A showcase of NorQuest ingenuity and innovation
September 18, 2018
A NorQuest research team has taken one of the college’s most ambitious studies to a global audience, setting a possible precedent on how the world views social capital as a means to building a better life for marginalized people.
Principal Investigator Marlene Mulder, former NorQuest Social Work Instructor Robert Marvin (retired), and Colette Cornejo, a Field Coordinator with the Better Life Project, presented findings from the study Determinants of Social Capital and Differential Success: Building a Better Life to an international conference of social workers at a summer conference Dublin Ireland.
“It was amazing. We submitted four abstracts, thinking maybe we will be asked to present one,” says Mulder. “But we were asked to present three oral presentations and then a poster presentation, so all four were accepted,” she adds, noting that they were even asked to take part in a podcast to discuss their research.
“There was a lot of interest not just in our findings but about our methodology for conducting community-based research, which is quite distinct. It really did get NorQuest’s name out there.”
That methodology, in part, came down to using student research assistants who have “lived experiences” in one or more of seven categories: poverty, homelessness, substance abuse, incarceration, trauma of war relocation, being a new Canadian, and/or research experience. The researchers conducted 606 face-to-face interviews, 50 focus groups, and produced three life map case studies over three years. They worked extensively with community agencies in Edmonton for almost a year before submitting an application for funding to the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).
As Jeremiah Bašurić, a Community Engagement Coordinator with the Mustard Seed, an Edmonton inner-city non-profit serving people experiencing poverty and homelessness, puts it:
“This research project, I felt, made our organization a partner from the beginning. We were able to contribute to the design and implementation. Also, the data collection itself was an empowering and humanizing experience. The researchers were part of the community, literally, and made the experience very comfortable.”
The research provides evidence that community agencies can utilize to support marginalized people in their development of social capital. It has also helped NorQuest build strong community relationships and position the college’s expertise in community based research.
“We did a lot of research beforehand and looked at 50 different measures of social capital,” says Mulder. “When we got the data back from the interviews, those measures were significantly correlated so I was able to create a social capital index.”
That index allows social capital to be quantifiably measured. The elements that form the index (feelings of loneliness, feelings about others, feelings about self, trust for others, community engagement) provide understanding of strengths and areas where support is needed to build a better life.
“For example, we were able to find out that Indigenous Peoples’ distrust for agencies and experiences of loneliness are high, but they have pretty good feelings about self.”
Information like that is an important tool when looking for ways to help people, strengthening individuals and communities, which is a hallmark outcome for NorQuest College in everything it does.
Next up for the team is a community celebration to mark completion of the three-year study. That will take place in December at Edmonton’s city hall where the team will share their results.