Strategic Research Directions

In strategic planning in 2007 CUISR affirmed its mission and principles and adopted five interdisciplinary strategies in settings ranging from the local through regional and national to international levels.

1. Saskatoon Community Sustainability
2. Social Economy
3. Rural-Urban Community Links
4. Building Alliances for Indigenous Women’s Community Development
5. Analysis of community-university partnerships

These strategic directions build on and extend our research on healthy, sustainable communities organized until 2007 in three modules—quality of life indicators, community health determinants and health policy, and community economic development—areas so interdependent that many of the projects and partners already spanned and worked in more than one module. Those modules came out of efforts to address health determinants, quality of life, and poverty that led to the formation of CUISR to build capacity among researchers, CBOs, and citizenry.

CUISR research projects are funded largely by SSHRC, local CBOs, provincial associations, and municipal, provincial, and federal governments. Beginning in 2007, CUISR’s reputation for high quality community-based participatory research (CBPR) enabled us to diversify our funding by responding to requests from community organizations to conduct research projects for them for a fee. Projects must fit within CUISR’s strategic directions and we generally follow the same approach as for our SSHRC projects. CUISR staff create a research team involving a student (either paid or as a practicum), a faculty advisor, and representative(s) of the community partner. The relative involvement of staff, faculty, and community partner varies project to project, but we encourage collaboration of all parties in carrying out the research from developing the research question and methods, through data collection and analysis, to dissemination. Since 2007, we have completed projects in a wide variety of areas including evaluations of social programs and collaborative governance initiatives; policy implementation and change tracking; poverty and quality of life indicators; and homelessness and housing.

Saskatoon Community Sustainability – This is a continuation and broadening of our work on the quality of life (QoL) in Saskatoon and district. Our strategic partnerships here continue to strengthen.

The Saskatoon Quality of Life Roundtable (including City of Saskatoon, Regional Intersectoral Committee on Human Services (RICHS), the United Way of Saskatoon and the Saskatoon Health Region) emerged out of community needs. The Roundtable had a broad governmental, public service and NGO membership interested in developing indicators to guide public and private actions to improve the quality of life for people living in the Saskatoon area. They drew on frameworks, including a modified version of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's (1996) Community Oriented Model of the Lived Environment, a web-based, software package of indicators recently released by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (1999) (based in part on the CMHC work), and the framework of population health indicators developed for Health Canada by Hancock, Labonte and Edwards (1998), which is premised on "quality of life" outcomes.

Today many non-governmental organizations and community groups continue to express concern over trends in poverty rates, homelessness, un/underemployment and other "markers" of declines in social program expenditures from different government levels. Recent governmental shifts of responsibility make the need for this study even greater. As well, new policies and programs can be enhanced by a scientific treatment of various QOL indicators.

Over the past decade we have completed four iterations of data collection (2001, 2004, 2007, and 2010) to develop reliable and long-term measurements of QoL indicators for Saskatoon. To better reflect the populace, the research has consistently used three clusters of participants representing areas of High, Middle and Low socio-economic status (SES). This study represents one of the most comprehensive and detailed time-series studies of QoL at the neighbourhood level in Canada. Furthermore, the research is unique in that it has successfully employed a mixed-method approach (quantitative and qualitative). In each of the study years, data collection has involved a telephone survey, face-to-face interviews, focus groups and discussions with key policy informants. In addition, we have hosted a series of community policy fora which have informed both the research process and have initiated policies and strategies aimed at improving QoL in Saskatoon.

Social Economy – This is a continuation of CUISR’s work over the first six years on community economic development. It was this work that largely inspired a CURA application on the social economy submitted to SSHRC by the Centre for the Study of Co-operatives. This project, “Linking, Learning, Leveraging Social Enterprises, Knowledgeable Economies, and Sustainable Communities,” (LLL) covers Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and northern Ontario and is linked to four other Canadian community-university research nodes as well as an international network of scholars. As a key partner, CUISR was responsible for the Saskatchewan portion of the research.

Social economy enterprises (co-operatives, community economic development organizations, not-for-profits and other voluntary sector initiatives) are flexible tools for individuals and communities to address poverty, social and occupational exclusion and to produce new wealth. This is done by pursuing sustainable livelihoods, place-based redevelopments, and building local capacity and social supports. The research considers what Canada can learn from the social economy’s contributions to date and how we can use this knowledge in public policy. To produce conclusions and models for best practices that can be widely applied, research is also needed on whether such models and practices need to be rethought or adapted to fit different cultural contexts such as Aboriginal communities.

Traditional economic development initiatives have not served the inner cities and other marginalized communities of Saskatchewan. Too often "success" is defined in a narrow, short-term manner. When success is defined in the longer-term and using a variety of indicators, the links between economy, society and environment within the community become inevitable. Critically examining success will allow partner organizations to more accurately evaluate the effectiveness of their own programs. Evaluation of the consequences of economic investment will also show where partners make unique contributions to economic development, and where their contributions share common ground. Not only does this contribute to building consensus among development agencies, but it also constitutes a valuable research program for both faculty and a platform to train students to analyze, understand, and contribute to economic development within the region in the future.

CUISR research studies the relationship between the local context (social, demographic, economic and political) in Saskatoon and Saskatchewan and the global, structural forces affecting the communities of the province. The role of government programs (and particularly the creation of microenterprises and entrepreneurship) within Saskatoon and across Saskatchewan is also an important focus of study (especially the extent to which policy and programs help or hinder community ownership and development).

