UNIVERSITY WITHIN COMMUNITY:
RESEARCH IN ACTION
from the ASSOCIATE DEAN, RESEARCH Dr. Yoshitaka (Yoshi) Iwasaki
This is a very exciting time
for the Faculty of Extension: Our scholars continue to be involved in a number of innovative, community-based research projects, working together with their partners from provincial and municipal governments, non-profit agencies, Aboriginal and immigrant communities, school boards, health systems, and more. Extension’s scholars contextualize the research process within the community (rather than on the community) to generate research outcomes directly relevant and meaningful to the community. Mutually-respectful relationship building and collaboration between community and university partners is a hallmark of Extension’s research. Our research is always in action as we mobilize for positive changes at personal, social, and system levels. This research builds capacities for people and communities while helping to develop evidence-based approaches to improving policy and practice in our community. The mission of the Faculty of Extension is to provide leadership in social and individual betterment through community-university engagement in learning, discovery, and citizenship. Importantly, action research plays a significant role in all our learning (from each other), discovery (of new knowledge), and citizenship (to serve our community), by integrating our university within our community. The theme for this year’s report is “Inspiring Lives.” As shown in each of the six stories featured in this report, our scholars’ and partners’ research provides inspiration: These stories are about inspiration for and within Métis communities, low-income families, high-risk youth, senior citizens, social service workers, and First Nations children. Not only do we reveal a fuller, more holistic picture of situations and issues faced by our communities, but we also build capacities of people and communities to address significant community issues. This is accomplished by making connections, opening space for voices, and mobilizing research to have an impact through engaging and building relationships with our communities. One major transformation in the Faculty of Extension involves the consolidation of Extension’s research units into the “Research Neighbourhood” on the second floor of Enterprise Square. This consolidated space houses all of Extension’s research centres and units: • Centre for Public Involvement (CPI) • City-Region Studies Centre (CRSC) • Community-University Partnerships for the Study of Children, Youth, and Families (CUP) • Evaluation and Research Services (ERS) •
First Nations Children’s Action Research and Education Services (FNCARES)
Operationally, we have started to implement Research Support Services (RSS) to provide Faculty-wide support for research development, partnership building, and community engagement through effective management and sustainable support for all stages and levels of Extension’s research initiatives (both new and ongoing). Based on the principles of collaboration and resource sharing, the RSS within Research Neighbourhood is structured to facilitate greater success for the research enterprise. Extension’s community-based research is well positioned to significantly contribute to addressing major community issues through partnerships with key stakeholders. Both the Government of Alberta and the City of Edmonton have declared ending poverty as a top priority, and they eagerly rely on expertise in communitybased research. The announcement of the new Social Innovation Endowment Fund for social sciences and humanities research by the Government of Alberta is exemplary of the importance of applied action research to more effectively address major community issues such as poverty, homelessness, early child development, and Aboriginal and immigrant issues. I am very proud to know that our researchers and research centres in the Faculty of Extension are exceptionally qualified to make a significant contribution to these innovative initiatives for the betterment of our people and communities!
THE START OF A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP
The people of the Buffalo Lake and Kikino Métis Settlements are incredibly unique populations with equally unique histories and cultures. The Faculty of Extension is the only post-secondary Faculty in Canada with a primary research mandate of community engagement. The relationship between the two is anything but traditional—but then, that’s the whole point. Fay Fletcher approached the Buffalo Lake Métis Settlement (BLMS) in 2010 to develop a life-skills program for youth and children to grow in capacity to resist negative behaviour (e.g., smoking, drinking, or bullying). At that time, she had little knowledge of Métis culture. She did, however, have support from Extension and Alberta Health Services, which lent a rare advantage: She could start from scratch. “We went into this project thinking we should engage based on our knowledge of First Nations people,” says Fay. “But we quickly found that the Métis are very distinct from other Aboriginal peoples, so we had to build our own capacity to find culturally-appropriate solutions. We had to be very open to ideas and to engage in a lot of dialogue.” Through these conversations, her research team found a very strong youth component in the community, so they focused efforts on a program built and conducted for youth, by youth. With constant community consultation, Fay’s team put together the Life Skills Journey summer day camp, a play-based program designed to enhance developmental strengths for seven- to ten-year-olds. BLMS youth were recruited and trained as camp facilitators and peer mentors.
