Partnership research projects lead to a more relevant university

Universities are often viewed as removed from their communities. According to the “Foundations for Strategy and Practice” paper of the University Economic Development Association, a truly relevant university is one that has active and effective programs in the three realms of talent development, research and innovation, and stewardship of place.

At Lakehead University, many of our research projects relate directly to the communities and people who live there. Our catchment area is vast. We are the only university in Northwestern Ontario and Simcoe County, which together cover over 531,000 km2.

To serve these areas, we must get out of our comfort zone and offices and work on research and innovation projects throughout the region. Over the past two years, we have signed agreements with the cities of Thunder Bay, Orillia, and Sioux Lookout to identify research projects and questions that would be of mutual benefit to the university and these cities.

Oversight committees meet regularly to come up with ideas, and in Thunder Bay, a co-funded research program permits up to six research projects on an annual basis. These projects make the university and its partner cities very aware of each other’s priorities and allow them to become stronger advocates when engaging with provincial and federal governments.

Dr. Chris Sanders in the Department of Sociology, along with Dr. Kristin Burnett (Lakehead) and Dr. Kelly Skinner (Waterloo), are investigating the issue of Indigenous people who do not have Personal Identification (birth certificates, health cards etc.). Many people living in Northern Ontario do not have Personal Identification (PID) and without this documentation, they can’t access housing, education, banking, employment, and other essential programs and services.

Working with a community partner, Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic, the researchers will explore the systemic barriers to obtaining PID faced by people living in Northern Ontario, as well as the impact that the absence of PID has on the long-term health and well-being of people, by drawing on a social determinants of health framework.

One of the expected applied outcomes of this project will be to develop an ID service “tool kit” to build long-term community capacity in attaining PID. This study is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) “New Frontiers in Research Fund” and by a grant from the Lakehead University “Indigenous Research Capacity Development Program.”

Dr. Alana Saulnier, working at our Orillia campus, has partnered with the Durham Regional Police Service (DRPS) in Ontario to evaluate the effectiveness of body-worn cameras (BWC) worn by officers. The research produced through this partnership is critical to informing future police use of BWCs in Canada. There are several expected outcomes from this project including: 1) Officer perceptions of, and experiences with, BWCs and officer attitudes towards BWCs. Capturing data is essential to building BWC policy that is sensitive to officer concerns and cultivating implementation strategies that promote officer buy-in through attention to officer concerns and 2) public perceptions of BWCs and effects of BWCs on public interactions with DRPS officers.

An applied outcome of this project will be determining whether BWCs have effects on the distribution of prosecution resolutions (e.g., pro-prosecution vs. pro-defence outcomes) as well as timely resolutions. This partnership has received over $85,000 in funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada through a Partnership Engage Grant and an Insight Grant. The DRP service has also contributed funding so that Dr. Saulnier can devote more of her time to this important community-driven research project.

We value community partners in our research projects and believe they are making Lakehead a more relevant university.

Durham Regional Police Services and Dr. Saulnier Research team.