Community-Based Research Canada

Developing a Co-Curricular Research Shop Model: Q and A

In July’s CBRC Webinar, “How CBR Theory is Put into Practice – Developing a Co-Curricular Research Shop Model,” the audience asked some questions that could not be answered during the webinar. McMaster University has responded to your questions below!

What is the governance model for the Research Shop? Specifically, how does community voice inform the strategy, structure and objectives of the Research Shop? Are those formal or informal inputs?

When the Research Shop was established in 2015 it had a formal Advisory Committee, but since then many members have moved on to other roles and the Shop itself has had limited capacity to formally and regularly engage with stakeholders outside of day-to-day operations. As we adjust our model, we have been discussing renewing an advisory committee of some kind, which would likely include community members. The precise structure of this is in development and will be shaped in part by feedback we gather about different faculties’ needs around Community Based Research more broadly through Fall 2019.

At this point the Research Shop is governed by staff. The Research Shop Coordinator and Community-Based Research Coordinator meet weekly to discuss progress, troubleshoot issues, and to reflect on whether the Shop’s outcomes are in alignment with its vision. The Shop collects feedback about our model from community members and students through surveys administered at the end of each project, through follow-up calls with community partners 6-months after project completion, and, less regularly, at events hosted by our office. Recently, the Shop recruited a team of volunteer students to evaluate the Shop’s work by interviewing past volunteers, community partners, and staff, resulting in a list of actionable recommendations to make the Shop more accessible, inclusive, and relevant. The Shop is adaptive to this feedback, as well as to the Office of Community Engagement’s evolving vision, mission, and principles.

What have community partners gone on to do with the reports students completed? What have community partners found most useful about the research shop model?

Results from surveys and interviews with community partners suggest that the most common use for our reports is to inform strategy, providing clarity, alternatives, and next steps. Another common use is to inform internal and external stakeholders on the topic of interest, such as distributing the report as onboarding for discussions and/or distributing at conferences. Partners may also use our reports in developing grant applications and for providing grounding for future research.

Nearly all community partners have suggested that working with the Shop has given them access to research that they wouldn’t normally have the capacity to facilitate themselves. Several have articulated appreciation for access to enthusiastic volunteers and diverse research methods and for the ability to increase ties with McMaster.

Who are the persons/forces who decide how to shape each project of the research shop? Who works with the community partner to negotiate the scope of the project and research questions?

Research Shop staff work with community partners to scope projects, which typically consist of one or more in-person meetings. The Shop has a comprehensive list of criteria to ensure each project aligns with our vision and model, including:

  • the project provides community benefit,
  • the project serves a community organization that doesn’t normally have the resources to do research themselves,
  • the project will be adequately supported by the organization (e.g., access to data, orienting volunteers),
  • the shop has capacity to support the project (e.g., can feasibly be completed within one semester)
  • the project will broaden our office’s relations with the wider community (i.e., we haven’t worked with the organization before)
  • the project will offer a positive volunteer experience (e.g., exposes them to different data sets or research methodologies; networking opportunities)

Could we consult your Research Shop model and results anywhere?

Some details on our model can be found in our Resource for Community Partners. If you have any further questions, we welcome any inquiries and opportunities to collaborate. A sample of past Research Shop reports can be found on MacSphere, our institution’s online knowledge repository.

Does the Research Shop share documents and templates with the community (eg. templates for project agreements, the community partner application, etc.)?

The Research Shop has two documents openly available to the community on our website: 1) a Resource of Community Partners that outlines what we do, our criteria for selecting projects, and what a typical project life cycle looks like, and 2) a memorandum of understanding that outlines the expectations for community partners and the Research Shop when working on projects together.

Theme: Community-Engagement Involving Students

What is the role of students in the overall project, what types of support do they provide to community partners, and how does the Research Shop oversee or supervise student engagement? In addition, who are the team leads/supervisors for projects?

Research project teams are typically composed of 3-4 Research Associates and 1 Team Lead. Team Leads are typically graduate students with research and project management experience who have previously completed a Shop project with us. The Team Lead is primarily responsible for coordinating the team’s weekly research activities, including hosting weekly/bi-weekly team meetings, making sure responsibilities are distributed fairly, and monitoring progress; they also act as the primary liaison with the community partner. Research Associates are primarily responsible for “doing” the research and writing the final report. The Shop encourages teams to play on each member’s strengths and interests when dividing up tasks, e.g. one volunteer might primarily be involved in conducting interviews whereas another might spend most of their hours on the analysis.

The Coordinator oversees student engagement by facilitating introductions and research planning at the first team meeting, through weekly progress consultations with the Team Leads, and a mid-semester consultation meeting with the team. Team Leads are trained in basic project and conflict management but are encouraged to reach out to the Coordinator if there are any barriers to progress and/or difficulties with volunteers.

Is students’ involvement negotiated into the MOU with the community partner? What does this look like?

Yes. In the MoU and resources we send to our community partners we try to make it clear that the Research Shop offers access to an enthusiastic team of interdisciplinary student researchers, but that we cannot guarantee that they will be subject matter experts on the research topic at hand. We also make it clear that volunteers can commit an average of 5 hours/week to the project, that they’ll work with the partner to incorporate feedback on the deliverable, and that they’ll maintain a high standard of academic integrity, including conducting research ethically.

How do students become engaged with the research shop (through coursework, on their own initiative, or some other way)? What are students’ disciplinary backgrounds? How are students trained?

The Research Shop is a co-curricular program, meaning students volunteer on their own initiative. Each year we support students from each of the faculties, meaning we engage volunteers with a variety of disciplinary backgrounds ranging from mechanical engineering to global health policy to gender studies. The Coordinator is primarily responsible for training volunteers (e.g., research methods, plain-language writing) and usually takes the form of electronic/online readings and guides accompanied by in-person, hands-on training sessions.

Are you measuring learning outcomes for students? If so, what outcomes do you measure?

We send a survey to all volunteers upon project completion and measure the following learning outcomes: plain language writing, social science inquiry and research, searching academic databases, community engagement, knowledge of Hamilton context/issues, team work, searching for grey literature, policy analysis, survey design/analysis, interviews/focus group design and facilitation, and environmental scanning.

What are some examples of student projects that have been completed?

The following are a few examples of student projects. For further examples, a subset of past Research Shop reports can be found on MacSphere, our institution’s online knowledge repository.

  • Exploring a Greenway Network in Hamilton: In Summer 2016, a team of volunteers produced a scan of the literature on greenway infrastructure and implementation from Canadian, American, and European contexts in order to describe the benefits of greenways and offer some suggestions for how Hamilton might proceed with developing a local greenway strategy.
  • Assessing Adult Learners’ Barriers to Apprenticeships: In Fall 2018, a Research Shop team conducted interviews and focus groups to identify barriers and opportunities for adult learners to connect with apprenticeships. Findings will inform the Adult Basic Education Association and other literacy services to develop responsive programming to fill identified gaps.
  • Streamlining Data Collection in Social Services: In Winter 2019, a Research Shop team redesigned St. Matthew’s House’s program data collection tool. The redesigned tool will allow staff to triage clients to appropriate services more effectively, track their time spent with each client, and generate monthly and annual summaries for reporting.