Fay Fletcher takes engagement with Albertan Métis communities to the next level
Fay learned much from the community; six years ago, for instance, she was strongly discouraged from using social media in her community-based research. Experts in BLMS, however, identified those media among the most effective ways to engage with the youth. “A member of our research team is very techsavvy,” says Fay. “She set up a website, a Facebook profile, and a Twitter account, and then pushed out messages constantly. We got permission to use photos from participants, and we got a lot of friends and followers by posting those visuals.” Over summer 2013, day camps were piloted at Buffalo Lake and Kikino. Fifty-six children took part in ten days of activities, learning in such modules as “anger,” “spirituality,” and “media messages.” Personal growth among participants (evaluated using the validated Resiliency Framework) was recorded in strengths such as acceptance, spirituality, and reflective thinking, with an overall reduction in at-risk behaviours. The research team is optimistic to see these trends grow, particularly if they are able to extend their current three years of funding to five. The data will be enriched further as the team begins delivering the program to 11- through 14-year olds in future years. More, says Fay, “we can see growing connections between the community and the youth. It’s changing the whole dynamic!” The community, in turn, has shown an interest in the research and a commitment to its success. “The communities we now work with are as invested in our team’s success and well-being as we are in theirs,” says Fay. She professes that the project has developed from one of engagement into an enduring research relationship. “Engagement, I think, is at its best when it becomes a relationship; with a relationship comes accountability to one another. And it’s encouraging to know that it’s possible for a university to accomplish this. After all, we are not distinct from the community. We are one and the same. And we are stronger for realizing this.”
COMMUNICATION: A SOCIAL LIFE-SAVER
Terrance Saddleback had “a disorder that left him with the mind and impulse control of a child” and “suffered from psychotic episodes accompanied by violent rages,” according to a statement by Valerie Wolski’s husband. The same statement contends that many community service organizations knew of Saddleback’s condition long before he violently murdered Ms. Wolski in 2011. Breakdowns in communication happen all the time. Sometimes they’re innocuous. Sometimes, in the cases of Ms. Wolski and other social care service workers, they are unthinkably tragic. “The notion of social work can conjure up thoughts of giving personalities, dedicated helpers, and families brought together through caring,” says Extension’s Tom Barker. “As one social worker put it, the image is all ‘hug-amuffin.’ But the reality sometimes means working alone in rural areas, home visits with dangerous people, or uniting families where one partner is under a restraining order due to violent behaviour.” Accuracy and effectiveness of communication by front-line social service workers and the agencies that represent them is the reason Tom’s expertise in community-based research and technical communication helped him co-found the Health and Safety for Child and Families Services (HSCFS) project. With a goal to make the lives of these workers safer by identifying physical, chemical, biological, environmental, and mental health hazards, the HSCFS partnership brings together representatives from the Faculty of Extension, the Alberta Association of Services to Children and Families, and the province’s Ministry of Human Services to galvanize safety management practices.
Lack of communication can be fatally dangerous for social service workers, says Tom Barker
“We’re operating on a knowledge-to-action paradigm,” explains Tom, “and we have a lot of knowledge available. Once we’ve collected this data from our partners, we can do a multivariant, complex analysis of hazards these workers face and provide useful, actionable statistics back to those agencies.” This knowledge, contends Tom, can inform policies on reporting of incidents and recording of data, as well as safety frameworks, employee training, and education. “It’s all communication,” he says, “and it underlies everything in the health and safety arena.” HSCFS is also setting up a community of practice for social services workers to speak with one another over a LISTSERV and to share stories and information. Breaking down communication barriers is key, since, as Tom points out, “if you want to get information from people about safety issues, you can’t just expect them to respond to a survey. They have to want to share the information.” But how does one communicate best? “We need buy-in from all members of the community, even just to know which questions to ask,” says Tom. “A researcher like me would need 20 years of work in the field to get the knowledge you can marshall from professionals with the expertise to inform this research.” The project began in September 2013 and was intended to last a year; now that pilot studies have begun in Edmonton (and with seven other sectors in Alberta eagerly awaiting the results), the project has become ongoing. “We hope to have data at the end of 2014, after which we can do a pre- and post-test with participating agencies to determine whether the knowledge captured leads to an increase in the number of incidents reported,” says Tom. When a more vivid picture of social service work is painted by this project, however, one wonders if prospective workers might be scared away from pursuing this career. Absolutely not, says Tom. “The construction industry, for example, is very hazardous, but people still enter it. If you know about the potential hazards in your industry and how to report when incidents happen, it’s a far better-managed industry, and everyone in that industry is safer than before.”
