prize for the Power Forward Challenge, aimed at accelerating smart grid technology and in collaboration with the UK government, was awarded to Equilibrium Engineering for their Alba Nova project, developed in partnership with Scotland-based StorTera. Using an innovative artificial intelligence platform to predict solar and wind energy generation and demand of customers for the day ahead, the project in the Town of Berwick, Nova Scotia, introduced a unique smart grid solution that integrates intelligent energy storage, energy efficiency, renewable energy generation and demand-side response. This replicable solution will store renewable energy to be used when it cannot be produced, providing value to the utility grid and customers, while driving down greenhouse gas emissions.

    Sky’s the Limit Challenge

    Enerkem, based in Montreal, was awarded the $5-million prize under The Sky’s the Limit, which challenged Canadians to develop an affordable, cleaner aviation fuel. Enerkem develops and uses advanced biochemical processes to convert municipal solid waste, as well as forestry and agricultural biomass, into sustainable chemicals and advanced biofuels, including sustainable aviation fuel.

  • Fostering boat design innovation to promote economic growth and protect the environment: Grand prize winner announced

    In the summer of 2019, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) launched a Challenge to boat builders to develop an innovative hull that maximizes energy efficiency, lowers operational costs and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. The fisheries industry in Atlantic Canada is valued at more than $3 billion and sustains thousands of jobs in rural and coastal areas of the region. There are nearly 14,000 fishing boats under 45 feet currently licensed in Atlantic Canada.

    The Hull Design Efficiency Challenge sought to encourage out-of-the-box thinking when designing fishing boat hulls, fuel innovation in the boatbuilding industry, and reduce the amount of fuel used to move a fishing boat through the water.

    • Less fuel = lowers operating costs for boat owners
    • Less fuel = less greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted into the atmosphere
    • Less GHGs = cleaner environment for everyone

    ACOA received 19 submissions from across Atlantic Canada to the Hull Design Efficiency Challenge, which narrowed the field to eight semi-finalists and then three finalists through a series of scored evaluations overseen by an impartial selection jury. Submissions were evaluated on their merits for presenting a strong business case and demonstrating design innovations aimed at increasing fuel efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

    On May 12, 2021, based on the recommendation from the selection jury, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency announced TriNav Marine Design as the winner for the Hull Design Efficiency Challenge with a grand prize of $500,000 to build and field test a prototype of their winning design. The jury was composed of a combination of subject matter experts, academics and technical experts, and was chaired by Henry Demone, long-time Chairman and CEO of Highliner Foods.

    Challenge Juries: a unique external adjudication vehicle that differs considerably compared to traditional government program or procurement review approaches

    Usually made up of people external to the Government, juries allow all kinds of Canadians - from subject matter and technical experts, to end users of solutions - to not just clearly see how decisions are made about Government funding, but to be active participants in shaping solutions for an issue or sector they care about. They ensure impartiality and maintain a high level of credibility for the challenge, bring specific expertise, and are vetted in a recruitment process for potential or real conflicts of interest. Jurors also help to bring attention to your challenge and the problem you are trying to solve, and can access levers and networks that governments often cannot do on their own. Jurors who bring ‘star power’ or a significant emotional impact can add to a challenge’s profile, and credibility — for example, Margaret Atwood on the Women in Cleantech Challenge jury or Commander Chris Hadfield on the Deep Space Food Challenge jury.

    To support our juries, multiple partnerships across the government of Canada have been established, capitalizing on the science and technical expertise and infrastructure to assess or support solutions during Impact Canada Challenges. For example:

    • The National Research Council, including its Marine Testing Facility and Industrial Research Assistance Program
    • Health Canada’s Drug Analysis Service Lab
    • The Naurvik project, a hydroponic food production system in Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, supported by the Canadian Space Agency and Agriculture and Agri-food Canada
    • Indigenous Service’s First Nations and Inuit Health Branch

    Julie Greene, Senior Lead, Capacity and Partnerships, answers the most common questions about Challenge juries in two blogs:

    Answering your Questions about Challenge Juries, published March 4, 2021

    Answering your Questions about Challenge Juries Part 2, published April 12, 2021

  • Tackling Marine Plastics in Sub-Saharan Africa: Challenge Launched

    Over 17 million tonnes of waste are generated by Sub-Saharan Africa annually, and only 12% of plastic waste is recycled. The Afri-Plastics Challenge, launched by Global Affairs Canada and delivered by Nesta Challenges, aims to reduce marine plastics in Sub-Saharan African countries by developing and scaling innovative solutions to plastic mismanagement in a way that promotes gender equality and empowerment of women and girls.

