The artefacts in this section were chosen to demonstrate research compentence and critical analysis of current research and methodological issues.
Image Source: Choness, Perpetual motion with light bulbs, canva.com.
Retrieved April 2, 2023.
Image Sources (top to bottom): Screen Shots, CECNB Website (cecnb.ca), iMOVe Website (inmyownvoice.ca), The Signal - University of King's College (https://signalhfx.ca/prisoners-find-their-voice-through-poetry/)
7. Mitacs Research Proposals
Early on in the PhD program, I attended a session for graduate students about various Mitacs Fellowship programs that could support students to work with community organizations or businesses on applied research or other projects that could be useful both for the students to gain experience in research and to benefit potential partners.
I was describing what I learned to a friend who was the Executive Director of the Co-operative Enterprise Council of New Brunswick (CECNB), Wendy Keats. She immediately said she would love to participate in such a program and had a new Youth Partnership Initiative (YPI) that she would like help with in documenting the progress of the initiative and capturing its impact. The goal of the initiative was to encourage youth to do community service and to teach them about the co-op model.
I developed a Mitacs PhD Fellowship proposal for about 8 months (2 internship units of about 4 months). The proposal was approved so in addition to still doing classes in the Fall of 2020, I also started working with CECNB part-time. In hindsight, this was not a good time to start working on such a project. I struggled to balance the work with CECNB and my coursework.
In the end, I only did one internship unit (about 4 months). For me, this was a good thing. I learned a lot about working with a community partner, about how to develop an evaluation framework, how much organization needs to go into collecting data to ensure the results of any analysis is credible and useful, how to prepare reports for funders and how to evaluate the effectiveness of various programs.
These learnings were critical for the second time I developed a Mitacs proposal in partnership with another community organization I had a relationship with, iMOVe. In partnership with the Executive Director at iMOVe, Sobaz Benjamin, I developed another Mitacs PhD Fellowship proposal to do research for 6 Internship Units this time (about 3 years). The goal of the project was to capture iMOVe’s approach to working with the complex group of marginalized and racialized people (who are incarcerated or formerly incarcerated), their families and their communities to enable iMOVe to teach other organizations and stakeholders about its approach, and to survey various academic and other literature to see how it might support iMOVe’s approach theoretically, and potentially help improve iMOVe's programming.
This time I feel much more prepared to participate in this work and learning opportunity in community. While I have only completed a couple internship units related to this Mitacs proposal, I feel like I have much more time to think carefully about what kind of research might be most useful for iMOVe and how this work will also help inform my own research work. I’m also further along in the PhD program with my courses finished, and able to focus more on this work.
The opportunity to continue to practice community-based research and to work with a black-led organization has also been very valuable. For the first unit, based on some feedback from the reviewers of the proposal, I’ve been looking to focus what I might do more and so spending a lot of time observing Sobaz at work, and in dialogue with him and others involved in the work of iMOVe. My intention is to use narrative inquiry as an approach and to create a podcast series, a film and maybe a short book, as well as explore potential curriculum approaches that could help others learn more about iMOVe’s approach. At the heart of the story will be Sobaz’s personal experiences that led his to this work, why he is so passionate about it, what is unique about his approach and what the impact of the work (especially in the last 3 years with some core funding from Nova Scotia Department of Justice) has been on the current almost 40 program participants.
We are also in the process of designing an event or events (in partnership with the Dalhousie Black Law Students Association and the Halifax Public Library) called ‘What is Justice?’ The goal is to introduce more people’s to the work that iMOVe is doing, to try applying some of Dr. Kumar’s ideas related to meditative inquiry to teaching others about iMOVe's work, to reflect on the nature of Justice, our current systems of such, and what we should be doing more of to help support the development of system that are really ‘just.’