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
“We work with young people anywhere from 15 to 24 years old. And they’re very disengaged. Many used to be homeless and have no parental support. Some have spent time in prison. They’re often disconnected from mainstream Canadian society. So researchers call them marginalized, or at-risk, or high-risk youth, but the youth themselves don’t like any of those terms.” What do they prefer? “People.” Yoshi Iwasaki delivers that last word with a smirk. “We are all people,” he explains, “And we all deserve to be engaged with our communities and provided with meaningful opportunities.” Yoshi was just beginning his new job at Extension (then as Director of Extension’s Community-University Partnership for the Study of Children, Youth, and Families) when he got involved in discussions among local agencies supporting youth development; these organizations lacked a coordinated context with which to engage those youth. Most, says Yoshi, operate on a “talk-down” basis, without fully integrating the voice of youth.
“Have we tried listening to them?” Yoshi Iwasaki posits about disengaged youth “We put together a team to talk about what a framework might look like, and looking around the table, the first thing I asked was ‘Okay, where are the youth?’” A valid point. Yoshi’s experience in engaging and mobilizing marginalized population groups informed an opinion that this framework (and the research needed for the new Youth4YEG initiative to build it) had to be youth-driven (“we work with youth, not on youth,” Yoshi stresses). “We needed to create a home-grown framework for youth engagement, basically from scratch,” says Yoshi. Youth4YEG was able to recruit a number of marginalized youth leaders who were recommended by partner agencies to attend a series of weekday evening discussions to exchange stories and to identify principles and processes that would make up a youth engagement framework.
Says Yoshi: “We get a dozen or so young people into the room, we lay down some ground rules, then we order pizza and do activities like talking circles.” Other agencies, he points out, do similar activities, but do not systematically collect data. “We have partnerships with the city government and the provincial government, as well as Edmonton’s youth agencies, and they’re very excited about what we’re doing, since they haven’t until now had access to research expertise and resources,” says Yoshi. The Youth4YEG team has, at the time of writing, conducted four three-hour youth engagement sessions since they began in October 2012; each time, researchers ask very strategic questions, such as “tell us one positive thing that’s happened to you” or “what are the most important things for getting you engaged?” The youth leaders (as co-investigators) have already developed an 13-page framework that is being tested using inductive research and constant feedback. Once testing is complete, Yoshi is confident that this youth-created framework (the first of its kind) will be effective in positively engaging youth locally, nationally, and internationally. “The framework is home-grown but can be applied cross-culturally when you incorporate local and cultural uniqueness to make it effective in an action plan,” says Yoshi. “It is a template, not a prescription. It’s important that every agency develop its own plan when empowering youth. And engagement is essential for every youth, regardless of nationality or cultural background.” So how does a young person know if he or she is “engaged?” Says Yoshi: “They seem to understand intrinsically which activities are good and which are bad. They know, for example, that drug abuse and violence are bad. So engagement, for them, means participating in activities they consider ‘good’ and constructive, and if they choose to do those ‘positive’ things on their own terms, they’re much more likely to become healthy, contributing members of society. Relationship-building with youth through youth leadership is very important to this process.”
