New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network

Selma Zaiane-Ghalia

Photo Selma Zaiane-Ghalia 20161) What is your official current position and title?

Associate professor, École de kinésiologie et de loisir, Faculté des Sciences de la santé et des services communautaire [school of kinesiology and recreation management, faculty of health sciences and community services], Université de Moncton

2) What is your educational background?

I earned my doctorate in humanities, specializing in physical and human geology, urban development and planning, in 2002 at Université Aix Marseille I, Aix-en-Provence, France, in the context of which I presented my dissertation on tourism and recreational activities in the Tunisian national parks under the direction of Professor Gérard Richez (who became an expert with Parks Canada).

In 1996, I earned a diplôme d’études approfondies (DEA) in Mediterranean spaces and North-South relations at the same French university after obtaining a diplôme d’études supérieures spécialisées (DESS) in hotel and tourism management from Institut des hautes études commerciales, Université de Carthage, Tunisia, in 1992, and a Masters degree in marketing from Institut supérieur de gestion, Université de Tunis, Tunisia, in 1990 and a senior management technician diploma in 1988 from Université de Tunis as well.

3) Talk a little about your career path?  Where did your passion for the research/work that you do originate and how did it develop?

Before coming to Canada in 2010, I had worked for the Tunisian public service since 1992 and had been a university course instructor from 1997 until 2010. My main professional activity there was in the field of environmental protection administration (environmental impact studies, monitoring major tourism planning projects, protected area projects, etc.) for the Tunisian national environmental protection agency (ANPE). Then I worked for the national heritage and cultural promotion agency (AMVPPC), which is under the ministry of culture, where I was in charge of communication in the museums and, more broadly, cultural heritage (archaeological sites open to the public), and I had the opportunity to monitor the Bardo national museum expansion project. That museum has the most important mosaic collection in the world.

Along with my administrative responsibilities, I continued to teach and do research. Therefore, my students could benefit from both theoretical and practical teaching. In that way, they could discover the reality of the world of tourism and recreation and of environmental and cultural heritage protection.

But you asked me where my passion comes from for the work that I do. It was most likely from the associative activities in which I participated during my early years at the university. I joined the bird watching club in 1986 (and later started a similar club for young people in the late 1990s), and we took bird watching hikes nearly every weekend as part of the Groupe Tunisien d’Ornithologie [Tunisian ornithology group] (GTO) ( I also had two one-week ornithology internships in the late 1980s, during which, from morning till night, we were in nature observing the birds and their environment, counting them, reading the bands some wore, etc., always with a pair of binoculars around my neck or looking into the telescope. Those activities reinforced my love of nature. That is why I decided to do my first research work, my marketing Master’s thesis on zoological marketing, a first at that time, while working on the potential for privatizing the Tunis zoological park. In the context of that work, I sent a questionnaire translated into four languages to more than 100 zoological parks all over the world (USA, Russia, Australia, European countries, etc.), on the five continents that had been explored, to learn the different ways of managing animal and zoological parks. Furthermore, I conducted historical research to understand how those places began and how our own zoological park came about. It was perhaps at that time that an interest in me started growing for historic research on heritage and culture.

Because the tourism industry is a pillar of the Tunisian economy, it’s completely natural for me to be interested in that sector. By bringing it together with my passion for the conservation of nature, I strove to be able to continue my studies and research on responsible and sustainable tourism. That is how I began my second university research project (DESS, 1992), which was on ecotourism in the Ichkeul National Park, which is on three international lists for its beauty and the exceptional diversity of its lacustrine ecosystem, a unique bird migration site ( In that work, I once again focused on a historical and archaeological aspect by emphasizing the importance of considering the natural and cultural wealth of the site as a reason for conserving it and marketing tourism there in a sustainable manner. My research work on tourism and recreational activities in Tunisian national parks took me to my doctoral dissertation ( ) and allowed me to publish, in 2004, my reflections and results in a work that won the Prix Zoubeida B’chir from CREDIF, awarded for the first time in 2005 to reward scientific research work in French.

