November 9, 2020

The City of Toronto has piloted a new partnership model with Toronto’s higher education institutions (HEIs) to collaborate on research priorities. Eight City-initiated research projects related to COVID-19 are underway with the HEIs, supported by funding partners in the federal and provincial governments.

This partnership is a new and innovative way in which the City is working with Toronto’s HEIs to support COVID-19 response and recovery.

City-HEIs Research Partnership Overview

  • In March, the Mayor’s Economic Support and Recovery Task Force identified an opportunity to collaboratively undertake research on urgent COVID-19 needs. This was done through an Academic Institutions Working Group chaired by Councillor Jennifer McKelvie.
  • A working group was formed to pilot and expedite research collaboration to meet City- identified research priorities for COVID-19 recovery. The working group is chaired by Robert Luke, CEO, eCampus Ontario, with representation from the City and all Toronto’s HEIs as well as funding, student placement and research partners.
  • In partnership with Toronto’s HEIs and eCampusOntario, the City designed a system to rapidly intake research priorities and source academic experts and students to help address important and urgent research needs with all of Toronto’s HEIs: Centennial College, George Brown College, Humber College, OCAD University, Ryerson University, Seneca College, University of Toronto, and York University.
  • The partnership model will be made permanent, creating an ongoing pathway for the City and HEIs to collaborate on research priorities.
  • Eight research projects are moving forward under the new partnership, providing the City with valuable insight to support COVID-19 response and recovery.
  • These studies will produce new data, research papers, and recommendations. The outcomes will be used to inform changes to City policies, processes and services and support our work on COVID-19 response and recovery.
  • One of the projects has already been completed: analyzing supply chain risk to PPE.
  • The remaining projects are scheduled to be completed between December 2020 and September 2021.
  • The City will bring forward more research proposals to Toronto’s HEIs later in 2020 or early 2021.

Research Project Selection Process

  • City staff put forward research proposals related to priorities set out by Toronto’s Office of Recovery and Rebuild.
    • All HEIs had an opportunity to express interest in the research proposals based on their expertise
    • The City selected partners and formed project teams to best meet the City’s research needs


  • Research projects that require funding to move forward are being paid for by the City and Mitacs, a national, not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation, and is funded by the federal, provincial and territorial governments.
  • Some City research projects were also eligible under a funding program through NSERC (the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council). However, City and HEI project teams are leveraging Mitacs funding, as it best aligns with project needs.
  • Due to a change by the federal government, municipalities are now be eligible for Mitacs’ funding.
  • Mitacs’ Accelerate Program is matching the City’s contributions towards five of the current projects dollar-for-dollar, providing much needed financial support to hire students.
  • For some projects, the City is providing funding directly to the HEIs to support required research costs.
  • To undertake this research across the eight projects:
    • The City is contributing more than $100,000*
    • Mitacs is contributing more than $50,000*
    • HEIs are contributing more than $25,000*
      *Please note these are approximate figures. Some of these estimates may change when all the project details are finalized.
  • The majority of the funding is going towards hiring students to undertake this research. Students are gaining jobs and valuable experience.
  • In addition to these funds, the City and HEIs are making considerable in-kind contributions of staff time, data and other resources.


  • This partnership is a component of the CivicLabTO program to create a more systemic approach to collaboration between the City and Toronto’s eight universities and colleges.
  • In 2019, the City Manager established an Academic Partnership table to promote strategic collaboration opportunities.
  • In 2020, City Council adopted the Advancing a New Culture of Innovation and Partnership report which recommended the implementation of the CivicLabTO program to create a more systematic approach to collaboration between the City and its eight universities and colleges.
  • This includes collaboration on research projects, program innovation focused on solutions to complex City challenges and opportunities; a collaboration summit and an interactive website open to HEI faculty and students to support information sharing and collaboration.

Research Project Descriptions

This information is also available at

The Association Between Socio-Demographic Characteristics and COVID-19 Incidence and Severity

This project explores the socio-demographic characteristics of people with reported COVID-19 infection in Toronto that cannot be learned from data collected via routine case and contact investigations.
Individual-level, disaggregated data will be collected on race and ethnicity, income, newcomer status, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, employment, and other characteristics from a sample of COVID-19 cases.

This data can help pinpoint where inequities exist and to what extent, promoting a pandemic response and recovery that supports groups who may benefit from additional, focused resources. It also can inform more effective health promotion and messaging about infection control, and a more equitable system of health and social services in general.

City division: Toronto Public Health
Partner: Ryerson University

Plausible Futures: What Economic and Labour Market Trends Might the City See Over the Next Three to Five Years?