THE GOLDEN CENTRE
“They’re places for someone like Ernie,” says Kyle Whitfield. “He’s 82. Everyday since his wife died, he walks to the centre for breakfast and a chat with friends. Then, he says, he can carry on with his day.” Over the past year, Kyle’s conversations with patrons of seniors’ centres in Alberta have unearthed a trove of similar tales of reduced mobility, social isolation, and grief over the loss of loved ones, and, as her research partner Jason Daniels says, “seniors’ centres are the reason a lot of people get out of bed in the morning.” Since springing up sporadically in the 1970s, such centres have provided services, activities, and places for conversation, and they have become so successful that the Alberta Association of Seniors’ Centres (AASC) now lists over 400 centres in their 2014 directory. It’s difficult to think of a more ideal system: the centres are self-sustaining, typically administered by their members, and, according to Roger Laing, president of AASC, “vital to the lives of seniors throughout Alberta.” Why, then, did Health Minister Fred Horne announce in January 2013 that the provincial government would grant $70,800 for research into the current state of our seniors’ centres? The question encompasses so many factors and nuances it could hardly be answered over afternoon tea or a game of cards. Currently, history’s most-populous generation is entering its autumn years, and seniors’ centres do not have the capacity to handle them. That’s assuming, of course, the Boomers will choose to join these centres.
Extension duo tasked with painting a complex portrait of Albertan Seniors’ Centres Complicating things, says Jason (a member of Extension’s Evaluation and Research Services and the project’s “numbers guy”), is increasing diversity in clientele populations, which makes it difficult to ensure everyone’s needs are met.
For that matter, the definition of seniors’ centres is as elusive as that of a senior (says Kyle, they’re terms like “teenager” that assume a 13-year-old is the same as a 19-year-old). Urban centres differ from rural centres; governance structures differ from town to town. And because services differ so greatly, it’s hard to say exactly what constitutes a seniors’ centre. The freeform nature of the centres spells uncertainty in the coming twilight of the Boomers, and Roger Laing knows it. It was his idea to approach Kyle, whose previous research into Alberta’s aging populations begat a strong working relationship with AASC. Their conversation led to a research proposal, which, when presented to the Ministry of Health, germinated this study with Kyle as lead researcher and Jason as research designer. “It’s a complex issue, so we chose a mixedmethod approach,” Jason explains. “We surveyed seniors and soon-to-be-seniors about the centres. We surveyed the directors to find out what services they provided and what their needs are. And we did site visits and focus groups at eight different centres,” (where, says Kyle, Jason suspiciously showed up just in time for cinnamon buns). At the time of writing, the data has been collected. Jason is making graphs and tables and Kyle is finishing up a literature review. Both are noticeably engrossed in the process. “My naïve understanding of seniors’ centres at the outset has broadened considerably,” says Jason. “I saw them originally as drop-in social centres, but they’re also places of learning and volunteering and helping one another. The wealth of expertise in every person we spoke with was incredible.” Says Kyle: “There’s a lot of laughter and socializing [at the centres]. And there’s plenty of evidence that people who laugh and have more personal connections have better overall health. If we expect to engage with seniors and to benefit from their knowledge and contributions, we need a more complete picture of their needs. Which is what we’re about to accomplish.”
LIKE KIDS IN A DATA STORE
Every research project is an investment. Very few, however, have this many investors. Since 2006, at the beginning of a multi-year longitudinal study of low-income families in Edmonton, the number of stakeholders in the Fulfilling Alberta’s Commitment (FACt) project has grown to include governments, NGOs, funders, academics, students, and the research participants themselves. Thousands of hours and millions of dollars will soon result in actions to improve these families’ lives. “At least we hope so,” says Maria Mayan. A founding member of Families First Edmonton (FFE), now in its twelfth year, Maria (along with her colleague Laurie Schnirer) is overseeing what grew from a group of concerned citizens into a sprawling, ambitious research project with a “blow-your-mind” database comprising six years of periodic interviews with low-income families. It’s a fantasy come true for any applied research protagonist. But time is of the essence. “We’re currently working on interpreting the data,” says Maria. “Our partner agencies find meaning and context in our results, and we take our directional cues from them.” The next step, she says, is to offer to Alberta Human Services evidence of how some lowincome families eventually achieve economic self-sufficiency. Or of what impact child care subsidies have on families’ economic outcomes. Or of what happens to families who move residences frequently. All are vital questions that hinge on future funding. Salvation for everyone’s investment, it seems, may be in the hands of community-minded graduate students, recruited and coordinated by FACt’s Knowledge Broker, Nyla de Los Santos. “We put a blurb about the project on a grad student LISTSERV,” says Nyla, “and immediately started getting a lot of applications.
