New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network

Post-Event Report: Rural Research Partnerships: Successes and Challenges

Report of the meeting held on March 12, 2014

Rural Research Partnership: Successes and Challenges

Université de Moncton, Shippagan Campus (UMCS), in partnership with the New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network (NBSPRN), organized a half-day of discussion and reflection on the role of and opportunities for partnerships between researchers, communities and public servants within a rural development context.

The meeting was an opportunity to examine partnership perspectives and challenges, from the vantage points of researchers, community stakeholders and public servants.

The guests

Nathalie Boivin is a full professor with the UMCS Nursing Sector. She is also involved in promoting health and wellness in New Brunswick’s Acadian and francophone communities. She was chair of the Board of Directors of the Mouvement acadien des communautés en santé du Nouveau-Brunswick and is a member of the Community Action Network of the Société santé et mieux-être en santé du Nouveau-Brunswick.

Julie Landry-Godin has been working at the Réseau d’inclusion communautaire de la Péninsule acadienne (RIC-PA) as coordinator since May 2012. The RIC-PA is part of the 12 Community Inclusion Networks of New Brunswick that were created by the Economic and Social Inclusion Corporation to act locally with partners of the four community sectors (private businesses, community organizations, government and citizens). Their mandate is to work with these four sectors to facilitate social inclusion and reduce poverty.

Christine C. Paulin is a doctoral candidate in Public Administration at University of Ottawa. In recent years, she helped develop a New Brunswick family policy (AFPNB), worked on a learning initiative (NB2026 Roundtable) and other public participation projects piloted by the City of Dieppe.

Léo-Paul Pinet is president of the New Brunswick Economic and Social Inclusion Corporation and executive director of the Centre de bénévolat de la Péninsule acadienne, which is currently involved in two research projects: action-research with a Université de Moncton team (Department of Sociology/School of Social Work) and an impact assessment in partnership with the National Crime Prevention Centre and the Centre for Research and Development in Education, at Université de Moncton.

The roundtable was led by Vanessa Haché of VH Consutants. The resulting debate led to the drafting of this report that is entirely based on feedback from the meeting. In all, some thirty people took part in the roundtable.

First and foremost, researchers must penetrate the local networks where the community expresses itself.

Nathalie Boivin emphasized the importance of getting involved in the community at the local level, in order to identify problems and take them into consideration in research: “sometimes, a discussion leads to an idea and an idea leads to a research subject.” She emphasized the importance of not overlooking the opinions of people from within community, since they can point to problems. The example she presented embodies the idea. During a discussion on health with someone from community, the matter of reading difficulties emerged as an overriding problem within the population. She stressed that integrating the researcher into the community can be a long process.

There is a real need for the community to make these projects achievable, through scientific legitimacy that guarantees funding and a certain efficacy. Increasingly, the university environment is being sought after by municipalities and communities.

For her project on public participation, Christine C. Paulin partnered with the City of Dieppe. She was initially approached because of her involvement on the advisory committee. Although it is not common practice, the City of Dieppe developed a scientific partnership through her. Christine C. Paulin emphasized the fact that municipalities are, increasingly, developing partnerships with researchers. As for Léo-Paul Pinet, he feels that partnership between the community and researchers is a necessary funding requirement for certain projects. The community then becomes an essential link between lenders and researchers. “Right from the outset, the reflex to adopt when developing a request for financial assistance is that of deciding whether or not research will be integrated into the approach.” It is important to show the economic impact of research even if the connections are not always direct. Julie Landry-Godin emphasized the community’s true need for research: “this expertise provides part of the solution,” even if researchers — particularly university researchers — can appear “inaccessible” or intimidating.

Two different worlds that need to reach out to each other and win each other over. To achieve this, the language used must be taken into consideration.

Léo-Paul Pinet feels that learning is a continual process between the research environment and community. Research remains a little “foreign” but its technical jargon is the language that needs to be mastered and used in federal and provincial spheres. Christine C. Paulin explained that it is essential to create the conditions required for dialogue with the community: “translating scientific language for the community is a daily struggle. It is crucial not to get discouraged as a researcher, because research in the community is of utmost importance.”

Different visions bring new ideas to the fore and create new models for fostering more effective partnership links.

