Leadership in community-based research

Left to right: Emmanuelle Caws, Kelsey Farmer and Bailey Knight from St. Margaret's School discover how to point, draw and click without using a keyboard or mouse with Elaine Baird of CanAssist.

November 2007

UVic's new Office of Community-Based Research is setting a new standard for learning in, studying and solving the problems of Canadian communities.

Research reaches out

The University of Victoria's Office of Community-Based Research (OCBR) opened its doors in June as the first university-wide initiative of its kind in Canada. A focal point for university faculty and students who conduct community-based research, the OCBR creates and supports collaborative research partnerships that enhance the well-being of communities.

Making evidence-based recommendations for new policies, programs and practices that will better meet community needs, the OCBR has already attracted local, national and international interest from other institutions seeking closer research ties with community groups.

The OCBR currently supports two research seminar series, the Caneuel "Working Together" series on research with Aboriginal communities, and a second on innovations that benefit the community. The OCBR currently has two formal partnership agreements that broaden the scope of its work locally and nationally. One partnership, with the United Way of Greater Victoria, could serve as a model for United Ways to work together with universities across Canada. Another with the Wellesley Institute in Toronto provides for the sharing of databases and skill-building. For more information, visit www.uvic.ca/ocbr.

Setting the stage for excellence

The OCBR is an outgrowth of UVic's established accomplishments in civic engagement and outreach programs. UVic researchers have undertaken studies on areas including housing and homelessness, community sustainability initiatives, health promotion, assistive technologies, climate change, community mapping and a local arts project to support marginalized women.

Anti-dote against invisibility

For years, UVic women's studies professor Dr. Jo-Anne Lee listened to first-hand accounts of social isolation from girls of racialized minority and Indigenous backgrounds. Anti-dote, a grass roots network in Greater Victoria dedicated to promoting the resource needs and increasing the visibility and wellness of racialized minority and Indigenous young women and girls, was Lee's answer.

Growing out of a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant, Anti-dote has produced strong results, and has been supported by Status of Women Canada, including a grant announced this month of approximately $100,000 for 18 months.

"This program can be replicated in other academic and social circles," adds Lee. OCBR director Dr. Budd Hall praises its unique application. "I have seen hundreds of participatory research projects undertaken by scholars across the country and around the world," he says. "What is quite remarkable and unique about the work of Lee and the gifted girls and graduate students involved in this work is that what started out as a research project based at UVic has grown into a sustainable community-based non-governmental organization which will continue to provide a unique space in Victoria for creative support of racialized and Indigenous young women to build self-confidence and participate fully in contemporary Canadian society."

Anti-dote connects its young members to the personal expertise and collective knowledge of other women in the network. Specific projects are generated from the girls' own realities and are communicated in forms the girls control.

For instance, a recent project uses a relatively new research approach entitled "photo-voice"—the participant plans and composes a series of images and overlaps commentary, giving the audience an immediate impression of the personal viewpoint articulated from the girl's visual perspective. In addition to photo-voice, Anti-dote research participants are trained in video documentaries and have produced 13 videos so far.

Anti-dote—which stands for anti-discrimination, -oppression, -tyranny and -exclusion—has more than 100 network members. It also receives continued support from the United Way of Greater Victoria and other foundations.

CanAssist assists with ingenuity

Like the OCBR itself, CanAssist is one of a kind in Canada. Formerly known as UVATT, CanAssist's cutting-edge research translates community engagement into real results with the development of customized devices specially tailored to meet the needs of hundreds of children and adults with disabilities from across BC and around the world.

UVic biology professor Dr. Nigel Livingston - father of a child with special needs - founded Can - Assist in 1999. In just eight years, this team - almost 2,000 students, and 200 faculty, researchers and staff from nearly every discipline at UVic, and the invaluable assistance of numerous community volunteers - has developed more than 70 new devices to improve the quality of life and independence of their users.

Technologies include tricycles and bicycles for children with physical and visual impairments, and innovative eye-tracking computer systems for people with advanced neuromuscular disorders to enable them to "type" just by looking at a screen.

In addition to support from organizations and individuals, CanAssist received a one-time $750,000 grant from the provincial government in July 2007, and is also the recipient of the inaugural Lieutenant Governor's Award for Innovative Technology.

For more information, visit www.canassist.ca.

Documenting the hidden homeless

One example of the university's long-time commitment to research that supports the improvement of our society is a report on the "hidden homeless" presented by two members of UVic's School of Child and Youth Care. Between March 2002 and March 2005, as part of her master's thesis, graduate student Kim Caldwell, under the supervision of Dr. Sibylle Artz, analyzed data from 432 families who had approached the Burnside Gorge Community Centre for assistance.

The results of their Homeless Families Outreach Project spotlighted one aspect of homelessness: single-parent families not using shelters or other community facilities. These families live in inadequate housing situations, in cheap motels and even campsites. The research also concluded that a primary issue for single fathers is substance abuse while the issue for single mothers is domestic violence. The centre's executive director Dean Fortin emphasizes the importance of the study, "Statistics have weight for policy makers and affect where they put their money," he says. "Without numbers, it's difficult to stress the pervasiveness of homelessness, or the fact that a large portion of homeless are women and children."