    The Challenge is divided into three strands:

    • Strand 1: Accelerating Growth: Seeking small and medium-sized enterprises that have a proof of concept and the ability to scale nationally or regionally to reach a high target number of people, particularly engaging women and girls. 
    • Strand 2: Creating Solutions: A call for new ideas particularly those that respond to a particular gap in the innovation landscape in specific Sub-Saharan African countries or with specific population groups.
    • Strand 3: Promoting Change: A call for large scale campaigns that raise awareness and engage women and girls in the plastics value chain.

    The Challenge will help communities throughout Sub-Saharan Africa to prevent plastic waste from entering the marine environment by finding ways to minimize reliance on plastic and new ways of managing plastic waste.

    Meet the 30 Strand 3 Semi-Finalists of the Afri-Plastics Challenge!

    On April 13, 2022, the semi-finalists of Promoting Change, the third and final strand of the Afri-Plastics Challenge were announced. The 30 semi-finalists selected for strand 3 are developing campaigns, schemes, tools and other creative interventions that will change both the behaviour of individuals and communities around plastic waste in Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as contribute to the empowerment of women and girls.

    As Semi-Finalists of the Afri-Plastics Challenge, they will be receiving capacity building support to facilitate the development and validation of their ideas, alongside a grant of £5,000.

  • Investing in Innovative Oil Spill Response Technologies: Challenge Launched

    More than 4 million barrels of oil are moved through Canada every day by various means, including cargo ships, rail, transport trucks and pipelines. Even a relatively small oil spill can have devastating effects on surrounding ecosystems, wildlife, and communities, especially coastal and Indigenous communities.

    With over 240,000km of coastline and 890,000km2 of freshwater spread across the nation, and with particularly challenging weather and geographical conditions, Canada needs oil spill response solutions suited to our diverse aquatic environments. It is crucial to detect and respond quickly and effectively to reduce the impact on oil spills in freshwater, marine, Arctic, and remote environments.

    The Government of Canada is calling on innovators to develop solutions to help protect and preserve Canada’s natural heritage and communities from the devastating impacts of oil spills. Launched in March of 2022 with Natural Resources Canada, the Oil Spill Response Challenge is looking for solvers to advance innovative and rapidly deployable oil spill response solutions to effectively improve response time and/or increase recovery of oil spilt in diverse Canadian aquatic environments. With the right idea and knowledge on how to get there, successful applicants could be awarded up to $1.3M to develop and test their prototype. The grand prize winner will then receive an additional $2M to continue to commercialise their technology.

    How does Impact Canada measure the impact of Challenges?

    Impact Canada is using multiple research methodologies to assess the effectiveness of Challenges as a government tool. Those methodologies include quasi-experimental approaches, surveys, case studies, social network analyses, patents and investments data analyses, as well as impact studies. Read more about the different lines of inquiry in our blog.

3.2 Agriculture

In Canada and around the world, food waste continues to increase, resulting in an overuse of our natural resources such as water, soil and land, while contributing excess greenhouse gas emissions to our atmosphere. Meanwhile, a growing number of Canadians are facing food insecurity. We continue to use and explore how Impact Canada tools can help find solutions.

  • Reducing Food Waste in Canada: Food Waste Reduction Challenge

    Food waste is a complex issue, and there is no single solution. That is why the Food Waste Reduction Challenge, launched by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, includes four targeted innovation streams to accelerate and advance the deployment of diverse and high-impact solutions in Canada.

    Streams A and B – Business Models

    These streams target solutions in their early commercialization phase to accelerate their growth and expansion in the Canadian market. Successful solutions will have a high impact in reducing the volume of food waste in absolute (total volume of food saved) or relative terms (percentage of food saved).

    On May 7, 2021, 24 promising business model solutions to food waste were selected to move on to Stage 2 of the challenge. These Semi-Finalists will have eight months to test their solution with at least one Canadian implementation partner and evaluate its effectiveness. This stage could involve the development of prototypes, tools, processes and partnerships. Semi-Finalists are competing for approximately $400,000 in grant funding and the chance to become a Finalist entering Stage 3 of the Challenge.