The differences between theory and practise are numerous, but the confrontation of the two leads to meaningful exchanges. Partnerships lead to mutual understanding and better results. The reality of the community can be better understood through “resource people” from this environment. Christine C. Paulin well-articulated this idea, drawing from her own experience: “the knowledge of this individual from the municipality allowed me to learn something that I could not learn through research.” This sharing of knowledge provides for a variety of perspectives. However, partners must realize that they will need to manage differences related to values, agendas and resources…

The success of a partnership is also based on this confrontation with reality and the ability to mobilize partners.

The study must be anchored in the needs and reality of the environment if it is to succeed in mobilizing. It can lead to challenging the theory when barriers appear within the reality.

As explained by Nathalie Boivin, the relationship between partners must be cultivated: “this relationship must be maintained throughout the year.” And, “people are not being used, we are working with them.” It is important to keep everyone up to date with the project’s progress and highlight changes. Equally, it is interesting to make the project a group project, so that it fully encompasses everyone. To attest to this Julie Landry-Godin used the transportation example: “we try to identify different stakeholders involved with the matter, and we give them space, so that it becomes their project; that way, everyone feels like they are part of the project.” The other aspect elaborated on by Julie Landry-Godin is that of attracting partners by explaining that the need advocated by the research, in this case transportation, is in everyone’s interest, whether directly or indirectly. Christine C. Paulin feels that this common interest is a condition that allows people feel that they are part of the project: “the final product will be better and thus will meet the needs more effectively.”

A successful partnership also requires the establishment of a framework, providing the definition of common objectives and a common temporality.

Between the community and the organization, it is useful to properly define the project’s oversight, whether it’s the methodology used or the final objectives. This framework must be shared to meet everyone’s schedules. Léo-Paul Pinet emphasized the following: “the start and finishing lines must be well defined.” He also stressed another difficulty, that of time management. He feels that it is increasingly difficult to establish long-term projects, due to the reshuffling of regional stakeholders and changes at the funding level. It is therefore important to have a framework, so that each partner is able to negotiate their participation in the project, while leaving sufficient flexibility to allow the possibility of adapting the project, of developing converging interests.

The rural nature of a territory can be a force when it comes to developing the research project, through its receptiveness, as well as local expertise.

Nathalie Boivin sees the rural nature of a region as a plus: “it facilitates research, because fewer studies are carried out in these areas. When it is explained to people why their participation is required doors open more readily than in urban centres.” Moreover, New Brunswick’s rural communities are able to organize themselves and take charge. Léo-Paul Pinet is of the opinion that a territory’s rural nature does not mean that resources are not available for projects: “in New Brunswick, communities have the expertise; the elements are there.” To gain the maximum from the community, the goal is to create the conditions necessary… to create ties between different environments. With Nathalie Boivin’s projects, local expertise has allowed stakeholders to improve the way they go about things. “We appreciate people from the community and show them that they play an important role in the advancement of research.”

Individuals and communities are increasingly solicited and seen as important avenues for research. It is important to get young people involved in projects. This can be achieved by adapting the framework and communication.

We have seen that people from the community play an important role when it comes to the advancement of research. Nathalie Boivin transposed her research model, based on the community, to identify the problems of youth. “Young people are now driving improvements to health.” We must not ignore young people, even 12-16 year olds; they are the future of the territory. It is therefore important to establish a communication plan that targets them. Christine C. Paulin feels that young people are a research axis in and of themselves and that their participation must not be underestimated: “meetings must be fostered, by adapting to their time schedules and providing them room to air their opinions.” The individual is seen as the backbone of territorial development.

Limits for researchers

However, points made by one researcher highlighted the obstacles to such an approach. The current funding and professional assessment framework do not encourage researchers to invest in the community to carry out research there.

Will there be a follow-up to the roundtable?

Several participants emphasized the importance of getting together, whether through a rural development centre: “a meeting place where people living in rural areas and researchers can come together,” or a meeting like the roundtable organized by Université de Moncton’s Shippagan Campus (UMCS) and the New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network.

List of organizers: Elise Mayrand, Stephane Laulan and Nathalie Boivin (CRUMCS), Julie Guillemot (CRUMCS), Jennifer Godin (NBSPRN).

Acknowledgement: We would like to thank the UMCS and the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research at Université de Moncton (FESR) for their financial assistance and the New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network for their logistical support.

Copyright 2013
A Ginger Design