Work begins on groundbreaking community engagement project

Carleton researchers and their community partners start working this month on Community First: Impacts of Community Engagement (CFICE), which lays the critical groundwork for the $2.5 million, seven-year project.

The end game is to provide governments at all levels, community organizations, post-secondary institutions and funding agencies with policies and frameworks that will improve how they can work together for better social outcomes for households and individuals.

The project will be conducted in two phases, the first to run from 2012 – 2016 and will focus on the work of “hubs” that have been created for the project – made possible by a federal SSHRC Partnership Grant – which focus on pressing social issues that offer opportunities for partnerships and policy development.

The hubs are: Poverty Reduction, co-led by the Vibrant Communities network in New Brunswick, Ontario, Alberta and the Canadian north; Community Food Security, co-led by Food Secure Canada in Nova Scotia, Ontario and British Columbia, in cooperation with the Canadian Association of Food Studies; Community Environmental Sustainability, co-led by the non-profit Trent Centre for Community-Based Education in eastern Ontario; and Violence Against Women, co-led by the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies in Ontario and British Columbia.

The whole project is jointly managed by Carleton University and the Canadian Alliance for Community Service Learning, a non-profit professional network. As well, Katherine Graham, senior advisor to the President and Provost, is co-chair of the CFICE steering committee along with Tim Simboli, executive director of the Ottawa office of the Canadian Mental Health Association.

“The whole point is to do the research in a way that actually demonstrates how valuable these partnerships are in communities,” explains Ted Jackson, CFICE principal investigator and a professor of public policy at Carleton.

During the first four years of the project, each hub will explore what is currently happening in terms of existing policies and partnerships and how they work and where the gaps may lie.

“The substantive areas that we’re working on matter to Canadians. These are not going to be easy years for Canadians in any part of the country, and so it’s going to take some very smart linkages to form effective solutions to these problems,” notes Jackson.

Carleton social work Prof. Karen Schwartz (Poverty Reduction hub) says that in the initial stages of the project she and her community partner will examine the various community-university partnership models that are already in use in the Vibrant Communities network.

“The first step is evaluating these models on how the community and the university engage with each other,” says Schwartz.

“Several Vibrant Communities cities have already done good, multi-sector work on poverty with local colleges and universities. We’ll determine how these partnership models really work in reality and exactly how they can make sure the community benefits … so that they make real headway in reducing poverty.”

Meanwhile, Prof. Peter Andree says the Community Food Security hub will be a key player in an upcoming food security conference in Edmonton in November.

“The non-profit sector is so stretched and have limited capacity to do research. They often don’t understand that what they need in terms of programming or in terms of new ideas about how to make things happen in their sector,” says Andree, a political science professor.

“They don’t necessarily know that, as a professor, I can take a need identified by a non-profit and frame it as a question that I might be able to get an honours research essay student, a master’s student, a PhD student or a faculty member to take an interest in because it could be a research question that is exciting to the academic community.”

At the end of the seven years, Andree is aiming to have helped build a strong “community of practice.”

“Our long-term goal is to see universities and colleges be more responsible to urgent social needs – whether it’s poverty, violence against women or food security – and that we have more brain power at universities … working on pressing social problems and thinking them through and coming up with creative solutions and engaging with the people facing those problems as they work through the solutions.”

Patricia Ballamingie points out that each of the hubs is using different approaches to tackle its particular area. She is one of the co-leads in the Community Environmental Sustainability hub, which is working with four key community organizations – two in Ottawa and two in the Peterborough-area.

“We would like to create a network of scholars at Carleton who are working on community-environmental sustainability. … We see tremendous opportunity for comparative work between Ottawa and Peterborough and greater collaboration with Carleton and the Trent Centre for Community-based Education,” says Ballamingie, a Carleton geography and environmental studies professor.

Between 2016 and 2019, the project’s second phase will shift to a focus on policy change. This will be conducted by the Knowledge Mobilization hub and will produce a wide range of online and hard-copy knowledge products, learning events and policy initiatives. This hub will be co-led by the Canadian Alliance for Community-Service Learning across Canada and internationally.

“The fact that we are taking this focussed look at how we really make sure that communities benefit and that we walk the talk, is really exciting,” says Geri Briggs, co-manager of CFICE, director of CACSL and co-lead of the Knowledge Mobilization hub.

“We’re not just looking at what people do, but we’re looking at it from the policy perspective. Are there policies and procedures in place at universities and colleges, within community agencies, within government that need to be examined. We need to understand what is it that we need to do on the ground to make things work-to build campus-community partnerships that really make a difference in people’s lives,” says Briggs.

The bottom line, says Briggs, is that the project aims to provoke change that will result in making community engagement with universities work better for community organizations.

But there are no illusions that this critical project will solve the problems and challenges that exist in each area, but Briggs is hopeful that because CFICE is taking a multi-pronged approach to each issue that there will be progress.

“CFICE runs for seven years and it will end, but when it ends there will be groups that will carry on with the work that was generated by the project,” she says.

The project aims to change the partnership policies of many institutions.

”It could be at the university administration level or in foundations – a range of organizations, we hope – will decide to support community-campus engagement differently,” says Briggs.

“There are so many possibilities.”


This entry was written by Maria McClintock and posted in the issue. Tags applied to this article are: , . Leave a comment, bookmark the permalink or share the following short URL for this article via social media:

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