I must also say that my interest in history and archaeology has led me to join expert committees. I have been a member and general secretary of the Tunisian committee of UNESCO’s International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and International Council of Museums (ICOM). Furthermore, in the context of my work for ANPE, I had the opportunity to be in charge of the focal point of the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere (MAB) program. That is a quick look at the wide range of professional experience I have had the opportunity to enjoy and that has fed my reflections as a researcher and allowed me to convey highly interesting information to the students I have had the privilege of teaching.

I have been in New Brunswick as a permanent resident since the end of 2010. As I began my teaching career in Tunisia, I made new professional contacts that helped me to provide students there in Tunisia and here in Canada with opportunities to see the real world and receive a rich and motivating education that combines theory with practice.

One of the last projects I had the opportunity to carry out in Tunisia before coming to live in New Brunswick was organizing cultural activities for people with special needs, that is, helping them to visit the Bardo national museum (people with reduced mobility, people who are hard of hearing, senior citizens, etc.). Of course, that is why I agreed, in July 2011, to deliver courses on inclusive recreational activities (GLST2300), therapeutic recreational activities (GLST2301), recreational activities for seniors (GLST3312) and leisure and culture (GLST2411) at Université de Moncton, Moncton campus, at Ecole de kinésiologie et de loisir, Faculté des sciences de la santé et des services communautaires.

I very much appreciated the connection between health and recreational activities, and I hope that, one day, we will see New Brunswick family doctors prescribe leisure activities for prevention and therapy and that the healthcare system will take care of those sessions.

4) Tell us about one or two of your current projects.

It’s a good thing you’re limiting your question to one or two projects 😉 because, in terms of the number of personal research projects, I have several and even more ideas for future, highly interesting projects.

  • L’incubateur, art for the well-being of people with special needs

I will start with the first one because it’s the one I started first in New Brunswick but also the one that has brought me the most on the human level. It’s a project I carried out with the collaboration of a great artist from here, Mario Cyr, who was already well-known due to the importance of his works and also due to the singularity of his creative process. I met him one night during a show at Théâtre Capitol. He told me quickly about his creation process, L’Incubateur [the incubator], and right away I thought about the project we then carried out in 2011-2012. It was simply the idea of offering the opportunity to experience l’Incubateur to people living in the same residence for those with special needs. I will not go into detail but will only summarize the essentials here. The residents experienced a first session of l’Incubateur as Mario Cyr usually gives it to various people (, and during the two following sessions, they took turns as the artist. Despite their health challenges, they appreciated painting, with professional tools, a work following Mario Cyr’s personal professional process. The objective was to increase the residents’ well-being, which the project achieved to the point that, although initially planned for the Francophone residents, the Anglophones then asked to participate as well. With financial assistance from the residence, the artist graciously offered two other workshops to a group of Anglophone residents. It must be pointed out that artistic activity has been an excellent mediator among the residents, who learned about themselves with no language barriers when feelings of empathy and sympathy were spontaneously expressed. The project came about mainly due to the financial and logistic support of Art Shack ( and artist Mario Cyr’s accessibility and human generosity (

The residents’ art was proudly hung in the main corridor of their residence during the Christmas 2011 family meeting for the first Francophone group. Some of their work was published in the latest issue (June 2016) of the locally-produced international Golden Ratio Magazine, which covers arts, culture and sciences (

This project was a success on several levels. It helped people with special needs to experience exceptional moments of discussion and artistic creativity and also helped participating students with their self-discovery (to get out of their comfort zones) and learn more about their own community. Thanks to the participation of all the project partners, I can definitely say that it was a concrete community research project worth being duplicated. It not only permitted the advancement of scientific knowledge in the area of the human sciences and well-being, individual and social health, but also helped young students to concretely confront the reality of a potential workplace (residences for those with special needs and senior citizens) and to see how it is possible to carry out complex and mixed recreational activities by appealing to various community partners to provide an opportunity for well-being to residents.

This project could help to update social policy on the care of people with special needs and senior citizens in our province by using more logistical, human and financial means to improve and maximize the active offer of therapeutic recreational activities, bearing in mind that several studies widely demonstrate the benefits of recreational activities on health by permitting a reduction in the sometimes excessive and costly use of medication. It is also an opportunity for healthcare field recognition of the professional importance of our graduate students in recreation management at Université de Moncton.

