Mobilizing Insights in Defence and Security (MINDS) – Annual report 2020-2021

Message from the Assistant Deputy Minister (Policy)

Peter Hammerschmidt, Assistant Deputy Minister (Policy)

In its second year of operations, the Mobilizing Insights in Defence and Security (MINDS) Program established and solidified its reputation as a vital resource, making impressive contributions to the Defence Team’s understanding of the fluid and complex defence and security challenges it faces. MINDS continued to enable the delivery of relevant, innovative and timely external advice to the Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces (DND/ CAF). As COVID-19 reshaped our environment and priorities, I am particularly proud of how the program shifted its efforts and adapted to new dynamics, as well as how it responded to the need for novel insights on the implications of the pandemic on defence activities.

Throughout the year, the program’s positive impact on policymaking was clear. More than $1.8M, including over $100k for pandemic-related research, was provided to Canadian and international defence and security experts, who delivered valuable analysis and perspectives on a range of important topics. Indeed, MINDS proved an indispensable tool to support evidence-based decision making, through important expert contributions on issues such as continental defence, organizational culture change, and sexual misconduct.

Behind the scenes, efforts this year were focussed on increasing the program’s reach among internal stakeholders and finding ways to both better understand their needs, and connect them to available resources. To that end, we conducted a Defence Team-wide survey, and have been using this input to successfully inform improvements, in order to ensure MINDS remains a go-to capability that is pertinent and fit for purpose for the Defence Team.

I am pleased with how innovation persistently drives initiatives to grow and evolve the program and its network of internal and external stakeholders. Notably through virtual Expert Briefings, a new Share- Point site, and a re-vamped communications approach, MINDS has been increasing its engagement despite the pandemic. Its data-driven approach to service delivery helps position the program to support the Defence Team in tackling difficult issues via dynamic collaboration with high-calibre experts.

In the year ahead, I am confident that MINDS will continue to creatively expand its reach, optimize the delivery of useful and actionable information, and meaningfully support the crucial work of the Defence Team.

Peter Hammerschmidt
Assistant Deputy Minister (Policy)
Department of National Defence

Executive Summary

Enhancing Collaboration to move Security and Defence forward

In its second year – and despite the impact of the pandemic – the MINDS program continued to provide intellectual, analytical and creative support by connecting the Defence Team to the external defence and security expert community. Early in 2020, as the reality and implications of COVID-19 began to be felt, MINDS quickly adapted - moving seamlessly to virtual events and creating funding opportunities for pandemic-related initiatives. These efforts provided the opportunity for the Defence Team to learn from this unprecedented time, and grapple with its unique and complex challenges.

As the impact of the pandemic reverberated, MINDS also supported its grant recipients and Collaborative Networks in adapting their projects to the evolving situation and remote work environment.


In 2020-2021 MINDS…

  • Launched 3 Collaborative Networks
  • Funded 50 Targeted Engagement Grants
  • Hosted 14 Expert Briefing Events
  • Awarded 28 Scholarships
  • Provided 1 Rapid Response

MINDS received applications from around the world.

  • Undeterred by COVID-19, funding recipients adapted in innovative ways to continue research and engagements.
  • MINDS continued to identify and create inclusive opportunities to amplify diverse voices in defence and security, including those of women, Indigenous peoples, and youth.
  • The Collaborative Networks actively engaged with and supported the ongoing work of the Defence Team.
  • MINDS continued to foster collaboration and bridge connections between DND/CAF and the expert community.

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The MINDS Program

Meeting the Defence and security challenges of today and tomorrow


Meeting the Defence and Security challenges of today and tomorrow

  • Targeted engagement grants
  • Collaborative networks
  • Scholarships
  • Expert Briefing Series
  • Rapid Response Mechanism

Supporting and Leveraging

The Expertise of Canada's
Defence and Security Expert Community

Through a variety of tools, the MINDS program continuously brings new and valuable perspectives to DND/CAF challenges. The five core funding mechanisms are:

Defence Policy Challenges

The MINDS Policy Challenges reflect the key strategic, operational and organizational issues facing DND/CAF today, and tie the various program elements together to ensure that funding decisions are aligned with Defence Team and broader Government of Canada priorities. Applicants for Targeted Engagement Grants, Collaborative Networks and Scholarships must demonstrate how their research proposals relate to and aim to address at least one of these Challenges and they are used to guide all other program spending decisions. The challenges are refreshed annually to adjust to evolving dynamics, and are the result of extensive consultations with stakeholders across the Defence Team.