    Streams C and D – Novel Technologies

    These streams target technologies in their early development phase to accelerate their advancement and prospective deployment in the Canadian market. Successful solutions are advancing technologies to make them more effective, efficient, scalable, and competitive. Stream C focuses on technologies that extend the life of perishable foods by finding ways to slow the degradation of perishable food items and extend the length of time these food items may be stored before they become spoiled. Stream D focuses on technologies that transform food waste by converting surplus food, food by-products, or food waste into other products, including: food for humans, food for animals/insects (e.g. animal feed), or non-food products.

    On January 20, 2022, 18 Semi-Finalists were selected to participate in Stage 2 of the challenge. These Semi-Finalists will have eight months to build or complete an existing prototype of their technology. At this stage, Semi-Finalists are competing for approximately $450,000 and the chance to compete in Stage 3 of the competition.

    “In order to address food waste, we need to reinvent how we do business as usual to maximize the value of food and make food available to Canadians while boosting the competitiveness of agri-businesses”

    – Mohamed Yassine, Senior Policy Advisor

    Read an Impact Canada Fellow’s perspective on the challenge of saving food from going to waste.

  • Harnessing the power of space to solve everyday food production challenges for Canadians: Deep Space Food Challenge

    Food is a critical component of all human space exploration missions; but even more so for future missions to the Moon and Mars. As space missions increase in duration and extend further away from Earth there is a need to reduce the resupply of food from Earth while at the same time provide astronauts enjoyable, yet nutritious foods, to ensure they remain at their physical and psychological best. Innovative food systems that maximize safe and nutritious food outputs, with minimal inputs, will be key for sustainable human presence on the lunar surface and for future missions to Mars.

    The Deep Space Food Challenge, a joint prize competition launched in parallel by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the National Aeronautics and the Space Administration (NASA) Centennial Challenges Program, and their allied organization, the Methuselah Foundation, seeks to incentivize teams to develop novel technologies, systems and/or approaches for food production that need not meet the full nutritional requirements of future crews, but can contribute significantly to, and integrate with, a comprehensive food system.

    In October 2021, 10 of the most promising food production technology designs were selected to move on to Phase 2 of the Deep Space Food Challenge. These Semi-Finalists have a year to build a food production technology prototype (equivalent to a TRL 4 ) and demonstrate the prototype during a Kitchen-Level demonstration at an appropriate facility in Fall 2022. Teams will also provide samples of food outputs (e.g., tangible nutritional products) from the prototype, and may be asked to provide a vision for future potential application of the technology in a terrestrial context.

    The ten semi-finalists of the Deep Space Food Challenge, announced in November 2021, are working on a range of solutions, from black soldier flies, cricket rearing, to microalgae, yeast and microbe cultivation, euglena and plant growth environments. Each are competing for $100,000 in grant funding and the opportunity to become a Finalist entering Phase 3 of the Challenge.

    Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI) Case Study: Deep Space Food Challenge

    The Deep Space Food Challenge incentivizes innovators globally to advance the field of food production technologies to meet both space exploration and terrestrial needs. Read this OPSI case study for more on this international collaboration between NASA, Centennial Challenges Program (CCP), the Canadian Space Agency and Impact Canada.

3.3 Health and Public Health

Helping Canadians maintain and improve their health is a key priority of the Government of Canada. Maintaining high-quality and accessible services, as well as working to reduce health risks are key foundational elements of this goal where Impact Canada tools are making a difference.

Applying Behavioural Science to the COVID-19 Response

Throughout the evolving behavioural context of the pandemic, the Behavioural Science (BeSci) team’s dynamic research architecture and growing team of applied experts rigorously generated data and rapidly translated and disseminated insights to support the Government’s response efforts. This research and its application have been carried out in lockstep with Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and a vast network of additional partnerships including an advisory committee of subject matter experts, who have contributed invaluable technical support and subject-matter expertise.

Published on the Impact Canada website, the Applying BeSci to the COVID-19 Response timeline provides an overview of the activities that have been carried out to date.

  • Spotlight On Deep Dive COVID-19 Vaccine Studies

    Vaccine Study 6: Testing Principles of Operational Transparency to Bolster COVID-19 Vaccine Acceptance Among Unvaccinated Canadians (Aug 19- Oct 4, 2021)

    Reinforcing the broader literature, earlier studies conducted by the IIU examining vaccine acceptance in the COVID-19 context provided preliminary evidence on the value of providing operational transparency into the system that delivers vaccines, as a means of improving understanding, trust in the process and confidence in vaccines, and countering vaccine hesitancy.

