On extended access to research: an interview with a community scholarPublished by Alison Moore
This blog post was contributed by Rebecca Zakreski, SFU co-op student librarian.
The Community Scholars Program, initiated and coordinated by SFU Library, provides access to academic publications to employees of charities and non-profits in the local communities of six BC universities. Each Community Scholar is an individual working within the charity/non-profit sector who is interested in accessing the latest research and knowledge to enhance their practice. The program also offers participants the ability to consult with a dedicated librarian, and attend tailored workshops and other events. The current phase of the Community Scholars Program connects 500 individuals to seven publishers' materials through an enhanced search interface.
Community Scholars work in a variety of sectors including social and legal services, the arts, human rights and social justice, housing, physical and mental health, sustainability and conservation. Community engagement and knowledge mobilization are two of the key approaches in SFU’s Strategic Vision, and this program encompasses both by creating space for access to academic research outside of academia. A long-term goal of the program is that nonprofit organizations are using, producing, and sharing current research to develop their capacity and impacts.
Each Community Scholar comes to the program with their own varied individual history, broadly bringing diverse education and employment backgrounds, and specifically bringing a wide range of experience, and of familiarity with and access to scholarly works.
We were able to interview a Community Scholar, in order to gain a glimpse into the perspective of a participant and hear their thoughts on various aspects of the program. Read our interview below with Gord Tulloch of posAbilities, an organization that provides a broad range of services to persons with developmental disabilities and their families, through a team of approximately 600 employees that serve more than 1,200 children and adults in Metro Vancouver and other parts of BC (posAbilities - Our History, n.d.). Gord explains how access to scholarly publications fits in to the work he does with posAbilities, and why it’s important for community organizations to have access to scholarly publications.
Interview with Gord Tulloch of posAbilities, Community Scholar
How does research in general fit in to the work that you do?
Generally, research isn’t part of service design or delivery when it comes to community living services to adults with intellectual disabilities. Apart from involvement in participatory research programmes, organizations like ours don’t typically have the capacity to access or metabolize research. posAbilities is an exception because for the past decade we have been engaged in social research and development as part of a deep partnership with two peer organizations, Kinsight and Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion, and with a service design studio, InWithForward.
Services to children and youth with support needs are a different story because their staff tend to have professional designations and are expected to stay abreast of current literature and best practice trends.
How does access to scholarly research contribute to the work that you do?
Our sector has been spinning its wheels for decades when it comes to things like inclusion, belonging, human flourishing, etc. Despite the vaunted rhetoric of community organizations, too many of our demographic are languishing. Part of the reason is because there is little sophistication around how we approach our vision.
The Community Scholars Program (CSP) provides access to literature critical for contemplating complex issues. For example, in the past year I’ve been reading literature on human flourishing—including beauty, creativity, humour, and the sacred—not only from a Western worldview, but also including Indigenous and African perspectives. Such topics and epistemological approaches are incredibly important, and yet social services typically lack language or intention around them. Worse, social service environments are often sterile and transactional spaces which can undermine goals around well-being.
We are also interested in system change and so we are looking to the literature for clues. This search is broader than the innovation literature, which can sometimes be quite superficial. It also includes examining the moral and philosophical foundations of our work, the role of language and culture, and so on.
How do you incorporate scholarly research into your work?
Thanks to a partnership with InWithForward, we have a pool of designers available to translate evidence-based theories into concrete interactions. We use theories of change/action to identify the determinants of outcomes we are after—such as better mental health, more independence, meaningful employment, embracing lifelong learning, reducing stigma, etc.—and then we design interactions accordingly. Theories of change guide not only our prototypes, but they’ve played a role in newer services such as Building Caring Communities (e.g. social ecology theory). Our most recent example of a theory of action is with Curiko, a virtual and in-person community that our partnership is scaling across BC, and which is all about creating moments of connection that lead to human flourishing.
More recently we have begun to find theories of change too linear and mechanistic when grappling with complex issues and so we’re hoping to develop a theoretical approach which, while still rigorous in research and design, leaves more room for ambiguity, paradox and emergence.
This year we are particularly interested in how roles and relationships crystallize structures and how they can be disrupted to create new configurations of possibilities for organizations and for systems. We draw inspiration from Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari for this work and hope to partner shortly with an academic to run a series of small experiments. The goal is to see if we can destabilize traditional roles and usual ways of relating in order to produce “lines of flight” for both staff, persons with disabilities, and family members—creating more horizontal, reciprocal and authentic relationships that might allow for people to escape oppressive or restrictive dynamics and open up new ways of being and working together.
We have also just begun early-stage conversations with the Centre for Civic Religious Literacy in the hopes that we might engage in evidence-based learning around how to advance religious literacy for our constituency. The spiritual life is part of a flourishing life, however one defines it for oneself (religious, spiritual, non-religious), and our duty is to figure out how to support people on their journeys.
We are anticipating that both undertakings will not only draw from the literature, but also contribute to it.
What does the Community Scholars program make possible for you?
It does many things, though perhaps these are key:
- It provides an inexhaustible supply of ideas, theories, frameworks and mindsets with which to contemplate complex issues and act. This is important not only for its own sake, but because it allows us to get distance on the paradigm we’re stuck in, along with all the recycled rhetoric and dogmatism that accompanies it.
- It makes it possible to broaden our networks to include researchers and thinkers who are passionate about similar issues, and who can work with us to develop new praxis.
What were your past experiences accessing scholarly publications?
Prior to the Community Scholars Program, and excepting our Laurel Behaviour Support Services, I can only recall one instance where we paid for three articles that seemed most relevant to something we were planning. Not only does pay-to-play limit the volume of research we might access, but it also limits the breadth of research (there is no joyous hopscotch from author-to-author and idea-to-idea). It also precludes an organization from creating any competencies or habits around using research.
Of course, there are many reasons for the gulf between research and practice, but access to research is obviously a significant one.
Why is it important for community organizations to have access to scholarly publications?
Without access to diverse ideas, frameworks, methods, and approaches, organizations will continue to produce the same sorts of outputs and outcomes. We will continue to formulate the problem in the same way, apply the same moldy assumptions (most of which are submerged), and regard the prevailing logic(s) as common sense. Of course, we need more than epistemological inputs, we also need things like new principles and purposes, new capacities, and new ways for the constituencies we serve to be involved in governance. But the CSP can’t solve all our problems.
If you have any publications, links, reports, or upcoming events that you'd like to share with the readers, please feel free to include them!
The last several years of research and development led to the publication of our book, The Trampoline Effect: Redesigning our Social Safety Net (2020), co-authored by Sarah Schulman, principal of InWithForward, and myself. We also have other links available on our website.
We want to thank Gord for his thoughtful and thorough responses to our questions! If you are interested in the Community Scholars program, you can visit their homepage. You can also reach out directly to Heather De Forest, SFU’s Community Scholars Librarian at firstname.lastname@example.org.
posAbilities—Our History. (n.d.). posAbilities. Retrieved February 24, 2023, from https://www.posabilities.ca/our-experience-so-far-a-timeline-of-innovation/
SFU Engage. (n.d.) SFU’s Strategic Vision Background. Retrieved March 2, 2023, from https://www.sfu.ca/engage/background.html