The implementation of a website to optimize the accessibility of services for people with autism spectrum disorders and their caregivers is part of a larger project begun in 2013 entitled Soutien à l’autonomisation d’adolescents et de jeunes adultes francophones du Sud-Est du Nouveau-Brunswick évoluant avec un trouble du spectre de l’autisme (TSA) par le biais d’activités de loisirs [recreational activity-based support for the empowerment of southeastern New Brunswick Francophone adolescents and young adults with autism spectrum disorders]. It is a highly useful exploratory study because it reports on the needs of New Brunswick Francophone autistic adolescents and young adults and currently available services. Furthermore, it facilitates a better understanding of the reality young people with autism spectrum disorders experience and helps to plan the best services in response to their requests. The website component was presented for the first time to the general public in January 2014 (

At first, along with investigative work with parents and young people with autism spectrum disorders, the project began with an exhaustive inventory of autism support services in southeastern New Brunswick via several sources (Internet, brochures, radio and TV publicity, information for parents and caregivers, etc.). All the information was cross-checked and verified before being entered in the website database in French. Then, considering the Anglophone parent interest in the public introduction, we decided to expand our efforts and construct a bilingual website and may even have information in other languages to meet the needs of an increasingly diversified New Brunswick population, bearing in mind that, when people have health problems, they are most comfortable [receiving help] in their mother tongues. It must be recalled and emphasized as well that, when people are experiencing health problems, their entire families experience them as well, especially with regard to autism and its significant social impacts for the individuals with the disorder and for their families (parents and siblings). The announcement of the website launch produced so much interest that we were asked to talk about it on the radio ( The project is still underway as far as improving the website and analyzing collected data is concerned. Anyone interested in contributing to the website information base is invited to contact the information project team for the concerned program/service/activity/event, all of which directly or indirectly concern people with autism of all ages and their caregivers (families and support people).

5) How do you see your research/work in terms of possibly contributing to evidence-based public policy?

Thanks to my multidisciplinary education, reinforced by my international professional experience, I have a multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary vision of research. I’m convinced that we have to strive to form complementary transdisciplinary research teams that will allow us to have a thorough ecosystemic approach to social problems.

In my earlier research work (1988 to 2009), I mainly worked on the issue of sustainable tourism development and enhancement of natural and cultural heritage through ecotourism in particular but not exclusively. In that context, I have presented more than 35 writings and participated in several projects in various European and Mediterranean countries (France, England, Spain, Italy, Germany, Turkey, Croatia, Greece, Jordan, Libya and Morocco).

The extensive study I did on the Tunisian national parks between 1990 and 2002 became a reference not only in Tunisia but for other countries (the UNESCO [advisory organization] the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) invited me to Spain to present the results of my work in the context of a course for protected natural area managers). Furthermore, it was very rewarding to discover, when I was intently studying the Canadian park management system (Parks Canada) in my work, that the results of my research on the Tunisian national parks were used for comparison with the Canadian situation by Nathalie Charland in her work, The Process of the Establishment of National Parks in Northern Québec: For a Strategic Vision of the Land presented for her [English in the original] Degree of Master of Science, Non-Thesis, Option in Environmental Assessment, NRSC 616, Environmental Assessment Department of Natural Resource Sciences, Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Macdonald Campus, McGill University, in 2007.

In their various publications on the national parks, the authorities of the Tunisian ministry of agriculture used the geographic maps I had made, and several of my recommendations were followed at a high level of authority. Since I did my first research work in 1992, more importance has been granted to the collection of statistical data on visitor entries in Tunisian protected areas. My work was the first to present statistical data on national park visitors based on several variables facilitating informed decision-making about the design and management of those fragile protected areas. I must probably add that I’m the first woman to conduct university research on the Tunisian national parks. They had been the sanctum of an exclusively male forestry field, so I had to work very hard to convince the director general of forests at the time and his deputy, who was even more skeptical, of my abilities and of future interest in the results of my research work.

