The following article was featured as the cover story of the Fall 2013 issue of Showcase: The Knowledge Mobilization Edition. View the complete publication at here.
Unique Trent Research Group Conducts Knowledge Mobilization in its Truest Form
The Evolution of the Health Environment and Indigenous Communities (HEIC) Research Collective
When Dr. Chris Furgal decided to unite his group of diverse graduate students and research assistants under one umbrella several years ago, he had no idea that the group would evolve into the dynamic formal research collective it has become today.
“These students, like me, are doing research which lies at the intersection of different disciplines and topics, so they don’t easily fit in one discipline,” says Professor Furgal, a professor in Trent’s Indigenous Environmental Studies program, who is cross-appointed between the Environmental Resource Science/Studies and Indigenous Studies Departments. “When I first formed the group, the intention was to provide a common collective and a supportive environment for graduate students and young researchers. It evolved when my students wanted to contribute and take on more, even above and beyond simply sharing their experiences and getting support for their own thesis projects.”
The graduate students, research assistants and postdoctoral fellows who make up the group are all studying or working under the supervision of Prof. Furgal and represent a variety of graduate programs, from the Indigenous Studies Ph.D. and the Environmental & Life Sciences M.Sc. and Ph.D., to the Sustainability Studies M.A. and the Canadian Studies & Indigenous Studies M.A programs. With 24 current members, the recently formalized Health Environment and Indigenous Communities (HEIC) research group is the second largest group of its kind at Trent.
Common Themes Unite Researchers
Inspired by the discovery of (sometimes surprising) commonalities between their research projects, students and researchers in the HEIC group gain motivation from the collective and interactive atmosphere the group provides.
“The group has facilitated and, to a degree, promoted common themes around research that no single student or researcher in the group could have taken on entirely by themselves,” says Prof. Furgal.
This pooling of collective experience, together with facilitating an exchange of communication of what they are learning, means students in the HEIC collective are working together to achieve knowledge mobilization in the truest sense of the word.
Group Interactions Spark Knowledge Mobilization
Prof. Furgal explains that, while some students’ projects directly explore issues of knowledge mobilization (for example, evaluating the communication of territorial health survey results to northern communities), knowledge mobilization is also a direct product of the interactions sparked within the HEIC group itself. A prime example of this is a new collective research paper, authored by members of the HEIC group around the importance of relationship in conducting research with and in Aboriginal communities, and how to communicate about this issue to different audiences and in different forms.
“Our relationships with the communities we work with is something we spend a lot of time discussing and learning about in the group and in our individual projects,” says Prof. Furgal. “It ties in directly with issues of research ethics and social responsibility. Good, ethical, responsible relationships are a goal and hopefully a result in our work with communities; they are not just a means through which we gather our data – and this is something we recognize and respect. We have learned a lot about the importance of relationship in the research we do and the group wanted to explore ways of sharing our collective learning on this topic with a broader audience.”
Taking Research Public
Highlighted in the paper, which has been submitted to the journal The Canadian Geographer for publication, are direct learnings from the research projects and experiences of several HEIC members. These projects include: a study on the ecology of a hunted population of beluga whales in the Arctic using both science and Indigenous Knowledge; an examination of goose ecology in a Northern Ontario First Nation where the management of the species could have potential impacts on the needs of residents who depend on the resource for food and culture; a study about the role of Indigenous Knowledge in developing environmental policy in Northern Labrador; and an examination of the implications of climate change on accidents and injuries while traveling on the sea ice for residents of an Arctic Inuit community.
Speaking of the common issues discussed in the paper, Prof. Furgal says: “It’s not just about the importance of relationship in getting the research done respectfully, but about how to communicate that importance to other researchers. My students recognized this critical element in their work and came together to share their experiences on this topic and learn from one another. This resulted in their creation of a collective research paper on this topic that draws on a diversity of related experiences they have had as young researchers. This opportunity came about as result of being part of this research collective. Together they have reflected on commonalities in their research to identify issues, generate possible solutions, and share their findings.”
Learn more about the HEIC group: www.heicresearch.com
Watch the video at http://goo.gl/pJolOa