    A sample of 1,554 unvaccinated Canadians were randomly assigned to one of six conditions. After seeing either no visual (passive control condition), status-quo vaccine safety messaging (active control condition), or one of the four behaviourally-informed interventions, respondents answered a number of questions to assess their trust. Vaccine Study 6 consisted of an online randomized control trial conducted in collaboration with academic experts from Harvard Business School. It tested the impact of operationally transparent communications approaches on COVID-19 vaccine intentions among a sample of approximately 1550 unvaccinated Canadians. Surveying a sample comprised only of unvaccinated individuals, this study also provided rich insights into intentions, attitudes, and self-reported behaviours of this population confidence in COVID-19 vaccines, their intentions to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and several other cognitive and behavioural factors related to COVID-19 vaccination.

    Results indicated that, on average, unvaccinated participants exposed to operationally transparent messaging reported ~8% higher intentions to get a COVID-19 vaccine, relative to status quo Government of Canada messaging; a small, but statistically significant effect. These findings demonstrate that showing Canadians the behind-the-scenes work that goes into ensuring vaccines are safe and effective – i.e., sharing digestible and easy-to-understand information about vaccine development, testing and authorization – may be an effective communications approach for bolstering vaccine acceptance among those who remain unvaccinated. Results also suggested that, at the time of data collection, a sizeable portion of unvaccinated Canadians indicated some willingness to get vaccinated, either right away or eventually.

  • Addressing Misinformation in Canada with Insights and Methodologies from the Behavioural Sciences

    A series of troubling signals in the data from the II COSMO longitudinal study and deep dive vaccine studies – paired with emerging insights from the global community – led the BeSci team to further investigate the emerging problem of misinformation in Canada. Early in the pandemic, the sources people turned to and trusted for COVID-19 information were linked to level of compliance with public health measures. Surprising and pervasive knowledge gaps about COVID-19 existed and persisted despite high self-reported perceived ability to detect misinformation. Interestingly, the ability to accurately identify misinformation was found to be uniquely associated with willingness to receive the vaccine, along with trust in government sources of information and trust in scientists.

    Other indicators in our data have signified misinformation as a risk to containment of and recovery from COVID-19, for example:

    • Advanced longitudinal, statistical modelling of vaccine acceptance over the course of the pandemic indicates that Canadians whose intentions to vaccinate have declined or remained low over time also show lower ability to identify misinformation.
    • In communications testing, participants who believed misinformation statements were unaffected by public health messaging that had positive outcomes for other participants.

    Two overarching objectives now guide the IIU’s work on misinformation:

    • Understand the misinformation environment in Canada and the factors underscoring susceptibility and spread with BeSci methodologies.
    • Mitigate susceptibility to and spread of false claims online with BeSci interventions.

    We have been building an applied behavioural science practice on misinformation and its associated factors. Evidence and insights from this work have informed policy advice on COVID-19 and is being further adapted and scaled. It has already demonstrated that the spread of misinformation (regardless of source or intent) critically impacts both individual and social welfare, as well as impedes progress on core government priorities (e.g., increasing vaccination rates). Novel approaches, such as the application of BeSci, can help us understand how people process and engage with information so that we can find ways to empower individuals to make more informed decisions about what information they consume and share – providing new tools and interventions while preserving citizens’ autonomy as a priority. Behaviourally-informed interventions can be designed to address misinformation before, during, and after exposure.

  • Behavioural science insights to support COVID-19 communications and public education initiatives

    In July 2021, we published a report summarising the state of knowledge on effective behaviourally-informed COVID-19 communications. It presented a series of evidence-based recommendations for communicators which were informed by the outcomes of research led by the IIU in the COVID-19 context (e.g., COSMO Canada, online message testing, and in-field research and experiments), as well as the work of others within Canada and across the world (Government, NGOs, private-sector, academics). 

    Many of these insights from work related to COVID-19 will be helpful as we prepare and anticipate additional forward challenges in health and public health across Canada and beyond!

