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Bridging the gap

Collaborative research for stronger rural N.L. communities

special feature: Community Collaboration

Part of a special feature that illuminates the synergistic relationship between individuals, communities and community organizations and Memorial, with a focus on Memorial’s supporting role to community-led work.

By Dr. Mandy Rowsell

Building connections and fostering collaborations is what the Harris Centre is all about — being a bridge between the university and the community.

From start to finish, Thriving Regions sessions are led by the people in the region.
Photo: Submitted

One of the primary ways that the Harris Centre facilitates both knowledge mobilization and community engagement is through the Thriving Regions Partnership Process (TRPP).

With funding support from the Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, the TRPP mobilizes Memorial’s research capacity to address the needs of the province’s communities, building meaningful research partnerships in the process.

“For some regions, it’s the first time they’ve had the opportunity to sit in a room together in years.” — Bojan Fürst

Bojan Fürst, the Harris Centre’s knowledge mobilization manager, says the team works with a region for over a year, holding four different workshops, with dedicated funding for three research projects.

“For the first workshop, we don’t even bring researchers from Memorial — the session is simply an opportunity for the region to talk to itself and figure out what its priorities are,” he said. “This is critical – for some regions, it’s the first time they’ve had the opportunity to sit in a room together in years. After that, we find interested Memorial researchers who can help them meet their needs, and we introduce those researchers to that community.”


Once the priorities are identified and the researchers have submitted their ideas, the projects are selected by a review committee made up of community and university representatives.

The selected researchers then meet with the community representatives and shape the research process together – with the community representatives as equal partners. It is important to the Harris Centre that the process, from start to finish, be led by the people in the region.

Thriving Regions

“Decisions about priorities and projects aren’t made by two or three people — we invite the full community to engage in that process and then the group that evaluates the research proposals is made up of both community members and researchers from Memorial,” said Chris Paterson, knowledge mobilization co-ordinator at the Harris Centre. “The community representatives have equal votes, and this has radically improved the conversation.”

Mr. Paterson notes that there can be hesitation, or even suspicion, when it comes to outside groups bringing community members together to outline regional priorities.

“There have been folks who have come into the community in the past, saying, ‘We’re here to help figure things out,’ and then have gone on to not actually add any value,” he said. “So, with Thriving Regions, we want to go in and say, ‘We’re employed by the university, but, as much as possible, we work for you.’ The region has to really own the process — we’re just here to make it happen.”

From Baie Verte to Port-aux-Basques and back to Carbonear

Since its inception in 2018, projects have been set in motion on the Baie Verte Peninsula, the Southwest Coast and the Great Northern Peninsula.

Baie Verte
Baie Verte, N.L.
Photo: Submitted

(When the TRPP takes place in Labrador or on the Great Northern Peninsula, it is also part of the Sustainable Northern Coastal Communities Initiative. This initiative is delivered in partnership with the Labrador Institute and Grenfell Campus, the latter of which is also a partner when the TRPP takes place anywhere on the West Coast of the province.)

So far, the process has been a great success, and has been well-received by leaders in the region.

“I was born and raised in Baie Verte and I work here, so there’s a personal and professional attachment.” — Jordan Cramm

Jordan Cramm, resident of Baie Verte and manager of Anaconda Mining, a gold mining company that operates in the Baie Verte Mining District, says the session was a great opportunity to sit down with people from the area, of different backgrounds, and brainstorm what they think the area needs.

“I was born and raised in Baie Verte and I work here, so there’s a personal and professional attachment,” he said. “I was interested in the way the projects could help us with the next steps in making the region sustainable.”

Arts-based tourism

The researchers feel the same way.

Dr. Jamie Skidmore, a professor in the Department of English, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, is currently working on his own Thriving Regions project, titled Storytelling through Shadow Puppetry on the Southwest Coast.

Dr. Skidmore notes the value of the arts to rural areas, describing the potential for great economic gains through an arts-based tourism structure.

Skidmore Shadow Puppets
Dr. Jamie Skidmore produces puppet plays on N.L.’s Southwest Coast.
Photo: Submitted

“It was important to make sure that the communities felt there was a need for the project, and they fortunately liked the idea. A number of communities expressed interest in the shows, including Codroy Valley, Port Aux Basques and Isle Aux Morts.”

Dr. Skidmore’s project involves creating shadow-puppet plays based on local stories, gathered from community members, and helping the communities put off the shows to attract tourists and generate revenue. The inaugural presentations were widely attended this past summer, and Dr. Skidmore plans to head back to the Southwest Coast soon to continue the work.

“It is so important for the project to be the community’s project — we are there to facilitate it, but it’s their stories, and it all needs to belong to them as much as possible,” he said.

“Who knows what great things will come of it!” — Diane Hodge-Burt

The next Thriving Regions Partnership Process is slated for the Baccalieu region.

“Our participation in the Thriving Regions process evolved from all the work and research we’ve already been doing with the Harris Centre on our Future of the Economy (FOE) project as the Trinity-Conception region,” said Diane Hodge-Burt, executive director, CBDC Trinity-Conception.

“This is really a great addition, because we felt that we didn’t want to just shelve the FOE report, but that we needed to go further and actually identify some opportunities in our region where we can engage the general public and revitalize and kickstart our region.”

Over 40 individuals are already registered to attend the first workshop, taking place in Carbonear on Sept. 27, and Ms. Hodge-Burt expects that number to grow in the coming days.

“We’re really looking forward to it, because this will get a lot of residents and entrepreneurs thinking and brainstorming, and who knows what great things will come of it!”

Building relationships that last

While the more obvious value of the Thriving Regions Partnership Process is the funding that the researchers receive to do their work, Mr. Fürst and Mr. Paterson stress that the secondary benefits are just as important.

“The more unique value of this process is that the researchers have an opportunity to see the potential relevance and applicability of their work,” said Mr. Paterson. “The researchers who have been involved so far truly appreciate how their research interests have real-world benefits.”

Mr. Fürst agrees.

“It works for everybody. The community gets something tangible and practical, and the researcher gets to keep researching.”

What remains at the end is a relationship that lasts long after the researcher has gone home.

“The communities get to realize that researchers are real people,” Mr. Paterson laughs. “This is a benefit for Memorial more broadly, as it means that those outside the university can really see the relevance of what Memorial does, and the folks in the communities have an even stronger connection to the university.”

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