Determinants of social capital and differential success:

Building a Better Life

Funder: Community-College Social Innovation Fund, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
In partnership with: 

Edmonton Public Library

Researchers at NorQuest College along with their partners at the Edmonton Public Library and over 40 community collaborators are engaged in a three-year research project, funded by the federal Community-College Social Innovation Fund, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. This project utilizes a community-built methodology that was developed in collaboration with over 40 agencies in the Edmonton area that serve the marginalized. It is a study that looks at social capital including the barriers people face and the strengths they use to transcend marginalization as they work to ‘Build a Better Life’.

September 2019 update:

The Better Life project came to a close on June 30, 2019. The final report, appendices, and all other project products* are available for download below.

The project had two objectives of connection and insight.

  1. Connection: to create research synergies, comprised of service providers to marginalized populations, municipal government, and researchers, to build cohesion around policy and programming issues.
  2. Insight: to learn how loneliness and self-esteem affect Social Capital, and how some can successfully use their Social Capital to strengthen their Human Capital to build better futures, while others have difficulty.

The final report includes:

  • Executive Summary & Literature Review
  • Methodology
  • All Participants – Survey & Focus Group Data
  • Subgroups: Indigenous, Immigrant, Canadian-born non-Indigenous, Problematic Substance Use, Ever Homeless, & Poor Health
  • What We Learned
  • References

Project products include:

It is our hope that this report provides encouragement to individuals in their personal journeys as well as practical information for the community. Please use and share this report and data products for your work in the community whether it be displaying a life map in a public space, creating a research methodology, or utilizing the findings to support your work.

Thank you to the everyone who worked with us to make this project possible. It was an honour to conduct this research with the community.

If reading this report generates questions you would like help answering please feel free to contact us. We are open to present data, to discuss next steps, or to develop further research ideas.

Community Collaborators

This project would not have been possible without the community. As researchers, our role was to facilitate and carry out the research, but it was the members of the community who brought their knowledge, experience, and expertise together to design, implement, and offer their insights to understanding the data. Community organizations opened their homes and hearts to this project, and in doing so gave voice to people they serve, who participated in interviews and focus groups. Our community collaborators and participants are the most important people in this project.

Those in bold hosted data collection, and the number in parentheses indicates how many data collection events they hosted.

  1. Action for Healthy Communities (1)
  2. Africa Centre (1)
  3. Alberta Community & Social Services
  4. Alberta Culture & Tourism
  5. Alberta Health Services
  6. Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society – Parent Link Centre (2)
  7. Bissel Centre (2)
  8. Boyle Street Community Services (1)
  9. Bredin Centre for Learning in Alberta (1)
  10. Canadian Mental Health
  11. Catholic Social Services (1)
  12. City of Edmonton – Community Inclusion
  13. City of Edmonton – Family Supports
  14. City of Edmonton - Citizen Services, Millwoods Site (1)
  15. Creating Hope Society
  16. Distinctive Employment Counselling Services of Alberta (DECSA)(1)
  17. E4C
  18. Edmonton Community Foundation
  19. Edmonton Food Bank (1)
  20. Edmonton Immigrant Services Association (1)
  21. Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers (3)
  22. Edmonton Native Healing Center (2)
  23. Edmonton Public Library (3)
  24. Federation of Community Leagues
  25. George Spady Society (2)
  26. HIV Edmonton (2)
  27. Homeward Trust
  28. M.A.P.S. Alberta Capital Region
  29. Marian Centre
  30. Métis Child and Family Services Society (1)
  31. Multicultural Health Brokers
  32. Native Counselling Services
  33. New in Town Aboriginal Welcome Service (1)
  34. Niginan Housing Ventures (Ambrose Place) (1)
  35. NorQuest College (Day Home Provider program) (3)
  36. NorQuest College (LINC program) (1)
  37. NorQuest College (Social Work program) (1)
  38. NorQuest College (Wetaskiwin Campus) (2)
  39. Rupertsland Institute
  40. The Candora Society – Edmonton (1)
  41. The House Next Door (1)
  42. The Mustard Seed (2)
  43. Wichitowin
  44. YMCA

June 2018 update:

Data analysis and initial reporting to the community is underway. A community showcase to share findings and celebrate the project will be held in December 2018.