  • Supporting the healthcare needs of remote communities – both in space and on earth: Deep Space Healthcare Challenge

    Keeping astronauts healthy in space is a challenging problem – one that is bound to become more complex as we explore farther away from Earth! The current healthcare system for astronauts is Earth-reliant, with physicians on hand for real-time consultation, resupply trips arriving regularly, and emergency evacuation an ever-present backup. On a trip to Mars however, these systems disappear. With the launch of the Deep Space Healthcare Challenge, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) challenged innovators to develop novel diagnostic and detection solutions to support frontline health workers in detecting and diagnosing medical conditions in remote communities now, and eventually crews on long-duration space missions.

    Of the 93 submissions that were reviewed, 20 of the most promising designs were selected to participate in Stage 2 of the Challenge. These Semi-Finalists have 10 months to build a proof-of-concept and to provide data to the judging panel for evaluation. Semi-Finalists are competing to be among the five Finalists who will receive $350,000 in grant funding and move on to Stage 3 of the Challenge.

    In addition to the monetary awards, Semi-Finalists will be provided with the following supports to ensure that their designs meet the needs of the Challenge:

    • Consultation with an Indigenous Services Canada Community Advisor to provide first-hand context of the needs and challenges faced by remote community healthcare practitioners.
    • Session with a regional health authority to provide insight into the needs and concerns of these groups.
    • Access to a virtual workshop that will cover common failure points for healthcare technology development, such as regulatory considerations, intellectual property management, and business strategy development.

    The five Finalists who moved on from Stage 2 will build a prototype (minimum of TRL 6) which will be demonstrated in Fall 2023 at a simulated remote environment setup by the CSA. Teams will also be asked to provide a plan for future development and adoption of the demonstrated technology. Finalists at this stage are competing to become the Grand Prize Winner who will receive $500,000 in grant funding.

    In addition to the monetary awards, Finalists will be provided with the following supports to maximize the impact of their technologies:

    • Connection to CAN Health Network’s industry partners, mentors and advisors to discuss the technology’s commercial adoption.
    • Direct connection to the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP).
    • Session with private funding groups to receive advice on product development, and to discuss options for future technology funding.
    • Potential for continued input from ISC Community Advisors or focus groups.

    A Canadian Grand Prize Winner will be selected from among the Finalists and announced in Winter 2024.

    What happens if a crew member gets sick in month 4 of their 7 month journey to Mars?

    On a trip to Mars, there is no option for resupply, there is no turning back in case of emergency, and communication with experts is limited by a delay of up to 40 minutes. Read more about challenges in Remote Healthcare in a blog by Impact Canada Challenge Prize Fellow Brad Andrews.

  • In planning: A Challenge to Help Address Diabetes Prevention

    Budget 2021 committed $10 million over five years to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) for a new Diabetes Challenge Prize. This initiative will help surface novel approaches to diabetes prevention and promote the development and testing of new interventions to reduce the risks associated with Type 2 diabetes. Impact Canada is supporting PHAC in the design of challenges associated with this budget commitment, and has recently placed a Challenge Prize Fellow within the Agency to help scope and advance design work. A diabetes focused challenge will launch near the end of 2022, following an extensive research, design and engagement process.

3.4 Infrastructure and Public Safety

Improvements in physical and social infrastructure have positive impacts on health and environmental goals – Impact Canada approaches are being used to encourage innovative solutions to economic, environmental, and social problems across the ecosystem.

  • Addressing Barriers: Housing Supply Challenge

    The Housing Supply Challenge has invited citizens, stakeholders, and experts from across Canada to propose innovative solutions to the barriers that limit the creation of new housing. $300 million in funding is available through the various rounds of the Challenge, resulting in new ideas and solutions that will help more people find an affordable place to call home.

    blueprint of a home

    Round 1 - Data Driven Challenge

    In this first round of the Housing Supply Challenge, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation looked for data solutions that improve decision-making for housing supply in Canada. Applicants submitted technology solutions or methodologies that can improve the collection, sharing, analysis and integration, and/or presentation of data. Of the 136 solutions that were submitted, 21 were shortlisted, receiving $200,000 each to prototype their solution. In 2021, 14 prototypes were selected for Stage 2 funding, began the process of implementing their exciting solutions, and signed milestone agreements to ensure progress over the coming years.

