Health and Social Services Research in the NWT

Questions and Answers

The GNWT Education, Culture and Employment (ECE) department is the primary contact for all research-related inquiries in the NWT. For information regarding research ethics, licensing, logistics and resources, please refer to their research licensing website.

I have an idea for a health-related research study in the NWT. How do I know if it fits with the research priorities of the DHSS?

The Department has published a GNWT Health and Social Services Research Agenda. This agenda outlines five overarching research priorities that represent important gaps in information which have impacts across the system and population. They are:

  • Improving the health status of the population through prevention and education
  • Improving access to primary care services
  • Mental health and addictions
  • Child and family services
  • Addressing disparities in Aboriginal health

For a detailed explanation of the research priorities, please review the GNWT Health and Social Services Research Agenda  as well as review the Research Resources section of this website.

What type of support can I request from the DHSS?

The Government of the Northwest Territories is committed to supporting researchers who are addressing our research priorities. Those conducting research aligned with our priorities can request the following types of support. Our ability to provide support will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Letters of Support

The DHSS can provide Letters of Support for researchers during their application process for funding or licensing. Depending on the level of detail provided in the research proposal, the Department will state their potential level of support outlined in the letter.


The DHSS is home to a wide variety of professionals with diverse skill sets.  The Department also has extensive networks that can be leveraged within the research community in the NWT.

Strategic Support for Required Research

The DHSS may on occasion actively seek proponents to work collaboratively on specific research questions. Support for such projects might include collaboration, knowledge translation partnerships, or financial contribution(s).

When do I have to apply to ECE?

If you are planning to do research in the NWT, it is your responsibility to ensure that communications with relevant communities have occurred and research licensing is obtained before you begin.

We recommend that applications be submitted at least three months in advance of your proposed start date, especially if you have not already started communication about your project. It is best to be proactive, apply early and begin your communication with community organizations as early as possible.

Where should I apply if I want to use personal health information in my research?

If you require personal health information for your research, you must make a formal application to the relevant data custodian. Data custodians include the Department of Health and Social Services, the Health and Social Services Authorities, private pharmacists or private physicians. For further information and where to apply, contact the DHSS Research Coordinator at

What do I need to include in the formal application to the data custodian for personal health information?

You should include the following in your application:

  • Written request for disclosure of health information
  • Research proposal
  • REC Approval
  • Research License
  • Any other information required by the custodian, such as express consent, conditions, or recommendations set by the Research Ethics Committee, security safeguards, or information destruction methods.

What is the application review process?

The Research Coordinator will prepare the application package (as submitted on the POLAR Database by the researcher), which contains a set of mandatory documents required for the Research License review along with the Ethics Approval. This package is then circulated to relevant parties to provide them with an opportunity for internal consultation and to provide feedback regarding the research. Depending on the nature of the request, the package may be sent to any or all the following:

  • DHSS Chief Health Privacy Officer
  • DHSS Chief Information Officer
  • Other relevant DHSS staff: based on the subject matter of the research proposal
  • NTHSSA: IHT Service Desk
  • NTHSSA: Territorial Risk Manager
  • HRHSSA: Quality and Risk Manager
  • TCSA: Quality and Risk Manager

When feedback is received from the reviewers, it is summarized and relayed to the researchers and ECE on the POLAR Database for a decision on license approval. Once a decision is made ECE will notify the researchers and HSS Research Coordinator of the approval status of the research project. If custodial data is not required for the project, the researcher may begin their project once the license has been approved.

However, if personal health information disclosure, data collection involving HSS staff, or research activities in an HSS facility are a part of the research methodology, the Research Coordinator will follow-up to initiate the necessary research agreements, recruitment support, or data requests.

If a research agreement is deemed necessary, it must be prepared and signed by the researchers before being sent forward to the designated authorities or DHSS for review.

After approval from reviewers, the research agreement is signed by the appropriate designated representative of the partnering organization (i.e., DM of DHSS, and/or the CEO of the relevant HSS authority) to be then forwarded to the researchers to begin their project. The researchers must wait to initiate their project until the completed agreement is returned to them with appropriate signatures from HSS signatories.

How long does the review process typically take?

You are advised to submit your licensing application and related documents at least three months prior to the planned start date of fieldwork, to ensure adequate time for review and feedback by NWT community organizations, and for you to address any questions or concerns raised during the review process.