In 2020-21, three new Challenges were added related to addressing sexual misconduct and hateful conduct in the CAF, and responding to COVID-19. A list of all Challenges is below and a more detailed overview of the associated key questions is available at Annex A.

Well-supported, Diverse, Resilient People And Families

  • Creative Recruitment and Retention Models
  • Innovative Approaches to Force Mix and Structure
  • Addressing and Preventing Sexual Misconduct
  • Addressing, Preventing Hateful Conduct and Radicalization

A Changing Security Environment

  • The Rise of Grey Zone Conflict
  • Evolving Role of Major Powers

Global Defence Engagement

  • NORAD Modernization and the Future of North American Defence
  • Defence Role in Pandemic Preparedness and Recovery
  • Canada’s Defence Relationships

To Defence: Anticipate

  • Anticipating Future Challenges

Approach To Defence: Adapt

  • Cyber, Space and Information as Operational Domains
  • The Role of AI
  • Emerging Technology and Military Application
  • Defence Role in the Arctic
  • Defence Procurement

To Defence: Act

  • The Future of Capacity Building

COVID-19 Challenge

Amplifying Diverse Voices

MINDS has an important role to play in promoting diversity and amplifying a broad spectrum of voices in the defence and security community, including women, Indigenous peoples and youth. Applicants must always demonstrate how they factor Gender Based Analysis Plus (GBA+) considerations into the design of their project proposals, and are encouraged to seek out and include a broad variety of perspectives. MINDS continued to work with DND’s Directorate for Gender Equality and Intersectional Analysis and the broader expert community in that field, to ensure that the defence and security sector continues to learn, grow and reflect the fabric and values of the Canadian population.


The MINDS Steering Committee, composed of senior representatives from organizations across the Defence Team, serves as a high-level departmental advisory body focused on ensuring transparency and efficiency in the management of the program. This includes but is not limited to: supporting the development of MINDS priorities and challenges, reviewing and endorsing funding recommendations, communicating Defence’s needs for external expertise, and promoting the MINDS program. The day-to-day management of MINDS is conducted by the Directorate of Strategic Coordination and Outreach. The directorate is situated within Assistant Deputy Minister (Policy), which is responsible for the development and management of defence policy-making in DND/CAF, and under the Director General of Policy Coordination.

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Year in Review

Reaching new levels of outreach

Consolidating MINDS’ reach and relevance, both within DND/CAF and with the security and defence expert community, remained a top priority in 2020-21. Enhancing internal and external outreach played an important role in helping MINDS continue to thrive and utilize its funding mechanisms to achieve its main objectives to:

Strengthening Relevance

A key area of focus was ensuring MINDS built on past successes and continued to be a useful tool for DND/CAF. To this end, in early 2020, the MINDS Team conducted a comprehensive and informative general survey on the MINDS program with the Defence Team. Using the data and feedback collected, the program launched an ambitious outreach campaign to:

As part of MINDS’ commitment to innovation and improving accessibility, the program also established a new internal SharePoint site to provide the Defence Team with on-demand access to funded projects and activities.

Supporting Security and Defence Experts

Throughout the year, MINDS also continued to grow its network of external experts. Notably with the move to remote work, the MINDS website was an effective mechanism to promote the program and funding available to external experts. In fact, between April 2020 and March 2021, the page received over 13,000 visits. Social media, from the DND and CAF accounts, as well as Collaborative Networks’ accounts, also helped make the program more visible and accessible.

Moreover, the MINDS Team conducted a number of targeted outreach activities that effectively expanded knowledge of the program and its reach into previously under-represented communities, demonstrating the benefits of finding new and innovative ways to collaborate.

A – Expert Briefing Series

Through the Expert Briefing Series (EBS), top Canadian and international defence and security experts are invited to brief the Defence Team and Government of Canada officials on priority issues.

Despite the challenges brought upon by COVID-19, the series continued to thrive under a new virtual webinar format that made the events more accessible to a wider audience, and remained MINDS’ most flexible and responsive mechanism to access expertise on emerging issues. The shift to virtual speakers allowed MINDS to redirect funds from travelrelated expenses to attracting high profile experts from around the world – thereby increasing the value of each dollar spent. MINDS hosted a total of 14 virtual engagements on topics that reflect the diverse and complex challenges faced by DND/CAF. A detailed list of all engagements is included at Annex B.