The City of Toronto, along with cities across Canada and the world, are grappling with the transformation that may occur as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many of the emerging trends are likely to continue past the COVID-19 era and transform organizations, employees, workplace and their surroundings. Depending on the permanence of some of the changes seen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are possible, probable and preferable futures over the next three to five years.

This research project will identify key trends and alternative scenarios that may impact and disrupt the Toronto to facilitate strategic conversations about potential interventions that may be needed related to employment, skills, sectors, and development.

City division: Economic Development and Culture
Partner: Ryerson University


Supply Disruption Risk for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Procurement

Disruptions to the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) poses a serious risk. Ryerson University, the Schulich School of Business at York University, and the City partnered to enhance the City’s decision-making processes regarding PPE purchasing, consumption, and conservation, and to improve future decision-making with insights into best practices for forecasting, purchasing and internal demand management.

This project has been completed. It culminated in a report that found the City did well in PPE management during the sudden onset of COVID-19 and the subsequent disruption of PPE supply globally. The report offered insightful recommendations and enhancements to existing policies and procedures to even more effectively protect City employees and the public they serve.

City division: Office of Emergency Management
Partners: Ryerson University, York University


Low-Cost Decontamination Process for Disposable N95 Masks

Conserving personal protective equipment (PPE) is a challenge for any organization. The City of Toronto has developed an innovative solution to disinfect its important N95 masks to keep workers safe and healthy. At the same time, Ryerson University’s FRAMES Lab has agreed to partner with the City to offer breathability and humidity testing in disinfected masks, in real time, to ensure workers are comfortable and effective in their PPE.

The project will embed Ryerson FRAMES Lab engineering researchers with City of Toronto staff to work side-by-side on disinfecting and testing N95 masks and potentially other pieces of PPE.

City divisions: Office of Emergency Management, Toronto Paramedic Services
Partner: Ryerson University


Digital Access: Who is Underserved and Why?

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the City has taken steps to help ensure low-income communities can access the internet. Access to quality internet is crucial for residents to participate in online schooling and to access public health and other essential government services.

A better understanding of the digital divide is necessary to identify where resources are needed the most, and to help create longer-term solutions. This research project aims to use surveys and data analysis to help the City better understand which communities and demographics are underserved by digital infrastructure, and the reasons why they are underserved. Research analysis will include recommendations such as policy changes or investments that will improve digital access.

City divisions: Technology Services Division
Partners: Humber College, Ryerson University, Seneca College, University of Toronto, York University


Toronto Ambient Air Quality Impacts from COVID-19

Air pollution and climate change are inextricably linked. This project will identify sources of air pollution within Toronto that may result from changes in transportation patterns, energy use, employment and industrial operations before, during, and after the pandemic. This information will aid in the analysis of ongoing work being undertaken under TransformTO, the City’s Climate Change Action Plan, specifically as it pertains co-benefit analysis of air quality and resulting health impacts when undertaking greenhouse gas mitigation action.

City division: Environment and Energy Division
Partners: Ryerson University, University of Toronto


Telework Study – GHG Emission Impacts & Employee Performance

COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of teleworking practices in both the private and public sector across different industries. Many organizations will continue to implement teleworking post-pandemic and will be looking for guidance as teleworking represents a major potential cost reduction for employers and potential environmental benefits for cities.

This study will evaluate the GHG emission impacts of people working from home instead of at a commercial office/workplace. A major barrier to adopting teleworking practices in organizations is the lack of empirical data regarding employee performance. As such, employee performance while teleworking will also be evaluated as part of this study to increase the likelihood of achieving environmental benefits identified from teleworking.

The findings from the study will be communicated with recommended action to employers and other key stakeholders involved in teleworking to support effective teleworking practices and to ensure the persistence of environmental benefits such as GHG emission reduction in the long term.

City division: Environment and Energy Division
Partner: Ryerson University


Innovations in Tax Filing

On average, 15.9 per cent of working-age adults in Ontario do not file taxes and a third of social assistance recipients in Ontario do not file taxes. Seniors also face struggles with tax filing especially when transitioning from Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) to CPP/OAS/GIS.

By not filing their income taxes, vulnerable residents are not accessing lucrative income tax benefits and are also not able to access means-tested housing and child care fee subsidies as examples. As a result, this impedes economic and social objectives and creates challenges for a recovery from COVID-19 and achieving the City of Toronto’s Poverty Reduction Strategy.

Jurisdictional scans, surveys, key informant interviews, and data analysis is being undertaken to better understand the gaps, barriers and challenges facing low-income Torontonians in filing taxes, and approaches that are working to improve tax filing in other jurisdictions. A findings report that includes recommendations to improve income tax filing rates in Toronto will be developed.

City divisions: Toronto Employment Social Services & Senior Services and Long-Term Care
Partners: Seneca College, Prosper Canada

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