This is another opportunity for me to practice doing community-based research, but also to apply ideas I have been learning about in the PhD program within a 'practical, real world' context. It will also give me an opportunity to do research on many of areas of emerging theory that could relate to, help support and/or help inform the work that Sobaz is doing with iMOVe.
From June 2020 to June 2021, I was also involved in a community-based action research project related to Social Succession with a new consultants co-op I helped cofound called Flourish and the Canadian Community Economic Development Network (CCEDNet) which I was past President of. The project began as a conversation with the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) on how ACOA and CCEDNet could work together more on issues related to community-based economic development in Atlantic Canada.
One issue that was identified was the tremendous number of business owners in rural communities who were reaching retirement age, and a concern that if something was not done very soon to help them sell their businesses then many rural businesses that are critical for local employment, goods and services would likely just close and disappear, and that would have a strong negative impact on rural economies in the region.
A decision was made that CCEDNet in partnership with Flourish would develop a research proposal for the Atlantic Policy Research Initiative (APRI) to look more closely at what various stakeholders in community think could be done from a lens of adding ‘social succession’ (using nonprofits, social enterprise and co-ops) in community to buy businesses from owners looking to retire to keep them going. A key finding of the research was the importance of supporting buyers with social missions to build capacity to be able to do this, ensuring intermediaries (ie. accountants, lawyers, other business advisors) are included in any learning opportunities about social succession, and the importance of the opportunity to increase economic equity in rural communities in the region as well.
I was co-lead, co-researcher and co-writer of the report that came from this project and I’ve been involved in developing a new proposal for community learning based on the report that came out of this research. I learned several things during the course of this work including: the value and challenges of working with another project lead (with more and different experience in research than I), an increased interest in community-based research, and a greater understanding of the role of learning in action research as a method in research.
8. Research for ACOA / APRI & CCEDNet
Image Sources (top to bottom): Screen Shots, CCEDNet Website (https://ccednet-rcdec.ca/business-recovery-stabilization-and-succession-in-atlantic-canada/).
9. Research for Autism NS
During the Spring and Summer of 2022, I was also engaged to conduct research in community on options to enhance employment supports for autistic people / people on the autism spectrum in New Brunswick. This project was the first time I acted as a project lead but also had two other people working with me as a research associate and research assistant. This was necessary because the project had a very tight timeline, but became a very useful learning experience for me to decide what work I would do and what work I would ask others to do.
In the end, I did overall project management, interviews and writing reports summarizing findings. I had a research associate who was also a PhD student who had more experience with surveys than I so she did those with some supervision from me, and a research assistant with a background in community development did some mapping of various organizations and services they offered. This was a difficult project because I was not involved in developing the proposal that went in response to the request for proposals, and the project needed to be completed in about 6 months with no flexibility on the delivery date for the final report. The project was also commissioned by Autism Nova Scotia as part of a larger national research project, but was about New Brunswick’s employment support services for this population.
While my personal lived experience being on disability for several years for mental illness, and exclusion from participation in the mainstream economy was useful on this project, I still had a lot to learn about autism and the circumstances related to autistic people / people on the autism spectrum accessing and maintaining employment in the region and in New Brunswick (while I lived in Nova Scotia). There was also a problem where the project leads on both the client and contractor sides changed part way through the project, and then I had to pick up the ball and finish the project with a different project lead on the client side. While this change made things difficult, we were able to connect in the end and work well together to finish the project. Spreading out the work according to different skill sets was also very helpful to ensure we finished the project sort of on time.
I feel this project was a very useful learning experience for me as I had to take a stronger lead part way through the project and manage a team to do the research needed. I also ended up having to coordinate writing of the reports amongst myself and other team members. I also learned a lot about a group of people, those on the autism spectrum, that I didn’t really know much about. I also was able to see connections and commonalities related to the challenges of economic inclusion of various marginalized groups because of my lived experience, but also because I was connected to and involved in a range of research projects related to economic inclusion at the time. I think this helped me to see links that otherwise I don’t think I would have.