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Strengthening communities through research

McMaster researchers have been awarded SSHRC Partnership grants to lead collaborations with the public, private and not-for-profit sectors to address issues critical to our nation's quality of life.
Strengthening communities through research

Abigail Payne

Danelle D’Alvise, Research Communications

For economist Abigail Payne, understanding the community she’s researching means listening to that community, and she plans on doing plenty of that over the course of her recently funded two-year research projects.

Payne has been awarded $199,500 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to lead Community Prosperity: Understanding How Charities Engage and Affect Canadian Communities, bringing together key individuals and groups – including practitioners, researchers, and policy analysts – to better understand how the services provided by not-for-profit organizations affect the communities in which they operate.

According to Payne, listening to representatives from Hamilton’s third sector – charities and nonprofits – is a crucial first step to developing the partnerships that are key to understanding the role that sector plays in community development.

She also wants to learn more about the data they’ve already collected and compiled for their respective organizations, a process Payne describes as “digging down” to the fundamental, granular information that can be shared in a way that allows for meaningful analysis of core third sector issues.

“We do know what revenues flow in to charities and what their expenditures are – what it’s costing not-for-profits to provide their services – but we know very little about the kinds of services, who the recipients are and the effect of these services on the community and the individual,” explains Payne, a professor of economics and director of the Public Economics Data Analysis Laboratory (PEDAL).

Using PEDAL’s many resources, Hamilton’s charities and nonprofits have much to gain from the partnership. Payne highlights three areas, beginning with PEDAL’s technical staff, who can “clean” and anonymize each organization’s data; their virtual access to a secure facility with two way encryption, allowing partners to submit and retrieve their own information; and finally, the ability to link into anonymized data sets that can provide new information for developing policy – much more than any one charity could do on its own.

Payne is also a co-applicant on another successful SSHRC grant, The cumulative impact of community and education interventions on the well-being of urban children and youth. This initiative will pull together information from a wide range of service providers in Hamilton to create harmonized and anonymized data sets which can be used both by academic researchers and by the community partners who contributed the original data. The goal is to provide a city-wide, multisectoral and individually-linked database that will ultimately provide a detailed picture of a child’s development and the cumulative impact of community and school based outreach programs and interventions.

PEDAL is a key component of both of Payne’s Partnership Development grants, providing a solution to the sea of data that exists in the charity and education sectors. PEDAL’s ability to gather disparate data sets and fold them together into a resource that can be mined efficiently, and shared effectively, will ultimately help guide future decision making, create new policies and forge collaborations within and among communities.

“After all,” says Payne, “what is it that we all care about? We want to better understand what’s working and what’s not. We want to know we’re making the best use of all of our resources to make our communities stronger.”

In addition to Payne’s projects, there are two professors leading research teams comprised of public, academic, government, industry, private and not-for-profit partners whose collaborations will tackle the societal challenges of how best to ensure adults with spinal cord injuries are full participants in society, and evaluating Canada’s disability policy system.

Peer mentorship has been identified as playing a crucial role in providing people with spinal cord injury (SCI) with the information and support they need to engage more fully in society. This premise is central to an innovative partnership led by kinesiologist Kathleen Martin Ginis, bringing together the research expertise of academics, with the front-line experience of community-based SCI service groups, organizations and consumers, to tackle how best to use peer mentorship to enhance social participation among persons with SCI. 

The 3-year, $198,837 research project titled “Using peer mentor support to enhance social participation/community integration among adults with spinal cord injury” will provide some “firsts”:  a team that will be the first to describe leadership behaviour within the context of peer mentorship; and the first to develop and implement a training program to foster peer mentors’ leadership, and to examine subsequent efforts on mentees’ social participation.  Ultimately, this project will provide the foundation for a pan-Canadian community-academic partnership to develop, implement and evaluate a national peer mentorship strategy building leadership in the SCI community, which will improve the lives of the thousands of Canadians living with SCI.

Emile Tompa, adjunct associate professor, economics, and scientist with the Institute for Work and Health will be leading a seven-year, $2,760,782 project on Income security and labour-market engagement: Envisioning the future of disability policy in Canada.  Working with co-applicants and collaborators Rebecca Gewurtz, school of rehabilitation science; Michel Grignon and  Stephanie Premji from the department of health, aging and society; Isiik Zeytinoglou, a professor of human resources and management; and Andrew King from labour studies plus almost 100 researchers, labour groups, health agencies and insurance companies from across Canada, this transdisciplinary initiative will address three key questions: How well does the Canadian disability policy system serve the current and emerging needs of working-age individuals when disabled in terms of employment support and opportunities? For what individuals and labour –market contexts does it work well/not work well and why? What are the key opportunities for policy and program improvement in the short and long run?

 “The projects led by Professors Payne, Martin Ginis and Tompa feature collaborations that will advance research knowledge to the benefit of the common good,” said Mo Elbestawi, vice-president, research and international affairs. “These strategic partnerships have the potential to provide our local communities with best practice models that will ensure the health, welfare and economic future for all citizens.”