Another example of my research results used for public decision-making is my work on the Bardo national museum entitled Le musée national du Bardo en métamorphose – Pour une nouvelle image du tourisme culturel tunisien et de nouveaux visiteurs (Selma Zaiane, « Le musée national du Bardo en métamorphose », Téoros [Online], 27-3 | 2008, online since 07 April 2010, accessed on 20 June 2016. URL : ). The experts who conducted the study on the museum extension had not considered the exterior design, that is, the need for expanding the parking lot for more visitors. My research work emphasized that aspect and was then used as a reference for a revision of public decisions.

I have just started my new work in New Brunswick and remain confident that it will also have a positive impact on future public decision-making. There are a lot of great things we can do together to decrease public deficits in the health field in New Brunswick and ensure that the residents of this beautiful province are healthy regardless of age.

When I joined École de kinésiologie et de loisir in July 2011, I capitalized on my knowledge and experience by adapting them to New Brunswick territory and Canadian realities. Considering the courses that have been assigned to me based on the needs of the school, I had to adjust my research priorities. However, I have kept my interdisciplinary scientific approach oriented on pluridisciplinary cooperation, in which the view of the problem is 3600 through an ecosystemic approach to issues. More specifically, I’m interested in the issue of recreational activities for people with special needs and senior citizens but also the therapeutic value of recreational activities in the medium and long term.

Furthermore, I’m not completely neglecting my first areas of research and interest. I’m pursuing my reflections and research on tourism and cultural mediation in both Tunisia and New Brunswick. Therefore, I can say that I am currently focusing on three major research areas:

  • The promotion of natural and cultural heritage through tourism and recreational activities;
  • Therapeutic recreational activities and their promotion for people with special needs;
  • The diversification of rewarding active leisure time for senior citizens.

With regard to New Brunswick, for example, I can say that we have to encourage more participation in sports, yes, to battle the problems of overweight, for example, but not necessarily at a competitive level. It seems to me that we put a little bit too much emphasis on competition. See FORBES, Marie-Line; KENNEDY, Gregory; ZAIANE-GHALIA, Selma. La promotion du mieux-être par l’activité physique en milieu minoritaire : l’Institut de leadership de l’Université de Moncton, 1969-1989. Acadiensis, [S.l.], May 2016. ISSN 1712-7432. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 20 June 2016. Competition can interfere with the desire to join a team and even be a financial obstacle. Walking in nature can be a healthy physical activity to encourage. It has several benefits for participants, helping them not only to have better physical health, but also spiritual and intellectual health by learning new things about the environment they visit and its history. That activity as a group also creates the opportunity to form social connections. We truly have many riches to discover and recommend to others here in New Brunswick for all generations by creating intergenerational connections that would help those in senior residences to break their isolation that can be quite a burden.

We would be even better off in New Brunswick if public policy would support a greater diversification of recreational activities for everyone and, in particular, for senior citizens, who can be isolated in residences due to the lack of means of private residence managers sometimes, lack of transportation other times and especially due to a flagrant lack of coordinated efforts, logistics and activities provided at various locations through structures outside senior residences.

There are several research-action projects that we can carry out in New Brunswick so that research can support community initiatives on the well-being of the population and a healthy and sustainable economic process for the province. Today, it is not a question of repeating or multiplying pilot projects with no follow-up and only increasing the burdensome provincial debt that future generations will have to pay!

6) Discuss any past achievements that were significant to your professional path?  Have any contributed to the promotion of evidence-based public policy?

I may have already answered this question partially (see my answer to question 5).

