Roundtable 10: Empowering Through Research

Overview

Research has a responsibility to engage, to create new interfaces for better communication and public memory, and to open us to more and better understanding. Such understanding will be essential to creating a more inclusive, resilient, and just city. Researchers in the City for All today “are not content to include all [people] in our hopes, but have become conscious that all [people] are hoping and are part of the same movement of which we are a part” — a sentiment as true today as it was for the celebrated urban activist and researcher Jane Addams in 1902.

  • What lessons can we draw from working across identities and groups in our community engaged research that is worth sharing and building upon?
  • What are some tests that we can apply to our research to ensure authentic engagement, accountability, and readiness to recognize and respect difference?
  • What new research partnerships does our city need right now and what platform could best support linking diverse research initiatives into an urban knowledge collection that is greater than the sum of its parts?

Roundtable Discussion

11 people, mostly affiliated with university-based initiatives with strong policy and community orientations, participated in this roundtable including table lead Meg Holden and notetaker Tiffany Muller Myrdahl.

The key message from the table is that research should be used as a conduit between city, academia, and community, and that there should be a place within City Hall where research has a voice. There is an incredible amount of research being done by city staff and consultants, academics (including those who are embedded in City programming, like CityStudio), and community organizations (e.g., Carnegie Community Action Program), but there is very little opportunity for knowledge sharing across these communities. The City should be invested in knowledge sharing: research being done by the City (staff, consultants, embedded academics, etc.) should be accessible and visible, and there should be a way for those who are not city staff researchers to have a voice and contribute.

We must recognize that extractive research is problematic for communities, universities, and governments. Change can start by asking whether the community in which research is being conducted has already produced questions and data that they would like researchers to build upon. Why not start with the premise that “research subjects” are instead “research companions” or “research collaborators” and that research may engender flourishing, long-term, responsible relationships?

Margot Butler

In addition, the Table emphasized there is a difference between policy implementation research and community needs-driven research, and this distinction must be recognized. The City must be able to distinguish between consulting, independent research, policy implementation research, and evaluation. As well, the table identified that a new ethics protocol should be established for engaged research, especially when seeking to procure/contract research with local communities. This protocol must include ongoing consent, long-term relationship building, and community accountability, and incorporate reconciliation per TRC recommendations.

Key Findings

  • There is a need for the City to develop expertise or invest in more research on the areas of housing, social isolation, and women. The City should recognize key thematic areas (such as these), while also distinguishing between research with distinct purposes (e.g. research conducted as part of consulting, independent research, policy implementation research, and evaluation research).
  • Visibility and accessibility of research was a key theme. Ways to facilitate visibility could include: podcast and pop-up installations or parklets that focus on key thematic areas. Among the benefits of making research visible is that researchers and their staff collaborators would be visible to one another, which would enable more collaboration. Data visualization emerged as an important issue in this discussion. The City should be transparent about research being conducted.
  • City process regarding research needs to be addressed: there are structural barriers re: data collection and sharing, and even City staff don’t know what other projects are being undertaken, or what the existing evidence is. Walk the Talk 2010 was an example put forward of a positive collaboration, but maintaining connections between staff, academic researchers, etc. needs to be addressed so that good examples are not one-off events.

Recommendations

  • The City should create and facilitate a portal for already existing, community-based research. This would enable the City to be transparent about these findings, draw on them more easily, and make them more easily implementable.
  • The City should showcase and highlight research that is being undertaken in collaboration with researcher(s) in academia. This would provide opportunities to create networks and relationships across researchers, city staff, etc. This would enable the City to invest in already existing capacity.
  • The City should have a centralized collaborative partnership proposal process.
  • The City should offer data visualization of research findings, such as hosting interactive pop-ups for real-time research findings. (One example might be an electronic billboard in front of City Hall that featured a real-time housing counter to track the metrics of the housing crisis.)
  • The City should have a research advisory group to council with representation from academic institutions and community organizations.
  • A different kind of ethical code for conducting research must be implemented: new ethics protocol for engaged research with an expectation of longer-term relationship, community accountability. Focus should not be damage-centred, and community needs-driven research that emerges from community should be valued.

Related Initiatives

UBC Humanities 101/201 (HUM) involves 4 free cultural studies-dedicated courses + free public programs for low-income students who reside in the DTES and DT South. HUM is based in decolonial, feminist, anti-racist, situated knowledges and includes a wide range of materials, directly related to situations that people live in. Students are offered pre-requisite free courses, no tuition, with funding to pay for transit and childcare. The program practices informed consent and confidentiality, grounded in TRC calls to action. HUM is grassroots and predates formal engagement movements and stands outside of the demand for “community engagement.”

Resilience by Design Research Lab at Royal Roads University brings together researchers, faculty, students, post-doctoral fellows, and youth to explore community resilience, disaster risk reduction, and climate change through social innovation and creative action research. Projects look at what it is that young people need to get engaged in their communities. Honouring people’s stories, working with youth to create their own process to address problems that they have identified. Creative action research as methodology (CBR + arts based).

The Housing Research Collaborative, hosted at the School for Community and Regional Planning, UBC and launched in 2017, is BC’s only forum for multi-sector approaches to address affordable housing. It has two goals: to create a research hub and data portal resource to help researchers to connect, and to facilitate a new generation of housing research, largely on hiatus in Canada since the withdrawal of the federal government from the housing sector in the mid-1990s. The Collaborative uses research to inform policy making and empower communities. Effective mobilization and communication of research through infographics, for example, helps create successful impacts and bring media attention to results.

Inclusive Communities of Care is a discussion paper by the Housing Research Collaborative (HRC) with the Riverview Village Intentional Community Society for the purposes of supporting RVICS’ vision for the Riverview Hospital grounds in Coquitlam. It examines a number of international case studies of inclusive communities to help reimagine institutionalization as long-term support systems for marginalized populations with serious mental illness; cases that address isolation and are inclusive, safe, financially sustainable, and supportive of socialization.

Hey Neighbour is a pilot program designed to combat social isolation and loneliness in high-rise buildings at 2 sites – Collingwood (500 residents) and Oakridge (50 residents). The project assigned two people per building with the title: “resident animator” whose goal was to draw on assets already present in the building to build relationships and community. They hosted events and facilitated connections that already exist but people didn’t know (e.g. kids from the same class who didn’t know that they lived in the same building).

Active Aging BC is an evidence-based initiative to enhance the health, mobility, and social connectedness of older adults through physical activity and falls-related injury prevention.

Choose to Move is a program developed by AABC that trained 75 activity coaches and set up 264 groups to develop individual action plans for seniors as well as people in organizations like the YMCA or BC Parks and Rec with experience with older adults.

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