MINDS’ well-attended webinars explored key issues and fostered rich conversations with leading experts and thinkers, such as:

Guy Saint-Jacques

Guy Saint-Jacques, Canada’s former Ambassador to the Republic of China, shared his in-depth knowledge and experience working in China throughout his career with Global Affairs Canada.

John Mearsheimer

John Mearsheimer, a distinguished professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, provided a brief on great power competition and the increasing multipolarity in the international system. The briefing provided insight on the future of great power politics and how Canada might navigate this environment, which helped with the awareness and anticipation of real and potential defence and security trends of significance.

Robert D. Kaplan

Robert D. Kaplan, an acclaimed expert in geopolitics who is highly sought by political, business and academic leaders across the globe, provided senior officials from across the Government of Canada with his views on the present and future state of the tectonic shifts reshaping the global order, great power competition, and the implications for Canada.

Aisha Ahmad

Aisha Ahmad, Senior Researcher of the Global Justice Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Chair of the Board of Directors of Women in International Security-Canada, provided a briefing on the threat of jihad in Africa, mapping out possible avenues for Canadian intervention and the potential operational impact for DND/CAF.

Roland Paris

Just days following the 2020 US election,Roland Paris, founder of the Centre for International Policy Studies, and research associate at Chatham House, provided a timely brief on the Biden Administration’s expected foreign policy approach and how it might affect Canada. He addressed anticipated changes in the administration’s approach, including regarding the Arctic and climate change.


B - Targeted Engagement Grants

MINDS Targeted Engagement Grants drive innovation, amplify expert voices, spark wider discussions, and inform policy discussions on important and timely defence and security issues. The grants provide up to $50,000 in non-recurring financial support for projects such as conferences, roundtables, workshops, research, and publications. To continue to foster the next generation of experts, grants valued at $10,000 are also available under the Young MINDS Initiative for undergraduate students.

Funding Opportunities


Funding Opportunities

  • 106 Applied
    • $4,074,248 Requested
    • 94 Grants
    • 12 Young MINDS
  • 50 Funded
    • $1,838,356 disbursed
    • 44 Grants
    • 6 Young MINDS

MINDS issued calls for applications in January and September 2020. A record number of applications were received from across Canada and around the world, and covered all policy challenges. More than $1.8 million in grant funding was awarded for projects that directly supported DND/CAF activities and helped advance defence priorities.

Table 1: Distribution of Applications Received


Distribution of Applications Received

  • British Columbia - 9%
  • Prairies - 8%
  • Ontario - 43%
  • Quebec - 12%
  • Atlantic - 3%
  • Other - 11%
  • United States - 13%

Grant recipients continued to be a source of creative thinking and diversity of perspectives for DND/ CAF and the Government of Canada. While an overview of all projects funded is included in Annex C, highlights from the year include:

C - Collaborative Networks

MINDS Collaborative Networks bring together multi-disciplinary teams of distinguished experts from a variety of sectors, from across Canada and abroad. Each Network receives up to $750,000 over three years to support DND/CAF through research and activities aimed at bringing new perspectives to inform policy making, as well as fostering the next generation of experts.

Calling all Experts!

A call for applications was launched in January 2020 and received a record number of responses, with a total of 11. Applications were received primarily from academic institutions (8), but also from think tanks, one NGO, and one non-profit organization, with regional representation from Ontario (73%), Québec (9%), British Columbia (9%), and Alberta (9%). Overall, submissions touched on all MINDS policy challenges.

After a rigorous evaluation process, three new Collaborative Networks were selected:

Our Collaborative Team

All six Networks, including those funded in 2019-20, thrived despite challenges from the pandemic. They were able to maintain their momentum and advance several projects and activities, expand their membership, and continue engagements in a virtual environment to contribute to some of the Defence Team’s highest priority files and advance MINDS’ main objectives.


Advance Minds main objectives

  • Respond to the need for relevent and timely advice from defence and security experts
    • Special reports on priority subjects
    • Promoting partnerships and collaborating with DND/CAF
  • Foster the next generation of experts and scholars
    • Students symposiums and forums
    • Job opportunities for graduate students, emerging scholars, and next generation researchers
  • Contribute to Canadians understanding of defence and security issues
    • Bilingual podcasts
    • Publicly available webinar recordings
    • Virtual events and webinar series
    • Scholarly outputs, policy-relevant reports, event videos


To date, all Networks have continually proven to be agile and highly responsive, delivering timely products while leading independent research programs that engage the public.