Hope for low-income families is in the FACt grad student brain-bank But we could only accommodate ten students. I’m very satisfied that we’ve chosen well.”
The students, says Nyla, bring diverse backgrounds in their interests and in their personal stakes in the research. “These people are potentially going to do this sort of work in their chosen field. Here, they get hands-on experience in community-based research, a complete data set covering many areas of interest and discipline, and a chance to see their work affect real people,” she says. The students agree. “FACt is having a larger impact than I’d imagined,” says Katie MacDonald, a doctoral student in Sociology. “I see the project embracing the complexity of experiences and struggles that families living on low incomes face.” The work stimulates some of her teammates on a more personal level: “I’ve learned about the struggles my parents may have gone through years ago as first generation Canadian immigrants,” says Sonya Sehgal, Masters’ student in Educational Psychology. “I want to give back by helping out immigrant communities through my work.” More than this, the students are making personal connections with other stakeholders; Nyla and Maria frequently ask them to attend and present at meetings of the entire FACt team, including community members external to the University. “I’m learning that a lot of people genuinely care about reducing income disparity,” says Lesley Pullishy, who is using FACt data for her Masters’ thesis in Nursing. “After working with others on FACt, I feel inspired by the good work going on locally.” Is it worth all the effort? Yes, says Maria (albeit hesitantly). “I don’t think we have accomplished what we set out to do,” she says. “We can fill up five years answering important questions with this data set. We said years ago ‘if our partnership of people, after 12 years, with all this expertise, after everything we’ve been through, CAN’T change policy or practice, we might as well....” She doesn’t finish the sentence.
RESEARCH IN ACTION
The interview that informed this feature took place in a Starbucks near Extension’s headquarters, mainly because Cindy Blackstock, Director of the First Nations Children’s Action Research and Education Service (FNCARES) doesn’t have an office in Edmonton, and appropriately so: She believes community-based work means that her office needs to be in the community, where people naturally gather. Cindy is forever in motion, and she’s currently testifying to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, calling the federal government to task over inequitable conditions for Canada’s First Nations children and youth. She’s in Edmonton today to take part in a panel discussion alongside director Alanis Obomsawin, whose film “Hi Ho Mistahey!” will be screened for the first time in Alberta. The film documents the life of Shannen Koostachin, a young woman from the Attawapiskat First Nation of Ontario, whose activism for First Nations education is emblematic of the action-oriented philosophy at the core of FNCARES. Shannen was educated in portable trailers that stood in for her condemned school. The shoddy conditions were not atypical to First Nations schools, which even today deal with pest infestations, lack of heating or plumbing, and no libraries or computer labs. Shannen wrote letters to politicians and encouraged others to do so. She spoke at events and stood on Parliament Hill to testify to the lack of funding for these schools—all this before she died in a traffic accident hundreds of miles from home, where she travelled to attend a proper high school. “This is an urgent inequality,” explains Cindy. “Children only get one childhood, and they’re growing up right now. This urgency hasn’t gripped our politicians, so I’ve had to move beyond academics to evidence-based activism.
FNCARES debuts as a different kind of research centre to make positive change for First Nations children
When governments fail to address significant public policy issues despite evidence of the harm and available solutions, then it is the responsibility of the academic community to work with those affected to advance positive change.” Many of the challenges facing First Nations children could be addressed with evidencebased solutions, says Cindy. She offers an example: “In the United States, the federal government found that 30 per cent of children went into foster care because of housing instability. The government provided $15 million to social workers to spend up to a value of $14,000 per family. So those workers might have chosen to pay a family’s first and last month’s rent, renovated the bathroom for a child with a disability, or got rid of a mold contamination. That investment saved 7500 kids from going into foster care and saved $131 million in taxes in the process. These are the sorts of practical solutions we should search for.” To mobilize information, FNCARES will access a multi-disciplinary network of 21 leading researchers from across Canada, the US, and Australia. Says Cindy: “I’ve been blessed to work with fantastic researchers, and I am willing to raise the ‘help’ flag quickly. I am fortunate to have a circle of traditional knowledge holders, as well as gifted academics across disciplines who can guide our work for children and families.” The first meeting of FNCARES researchers will take place in 2014, after the case against the federal government concludes. Cindy is optimistic this will provide momentum to spur conversation and action among partners. “There’s an Elder’s teaching that says ‘a lot of people know the road and few people walk it.’ Action research is about walking the road,” says Cindy. “I see research as being in service of the community. And if you see it that way, you have to be part of the change process. You ARE the change process.”