If you would like to be added to our mailing list to receive more information as it becomes available, contact us.

January 2018 update:

Data collection is now complete and over 600 interviews were completed. A big thank you to our community collaborators for their support. Researchers are now working on analyzing the data and preparing the findings for presentation to the community starting Summer 2018. If you would like to receive information regarding the research findings as they become available, contact us.

“In general terms, social capital represents social connections and all the benefits they generate. The benefits for people having these social connections can occur either at an individual level (for example, through family support) or at a wider collective level (for example, through volunteering). Social capital is also associated with values such as tolerance, solidarity or trust. These are beneficial to society and are important for people to be able to cooperate.” (Veronique Siegler, 2014)

Why are we doing this research?

“Few data exist that could be used to evaluate the contribution of social capital to specific public policy issues.” (Franke, 2005)

The purpose of this research is to raise awareness and understanding of social capital’s impact on well-being. We believe that increased awareness and understanding will result in changes to public policies and services so that social capital is increased, the value of belonging is recognized, and community well-being is strengthened.

Structure of project

  • Three-year grant (July 2015 to June 2018) - NorQuest College and Edmonton Public Library
  • Engaging community as collaborators (41 to date)
  • Mixed methodology (interviews, case studies, focus groups)
  • Three rounds of data collection (spring 2016, winter 2016-17, fall 2017)
  • Focus on immigrants and Indigenous Peoples
  • Aggregate data to be shared with collaborators
  • NorQuest College is responsible for data security
  • Collaborators to review and reflect on drafts as available
  • Abide by Tri-Council ethics

Community-based participatory research

  • A team of community participants, community workers, and researchers identify issues
  • Methodology shaped by community
  • Research findings shared with community for reflection and understanding
  • Community input shapes subsequent rounds of research
  • Team guides how findings are disseminated and reported

The research cycle

  1. Data collection
    1. Hiring research assistants grounded in community
    2. Reflection from collaborators and community members at each stage of research program
    3. Supports in place for RAs and participants as required (psychological/emotional)
    4. Incentives/support for participation (e.g. food, childcare, transportation)
    5. Informed consent, privacy
  1. Data analysis
    1. Researchers and research assistants will begin sensemaking
    2. Participants and service organizations will review and reflect on aggregated data and draft reports using diverse lenses
  2. Report writing
    1. Written document for reporting purposes to Social Science and Humanities Research of Canada
    2. Present in multiple ways and formats to tell the story of the research and the outcomes
      1. E.g. diagram, story/narrative, ceremony, interactive map at the library because it is a democratic space
    3. Opportunities for involvement of participants and organizations
  3. Sharing the body of knowledge
    1. Must reflect who, what, when, where, why, and how
    2. Must be intentional, accessible, meaningful
    3. Celebrate the knowledge

We are committed to…

  • Love, respect, wisdom, courage, honesty, humility, truth
  • The values of social justice: do no harm and beneficence
  • Compassion, kindness, intentionality, reciprocity
  • Recognizing the value in all contributions: from collaboration of openness to exploration, reflection and (spontaneous) learning
  • Acknowledging power imbalances and making efforts to decrease them
  • Communication that is accessible to all: plain language, learning styles

What will come out of this research?

Participants will:
  • Recognize themselves in the research, and will have “ownership”
  • See the results in their own learning and belonging
  • See that the project has created ongoing supports
  • Gain recognition of personal responsibility for healing
Service providers will:
  • Have more knowledge about services that are driven by client needs
  • Find support to seek further funding for service and research
  • Be part of an established group for further on-going collaboration
The broader community will:
  • Recognize the value and importance of belonging
  • Pursue more ways for people to connect to community and more places to develop meaningful relationships
  • Gain expertise and relationships to engage in further research
  • Build stronger links to NorQuest College and the Edmonton Public Library as community resources
The research community will:
  • Have data related to social capital, loneliness and belonging
  • Have research results that will inform community practice and policy
  • Elevate their position to collaborate with other researchers

This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Other project information

Project coordinator
  • Colette Cornejo

  • Marlene Mulder
    Principal Investigator, Research Analyst,
    NorQuest College Research Office

  • Bob Marvin
    Principal Investigator, Emeritus,
    NorQuest College

Research partner
  • Edmonton Public Library

For more information