Defence and Security Foresight Group (University of Waterloo) - logo

Defence and Security Foresight Group
(University of Waterloo)

  • Hosted regular virtual events, including a well-attended four-part webinar series on GBA+ and intersectionality in defence and security research
  • Readily responded to information requests from DND/CAF
  • Published special policy briefs and reports to address emerging issues

Director: Dr. Bessma Momani

North American and Arctic Defence and Security Network (Trent University) - logo

North American and Arctic Defence and Security Network (Trent University)

  • Delivered insightful and timely expertise on NORAD and continental defence
  • Provided expert advice on North American and Arctic defence issues via online initiatives, publications and engagements with the defence team
  • Responded to requests for research on priority subjects, including for NORAD and DND/CAF

Director: Dr. Whitney Lackenbauer

Security-Policy Nexus of Emerging Technology Network (Concordia University) - logo

Security-Policy Nexus of Emerging Technology Network
(Concordia University)

  • Continued research on emerging technology and delivered several notes to the Defence Team
  • Conducted research on connected battlespaces and delivered a White Paper on Joint All-Domain Command and Control to inform ongoing work

Director: Dr. Kash Khorasani

Network for Strategic Analysis (Queen’s University) - logo

Network for Strategic Analysis
(Queen’s University)

  • First fully bilingual Network created, and launched the first French language podcast on Canadian peace and security issues, Conseils de Securité
  • Delivered several virtual events and policy briefs
  • Held an annual symposium and Graduate Seminar with DND/CAF participation

Directors: Dr. Stéfanie von Hlatky and Dr. Justin Massie

Innovative Methodologies for Defence Challenges Network (Archipelago of Design) - logo

Innovative Methodologies for Defence Challenges Network
(Archipelago of Design)

  • Supported the development of the CAF’s Design Thinking program
  • Delivered learning plans, training materials, and lectures and workshops with leading thinkers in military and civilian design

Directors: Dr. Philippe Dufort and Dr Philippe Beaulieu-Brossard

Network for Research on Hateful Conduct and Right-Wing Extremism in the CAF (Ontario Technical University) - logo

Network for Research on Hateful Conduct and Right-Wing Extremism in the CAF
(Ontario Technical University)

  • Grew its engagement with DND/CAF and government partners to inform ongoing efforts to address hateful conduct
  • Led an advisory session for CAF members

Directors: Dr. Barbara Perry and Dr. David Hofmann

On Demand Expertise

The MINDS rapid response mechanism provides the flexibility needed to support a well-informed and adaptable force.

Networks were called upon to help the Defence Team better understand the pandemic and its myriad impacts. In summer 2020, the MINDS team adjusted and added a specific COVID-19 Policy Challenge to guide external input, and issued a call for papers from Collaborative Networks. An overview of its key questions is included in Annex A.

The resulting report provided DND/ CAF with timely and unique insights on the immediate impacts and longer-term implications of COVID-19, particularly on civil-military relations, disinformation, emergency management, geopolitics, and technology. The report can be consulted on the Network for Strategic Analysis’ webpage at network-challenge-report-covid-19/

Networks’ ability to respond rapidly with relevant advice to an unprecedented event was well-received and their products provided valuable knowledge on emerging circumstances.

D - Scholarships

MINDS’ commitment to fostering the next generation of defence and security scholars and experts, and helping showcase their work and expertise, remained strong. The MINDS Scholarship initiative, administered with the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the NATO Defense College (NDC), continued to thrive.

MINDS Scholarships

The MINDS scholarship initiative offers research training awards and supplements at the master’s, doctoral and postdoctoral levels to students and researchers whose work is related to one or more of the MINDS Policy Challenges. In line with the program’s commitment to fostering inclusivity and a diverse pool of experts, one-year awards are also available for Indigenous students at the master’s level whose studies relate to defence and security issues.

In its second year, the MINDS Scholarship Initiative received a record number of applications.