Rural-Urban Community Links – The purpose of this strategy is to explore the interdependencies and contradictions between urban and rural areas in Saskatchewan so that both can remain sustainable and citizens can choose whether to remain, relocate, or even move repeatedly between the two as many Aboriginal people do. This strategy was developed as a response to the rapid changes occurring in the makeup and character of Saskatchewan’s rural and urban communities, and in the social and economic links between them.

Internationally, there has been an increased emphasis on territorial-based development initiatives. This approach includes the development of more—and more mutually beneficial—linkages between rural and urban settlements and populations. While the primary residence of most Canadians is urban, the quality of life of urban-dwellers depends a great deal on opportunities to visit, travel, and recreate in rural places. Moreover these regions are important for the resources and environmental services that they provide. At the same time, the wellbeing and prosperity of many rural residents depends on access to, and appropriate links with, urban services, markets, and opportunities. Successful regions are those that more fully develop potential synergies and complementarities among enterprises, communities, and organizations. This requires suitable networks and venues for democratic dialogue, participation, and knowledge creation and exchange.

While this phenomenon is not restricted to Saskatchewan, aspects of our geographic, historic, and cultural context are unique. One characteristic of Prairie and Northern communities is the relatively large and growing Aboriginal presence, which has strong historic and contemporary links with rural and urban Saskatchewan. Some Saskatchewan communities face choices related to rapid growth even as others confront the difficult tradeoffs associated with decline. Agricultural, forest, and mining communities continue to be pivotal in terms of sustainable resource use and landscape management. The social and economic wellbeing of those most directly connected to these sectors remains a key component of—and condition for—sustainable regional development.

While demographic changes, economic indicators, and commuting and migration patterns offer clues as to the changes that are taking place, we also need to study economic relationships, social perceptions, and motivations; to understand the institutions, organizations, and networks that support livability and vitality; and to learn about communities’ social infrastructure and ways in which different sectors and home-places connect and interact. This project is at an early stage of development and will continue to develop as funding opportunities arise.

Building Alliances for Indigenous Women’s Community Development – Indigenous peoples have survived “globalization” for millennia. For most, the struggle to achieve rights over lives, lands, labour, and knowledge is still ongoing. The current version of globalization is creating new threats to Indigenous women (and children) who are often at the bottom of the chain of development, though they remain important stewards of the world’s linguistic and biodiversity. But economic globalization also offers spaces where Indigenous peoples can define their own development based on cultural affirmation and decolonization and build alliances for mutual assistance.

This strategic direction was another new development for CUISR in 2007, but built on an existing collaboration among colleagues in Western Canada and Costa Rica who were maintaining local and national networks with community-based women and seeks to bring indigenous women in Canada, Central, and South America together to explore successes and barriers to community development, a key element of which is understanding how the local and the global can be mutually supportive as well as destructive to subordinated populations.

Respecting and recentring the knowledge of grassroots women, the research represents a holistic view of sustainable community development typified by the medicine wheel. Consistent with United Nations Sustainable Human Development precepts and practices, it aims to connect micro and macro processes, participatory and policy approaches, in exploring elimination of violence against women and children; education, health, and other capacity-building; economic and business development for well-being and sustainability; and justice and governance. Our understandings of the effects of colonialism have been enriched through our work in other areas.

Analysis of community-university partnerships – As a pioneer in such partnerships, CUISR is ideally placed to be a leader in this important work with other community-university partnerships locally, across Canada, and internationally. The purpose is to assess the impact of community-university partnerships in any or all of the strategic directions and, through meta-analysis of such partnerships, identify and develop effective practices within and across various contexts. To pursue this strategic direction CUISR led a broad-based community coalition in submitting a CURA application to SSHRC on “Learning Local Governance: Reimagining Sustainable Communities” in September 2010. The SSHRC review committee praised the proposal, reviewer 1 stating, “It is probably one of the best, if not the best, research proposal involving university and community that I have ever had to assess.” Despite being approved, the proposal was not funded, but we are exploring resubmission to the SSHRC partnership grants competition.

From the development of the first CUExpo in 2003 to our forthcoming book in collaboration with Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit (SPHERU)—Journeys in Community-based Research, ed. Jeffery, Findlay, Martz, & Clarke (Canadian Plains Research Center)—we have been committed to authentic partnerships as process and product of research.

Research outcomes in each strategic direction will include standard products such as publications, reports, grants applied for and secured, and contracts signed. Equally important are measures of research uptake and influence in the community, which could include an increase in the number of research projects commissioned or contracted specifically for policy-making purposes, enhanced utilization of research findings in community-based programming and policy making, and an increase in community agencies' commitment to research. Specific measures of research uptake will be developed in consultation with the community partners.

The following are some examples of outcomes related to knowledge sharing, training, and policy-making:

• Establishment and strengthening of on- and off-line networks of local CBOs and university researchers to enhance communication and information sharing

• Development of a clearinghouse where community needs and interests and university-based expertise and resources can be matched

• Development of a web-based mechanism through which community partners can post research-related queries and comments, with responses provided by university researchers

• Development of a mechanism for on-going communication between researchers and decision-makers (e.g. health district board members, chief executive officers, senior administrators) to enhance implementation of research evidence;

• Development of mechanisms to improve the research and utilization skills of CBO staff through strategies such as university-sponsored workshops, research fairs, seminars, and summer schools

• Research-practice colloquia, where local organizations and the university can showcase research interests, successful partnerships, and research findings and their use.