    blueprint of a home

    Round 2 - Getting Started Challenge

    On June 9, 2021, the Housing Supply Challenge Round 2 – Getting Started was launched. In this round, the challenge focused on the pre-development phase, inviting applicants to propose locally relevant solutions that improve the pre-development process for housing that is affordable. Pre-development activities include everything that brings a housing project from idea to the start of construction, addressing barriers like: inflexible processes, long approval timelines, community resistance, mismatches between policy and implementation, lack of collaboration tools, etc. Of the 238 solutions that were submitted, 29 applicants were shortlisted, receiving up to $75,000 each to prototype their solutions. Of the shortlisted applicants, selected recipients will share a pool of $38 million in funding to implement their solutions.

    blueprint of a home

    Round 3 - Northern Access Challenge

    Launched on February 23, 2022, the Northern Access Round seeks solutions that reduce the time, cost, and risk to access resources for building and maintaining appropriate northern and remote housing supply. Shortlisted teams, to be announced in September 2022, will each receive up to $250K in incubation funding for prototyping. Selected shortlisted recipients will share a pool of $75M.

  • Moving from Concept to Construction: Indigenous Homes Innovation Initiative

    In the past year, the Indigenous Homes Innovation Initiative Steering Committee approved 17 of the 24 innovators selected for the Accelerator period to advance to the Implementation period. Two projects have since been completed (Pikangikum First Nation and Central Urban Métis Federation Inc.). The aims of the initiative are to accelerate effective change by inspiring and harnessing Indigenous innovation and knowledge, recognizing that the best solutions come from Indigenous peoples who live their own needs every day. The Initiative goes beyond existing Government of Canada’s housing programs, and emphasizes community priorities, innovative ideas, and new partnerships. It also supports a wrap-around approach to the refinement of proposals and concepts that have promise of positive impact but have yet to be fully developed. The Accelerator stage of this Initiative was designed to help innovators move their ideas from concept to plan to construction - with all stages fully designed and delivered with and by Indigenous Canadians.

    Indigenous Innovation Initiatives

    Borrowing elements from challenge-based approaches, Indigenous innovation initiatives under Impact Canada rely less on the competitive aspects in favor of a more holistic, community-oriented frame that values interconnection and communal values over individual triumphs. Impact Canada is currently examining the features of these approaches that are both similar and distinct from traditional challenge-based programs. They aim to bring forward ideas inspired by Indigenous knowledge, regardless of their stage of development, while finding pathways to develop these into sustainable solutions that can have meaningful, positive impacts on Indigenous communities.

    Refer to this case study of the Indigenous Homes Innovation Initiative to learn more about how we can work with Indigenous communities to adapt the typical Challenge Prize in new and creative ways, recognising that the best solutions come from those communities and Indigenous peoples who live their own needs every day.

  • Incentivizing better school and community safety outcomes: Alternative Suspensions Program

    On August 12, 2021 the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, announced an investment of up to $4.5 million over 5 years for the expansion of the YMCAs of Quebec’s Alternative Suspension program, a dropout prevention program that helps at-risk youth, aged 12-17, participate in personalized activities as an alternative to a traditional school suspension. This investment will expand the program by adding new sites across Canada including locations in British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec, and provide services to an additional 1600 youth.

    The initiative is the first time the Government of Canada has used a pay-for-success funding approach in the area of community safety where investors provide upfront capital, and the Government of Canada pays a return on investment once the desired social outcomes are achieved. If the outcomes are not achieved, investors receive neither a return nor repayment of principal.

    The pay-for-success project was co-developed by Public Safety Canada, Impact Canada and the MaRS Partner Solutions Group, which helped secure investment partners to support this innovative funding approach. Investors include the Toronto Foundation, Inspirit Foundation, Lawson Foundation, Robert Kerr Foundation and the Counselling Foundation of Canada. The YMCAs of Quebec has engaged a third-party evaluator to validate the outcomes of the program, to determine its effectiveness and inform its future application.

4. Going Forward

In the year ahead, the team remains committed to supporting partners in managing the COVID-19 pandemic and climate crisis. We will continue to explore new opportunities to apply our behavioural science research model and Challenge approaches to emerging areas such as misinformation and agri-clean tech. We do all of this with a view to contributing to more a vibrant and relevant public sector, committed to meaningful engagement with, and delivering positive impact for, Canadians.

Library and Archives Canada cataloguing in publication

© Privy Council Office, (2022)
All rights reserved

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shall be addressed to the Privy Council Office.

ISSN: 2561-9705

Aussi disponible en français sous le titre :
Rapport annuel de l'Unité de l’impact et de l’innovation 2021-2022