Minds Scholarship Initiative

  • 61 Applications
    • 28 Funded
Table 2
Type of Research Training Award # awards distributed Value ($)
MINDS Initiative Postdoctoral Fellowships (up to 2 years) 1 90,000
MINDS Initiative Doctoral Awards (up to 3 years) 2 210,000
1-year MINDS Initiative Doctoral Awards 4 140,000
MINDS Scholarship Initiative Supplements (1 year, non-renewable) - Master’s 12 120,000
MINDS Master’s Scholarships Indigenous Students 9 157,000
NATO Defence College

Nato Defence College - Rome

#WeAreNato embodies a 70-year commitment to our allies and our collective security.

Fellowship The NATO Defence College (NDC) Fellowship provides a unique opportunity for a Canadian researcher to work alongside experts from across NATO member countries at the NATO Defence College in Rome, Italy. The Fellowship enables Canada to continue to uphold its commitment to NATO, and helps advance both Canada and the Alliance’s strategic objectives, through cutting-edge research and increased collaboration.


More information on the NDC is available on the NATO Defense College website.


For its second competition, MINDS received five applications.

Dr. Benjamin Zyla was awarded the fellowship for 2021.

Dr. Zyla has over fifteen years of research experience on Canadian foreign policy and NATO, and focused his time with the NDC on discussions around NATO burden sharing.

E - Rapid Response Mechanism

The Rapid Response Mechanism is contingency funding that enables MINDS to readily respond to new, evolving and pressing security and defence challenges, facilitating quick access to high quality advice from external experts to support the Defence Team in making informed policy decisions.

In 2020-2021, this funding was utilized to support DND/CAF in better understanding the implications of COVID-19. In consultation with key leaders from across the Defence Team, MINDS organized a special grant competition based on the COVID-19 Policy Challenge that was shared with Collaborative Networks.

The challenge identified key issues where DND/CAF could benefit from external expertise, and was focused on the pandemic’s emerging geopolitical, domestic, and defence implications. An overview of its key questions is included in Annex A.

11 projects received funding (a total value of $107,605) to conduct research on key issues such as:

  • Defence’s role in Canada’s economic recovery;
  • Role of Canadian Rangers during the pandemic; and
  • Like-minded countries’ pandemic response efforts.

A list of all projects funded is included in Annex C.

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The Year ahead…

Building Connections

MINDS has become an important hub in the global network of defence and security experts and practitioners. As the program enters its third year, MINDS will focus on building and leveraging connections that can maximize, measure, and communicate its impact. Through an internal communications strategy, the program will utilize digital tools to broaden the distribution of its outputs and increase the accessibility of its events. Externally, MINDS will enhance its social media presence and promotional activities to attract more first-time and diverse funding applicants.

Renewing Priorities

Based on lessons learned and feedback from the expert and DND/CAF communities, MINDS will refresh its suite of Policy Challenges for 2022-23. The new challenges will be more concise, distinct, open-ended, and effective in communicating DND/CAF’s priorities. To ensure MINDS continues to support the Defence Team’s access to timely, relevant, and high-quality expertise, the challenges will focus on four thematic priorities: People, Culture, and Diversity; Continental Defence; The Global Security Environment; and Domains and Technology.

Collaborative Networks

Three new Collaborative Networks will be launched to tackle DND/CAF’s most pressing challenges. With nine concurrent networks, this program pillar will achieve full operational capacity. Each network will contribute unique research and engagement; ensuring their expertise cover the breadth of leading defence challenges. In 2021-22, the Defence Team will be well-supported by a diverse and multidisciplinary group of leading external experts, including the new:

The Canadian Network on Information and Security (CANIS): a bilingual network that will examine the impact of the domestic and international information environments on Canadian national defence and security.

The Research Network on Women, Peace and Security (RN-WPS): a bilingual network that will study defence and security threats, with emphasis on the Women, Peace and Security agenda through a GBA+ lens.

The Canadian Military Sexual Trauma Collaborative Network:  builds on an existing multi-disciplinary community of practice to further knowledge on sexual misconduct.

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Stay in touch!


Follow. Share. Apply.

CanadianForces #MINDS

NationalDefence #MINDS

Follow our collaborative networks

Defence and Security Foresight Group


North American and Arctic Defence and Security Network


Security-Policy Nexus of Emerging Technology

Network for Strategic Analysis


Innovative Methodologies for Defence Challenges Network

Network for Research on Hateful Conduct in the CAF


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