FACULty of Extension
PROFESSORIATE: Marco Adria, PhD Professor Academic Director, Centre for Public Involvement
Gordon Gow, PhD Associate Professor Academic Director, Communications & Technology Graduate Program
Walter Archer, PhD Professor Emeritus Academic Director, Teaching and Learning
Martin Guardado, PhD Associate Professor Academic Director, English Language Program
Thomas Barker, PhD Professor
Yoshitaka (Yoshi) Iwasaki, PhD Professor Associate Dean, Research
Mary Beckie, PhD Associate Professor Cindy Blackstock, PhD Associate Professor Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society Katy Campbell, PhD Professor Dean, Faculty of Extension
Maria Mayan, PhD Associate Professor Laurie Schnirer, PhD Assistant Professor Interim Director, Community-University Partnership for the Study of Children, Youth, and Families (CUP)
Sherry Ann Chapman, PhD Assistant Professor
Rob Shields, PhD Professor Henry Marshall Tory Research Chair Academic Director, City-Region Studies Centre
Ann Curry, PhD Professor
Billy Strean, PhD Professor
Fay Fletcher, PhD Associate Professor Academic Director, Aboriginal Health Promotion Citation, Community Engagement Studies
Kristof Van Assche, PhD Associate Professor
Lois Gander, Q.C., LL. M. Professor
Stanley Varnhagen, PhD Faculty Service Officer IV Academic Director, Evaluation and Research Services
Rebecca Gokiert, PhD Assistant Professor
Kyle Whitfield, PhD Associate Professor
ADJUNCT PROFESSORS: Jeff Bisanz, PhD Chair, Psychology, University of Alberta Community-University Partnership for the Study of Children, Youth, and Families
Patricia Makokis, PhD Community Engagement Studies Debra Pozega Osburn, PhD Vice President, University Relations University of Alberta Communications & Technology Graduate Program
Martin Garber-Conrad, CEO Edmonton Community Foundation Community-University Partnership for the Study of Children, Youth, and Families Monica Gruezmacher Rosas, PhD Environmental Resource Management Program
Jorge Sousa, PhD Associate Professor, Educational Policy Studies University of Alberta
Susan Lynch, PhD Research Project Director Early Child Development Mapping Project Community-University Partnership for the Study of Children, Youth, and Families
Jane Springett, PhD Director, Centre for Health Promotions Studies School of Public Health, University of Alberta Community-University Partnership for the Study of Children, Youth, and Families
Helen Madill, PhD Professor Emerita Office of the Dean
Mark Wolfe, PhD Communications and Technology Graduate Program
Program Areas Offered (credentials, designations, etc)
Course Sections Offered
*Please note: this data represents the time period April 1, 2013 to March 18, 2014 (i.e. not the full fiscal year)
To be an exemplary centre for the scholarship and practice of community-university engagement.
To provide leadership for social and individual betterment through communityâ€“university collaborations in learning, discovery and citizenship.
The Faculty of Extensionâ€™s values encompass academic rigor, accessibility, accountability, collaboration, cooperation, equity, excellence, relevance, respect, responsiveness, environmental sustainability, and social justice.
The 15th Annual
Engagement Scholarship Consortium Conference
Engaging for Change: Changing for Engagement hosted by the
University of Alberta
in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
October 5 - 8, 2014 The University of Alberta invites engaged scholars throughout the world www.escc2014.com to the 15th annual Engagement Scholarship Consortium Conference, to be held in Edmonton, Canada with pre-conference days on October 5 & 6 and full conference on October 7 & 8. Our conference theme is Engaging for Change: Changing for Engagement and will challenge scholars, students, and community partners to discuss international advances in the scholarship of engagement.
UNIVERSITY OF ALBERTA FACULTY OF EXTENSION Enterprise Square 10230 Jasper Avenue Edmonton, AB T5J 4P6
Published on May 8, 2014