The facts are in: Inclusion = a better life

January 7, 2019

The facts are in: Inclusion = a better life

At a presentation at Edmonton’s City Hall in mid-December, researchers, collaborators, subjects of the study, and members of the public gathered to review the findings.

The results revealed that:

  • Poverty often leads to uncertain access to basic needs;
  • Having high school or post-secondary credentials doesn’t necessarily provide opportunities;
  • Many participants seek relationships and talked about wanting face-to-face rather than over-the-phone services and referrals;
  • Good health is important when building social capital. If a person feels healthy, they are more likely to build relationships and access services; and
  • Discrimination is common. This lessens self-esteem, which excludes people from community.

Taking from the processes that help the study arrive at these conclusions, it was found not only did marginalized individuals benefit from the 36 months of work, but researchers and collaborators benefitted as well. A real level of inclusion among all participants was observed, cementing once again the fact that when people are willing to learn from each other (sometimes outside their comfort zones), more understanding and acceptance is achieved. The big-picture results also show that when time and effort are taken to understand those at need, society as a whole is better off.

The path to the community-based research project included a foundation of shared values, the development of a proposal, working with community collaborators in planning and implementation, and sharing of findings with the community. Retired NorQuest College social work instructor, Bob Marvin and I were working together on the Loneliness Project with students in the NorQuest Social Work program. This work led us to the importance of working with community and treating the NorQuest campus students as community participants.

We believe that community holds the key to learning, and we value the importance of listening and recognizing strengths within individuals and groups. We were determined to engage representatives of community organizations working with marginalized citizens and learn and understand from their experiences. Over a period of several months we met face-to-face, had approximately 80 conversations with representatives from various community organizations, and began conversations about loneliness, trust, belonging, acceptance, and support.

Once funding was secured through the Social Science Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), we were in a place to begin planning the research project with the community. Our proposal was in partnership with the Edmonton Public Library (EPL) that is recognized as a go-to resource for many marginalized people. 

The research project fit well with the organizational values of the EPL and NorQuest College, and empowered us to work with the community. A small working group of 12 agency representatives was called together for an intensive two-day planning meeting, which was facilitated by Pieter De Vos and Kim Ghostkeeper of Alberta Community Development.

This facilitation allowed Bob and me to work on an equal footing with our collaborators. This process was at first met with some caution by the collaborators who were expecting to be asked to “provide us names to interview” rather than be invited to participate in the planning and articulation of the project deliverables. At the end of the two days collaborators took ownership of the process, we then had the task of honouring their planning and adhering to the methodology they had developed as the project progressed. This two-day meeting proved to be a pivotal point to the success of engaging community collaborators, including the project Elder and project Wisdom Holder.

During the three years the project expanded with the addition of a research coordinator, field coordinator, and research assistants. In the spirit of no-one-person-has-all-the-skills-and-experience-required-to-do-this-work, research team staff were hired for and encouraged to share their life experiences as well as work experience. The three phrases of data collection were done over different seasons, included individual interviews and focus groups, and resulted in 606 interview and 50 focus groups.

Incorporating Indigenous knowledge

Data collection and research protocol followed the seven sacred teachings of love, respect, wisdom, courage, honesty, humility, and truth. We were held accountable by our collaborators in our reports and communication to community. In the end, we found the data collection process to be energizing, inspiring, and exhausting due to the high demand for more data collection from our collaborators. We needed to be flexible, reflective, and willing to work within limits of facilities and capacities of individuals.

In the last year of the project, we contracted with Deborah Morrison of M.A.P.S. Alberta Capital Region to create three life map case studies to tell a life story. For those individuals who are on their journey to a better life, these maps illustrate three individual stories and serve as rich exemplars of people moving forward with their lives.

This project was highly supported by many areas of NorQuest College, from words of encouragement and wisdom, to the more tangible support of software, computers, space, and human resources. Our Brand, Marketing and Development team greatly supported and improved our messaging. It truly took the whole college to support our community research project.

This is a polarizing time in the world we live in. Dangerous and irresponsible rhetoric and disappointing sentiment towards newcomers is getting louder and louder. At NorQuest, it is our goal to #InvestInInclusion and provide contrasting information that shows the value of newcomers and reminds us all that our nation was built on welcoming people from every corner of the world.