To look back at my time in Tunisia, yes, my research on the Tunisian national parks was not only important with regard to certain public policy decisions made later on, but for me, above all, it marked an opening in my career. In fact, I had been thinking that I would work in the tourism field because I had worked in two travel agencies and was interested in the field, having completed a summer internship with the Tunisian national tourism office (ONTT) under the ministry of tourism and artisanship. Therefore, I thought that I would continue my career directly in that field. However, it turned out that my research director for the DESS (1992) invited the director general of ANPE to be on my jury and, after my thesis defence, he invited me to come see him the following week. During that meeting, he asked me to join his new team of young engineers at ANPE, which was then under the ministry of the environment and sustainable development. He asked me to be in charge of files on protected area and tourism projects. I dared not refuse! So I participated in implementing the terms of reference for environmental impact studies on tourist projects. Then, in the context of my administrative responsibilities, I had the chance to contribute to implementing a variety of public environmental policy related to protected areas and tourism, among other things, and I continued, on a smaller scale, research on park visitors and natural and cultural recreational activities (because Tunisia is a country rich in archaeological sites and historic locations, each national park also contains significant historic and archaeological heritage).

As for New Brunswick, I will perhaps be repeating myself by saying that my contribution to Canada and this province has been recent considering that I have only been a professor here at Université de Moncton since July 2011.

However, since my arrival in this magnificent province where it’s great to live, I have not stopped actively contributing to my community. For example, I have been part of the heritage committee of my city, Dieppe, since October 2010, which Jean Gaudet chairs, and we committee members, people who are dedicated to and passionate about Acadian heritage, have contributed to implementing the City of Dieppe’s heritage policy. I’m also a member of the City of Dieppe senior citizen committee, on which I have contributed to implementing senior citizen policy and a beautiful community garden project at Saint Anselme Park facilitating intergenerational meetings. Although these activities do not directly involve the concept of evidence-based research, the members of the two committees appreciate my contribution and perspective as a university professor.

7) Describe in a couple of sentences your involvement with NBSPRN and how your relationship with the Network has contributed to your research/work and/or to social/economic policy?

In the summer of 2012, acting New Brunswick Child and Youth Advocate Christian Whalen asked me to participate in organizing a summer course on the rights of children. Groupe de travail sur les droits de l’enfant dans l’espace francophone, in collaboration with the Canadian Council of Child and Youth Advocates and Université de Moncton, then presented the first summer course on the rights of the child dealing with article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: ” . . . the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts” ( That is when I learned of the existence of the NBSPRN, which I joined in the fall of 2012. When I went to my first meeting, I thought the NBSPRN mission was very important: supporting evidence-based public policy while establishing connections among those making the decisions, those doing the research, NGOs and the people of New Brunswick. It fits very well with my way of working since the 1990s. Furthermore, I believe it is very important to get involved in community organizations as both public citizens and individuals, not necessarily as members of specific organizations but still contributing our ideas. That is why more students should be encouraged to join the NBSPRN.

The NBSPRN has allowed me to meet new people and discuss our ideas, but it has also allowed me to present and promote my research projects in meetings and forums.

Right now, I have not yet taken advantage of all the potential of the network but will certainly not delay in doing so.

8) Any last thoughts? 

Teaching is a great privilege, an honour and a great pleasure for me. It is an indispensable complement to my research. It is a duty to not only convey knowledge but especially know-how. To teach is to stimulate and interest students in their field of specialization, which, wisely begun, allows the creativity of our young people to be developed and prepares them for the job market.

But teaching is also conveying up-to-date data to students and getting them to participate in advancing their knowledge and even seeking new data. It is in that sense that, as much as I can, I get my students to participate in my research projects so they can benefit from that learning and also acquire a taste for research. Why not pass on a passion for research to them and so encourage them continue their studies in more in-depth fields. It is promoting know-how, a process of reflection and of creating independent thought in students so they can make coherent decisions rather than simply transmitting data to them that is rapidly going to become obsolete. Among our students, there are future decision-makers, people who are going be responsible for making policy decisions, and it is up to us as professors to correctly prepare them for that social responsibility.

In my research work, I have sometimes had to change directions because the battles in life are sometimes very hard, but although we take some knocks, we always learn a lot, which enriches us spiritually and personally. You can also say that, although we gain weight over the years, we can still get stronger mentally and even physically by maintaining regular exercise and diversifying therapeutic recreational activities! The important thing is to always enjoy what we do on a daily basis and the pleasure of passing on our knowledge to our communities.

Thank you for asking me to answer your questions. They have taken me back through the years of my personal history.

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