Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Community Development (2004 to 2014)

In September 2004, I was awarded my university’s first Canada Research Chair in my field of research, sustainable community development (CRC). My first five years of research explored the meaning of place, limits, scale and diversity for Canadian communities. In 2009, my Chair was renewed for another five years and ended in September 2014. During the last five years, we explored the meaning and relationship between resilience, anticipatory governance and innovation. Main ideas and overviews of the what we learned are summarized and displayed through our meta-analysis and visualizations series and this animation. Similar to my other research projects, I assembled a team of young scholars and colleagues, and the governance of this ten-year research agenda can be found here. During my Chair, I was also deeply committed to communicating my research as it was happening on the ground, and from the beginning led a series of real-time virtual e-Dialogues on diverse subjects, all of which have been archived for younger scholars, community leaders and decision-makers. We also launched in 2004 a series of asynchronous conversations, called Canada: Critical Public Policy Forums and more recently, have produced three policy action agendas for Canadian decision-makers.

I learned that the majority of Canadians care very deeply about the places in which they live, but that their memories of these places often do not reflect what is happening in their communities, the large patterns that are affecting communities everywhere—the critical loss of biodiversity and climate change impacts. As well, I don’t believe we are asking the right questions—is there a critical scale of human activity, are there industries we should no longer be involved in, what are the characteristics of place that we wish to sustain and how do we sustain them, and many other key questions that affect us? Our research does not end at this stage, although the government funding which supported us does, and thus, we are continuing our research journey as Communities Research Connections,

Three immediate projects that we worked on were Places + Spaces, Changing the ConversationMC3: Meeting the Climate Change Challenge, and The Solutions Agenda.

CRC Governance and Team

Over the course of my ten-year research agenda, I have had the privilege of working with a remarkable inter and trans-disciplinary team of colleagues and young people. I have often remarked that there is no such thing as expertise in sustainable development, as it is beyond any one sector, any one level of government and any one discipline to solve, thus, it is inherently inter- and trans-disciplinary, and needs the mobilization of vast amounts of social innovation to implement. Since it is so inherently collaborative, I chose to assemble a Board and several committees upon which to draw trans-disciplinary advice and direction.

The CRC Board of Directors was instrumental in setting the overall research direction and ensuring the policy-relevance of our research outcomes. We were also assisted by a Steering Committee who advised on the development of tools that would assist Canadian communities in their decision-making. The Social Media Committee was invaluable in the launch of our social media site in 2010, HEADTalks. And finally, the Arts Committee was established in late 2012 to explore the role of art and aesthetics in communicating sustainable community development across the country. Due to lack of funding, we were unable to move this project forward, but will continue this work under the umbrella of the Community Research Connections program.

My research team included three of RRU’s first three post-doctoral scholars and their collaboration was essential to moving the research agenda forward as fast as we did for a small university for which there were no known protocols. I am immensely grateful to them for their brilliance, dedication and commitment to my Chair. Dr. Lenore Newman ensured we had an extensive publishing record, among many other things, and is now a Canada Research Chair in Food and the Environment at the University of the Fraser Valley. Dr. Levy Waldron brought a natural science perspective to our work, and significantly advanced our website presence. Levi is now head of his own lab, the Waldron Lab, for health bioinformatics at the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College, New York. Dr. Chris Ling introduced a critical landscape dimension and ecological dimension to the research team. He is now leading the School of Environment & Sustainability at Royal Roads University.

I have also had the privilege of working with former students, Rob Newell and Chris Strashok. Rob Newell was integral to so many aspects of my work, and I will mention three aspects he led—our social media projects, the data visualizations and the Patterns of our Footsteps blogs. His contributions to my research were outstanding, and I am delighted that he is now pursuing his doctoral studies in the Dept. of Geography at the University of Victoria. Chris Strashok brings his expertise in computer modeling and simulation, sustainable community development and chemical engineering.

Besides experimenting with novel ways of research dissemination, I have also been exploring new ways of doing research, working with Sustainability Solutions Group, and its two principals, Yuill Herbert and Rebecca Foon. A research/practitioner model, we have continuously explored working together on key projects which I believe are our most policy-relevant outcomes—the Policy Agenda for Canadian Municipalities, An Action Agenda for Rethinking Growth and Prosperity, Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation: An Action Agenda for BC Decision-Makers, and the Solutions Agenda. We also worked on a joint research project on behalf of the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), report entitled Co-operatives and Sustainability: An investigation into the relationship.

And last but not least, the staff of my university have supported my research through thick and thin, invaluable support through the best of times and the worst of times—Dr. Steve Grundy, Vice-President, Research, Dr. Mary Bernard, Associate Vice-President of Research, and her staff in the Office of Research, Evelyn Goedhart, Deborah Zornes and Isabella Cordua von-Specht. My website and social media presence would not have happened without the IT and media support of Shelley Finnerty and her team, and Tony Ruffolo, Dan Anton and Dave Adams.

Past Research Team, Collaborators, and Committees

Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Community Development Tools