Reflecting on Community-Engaged Scholarship in Canada
By Eaton Fellow Lucia Klencakova and guest contributor Dr. Matt Rogers from the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research.
In March 2022, PhD researcher Lucia Klencakova from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s University began a research exchange placement at the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research (MMFC) in Fredericton (the University of New Brunswick, Canada). The Frederik and Catherine Eaton Foundation Fellowship supports educational and research activities and mobility in the context of developing and maintaining academic links between both universities. Lucia’s expertise is in intimate partner violence (IPV) among young people, child protection and relationship education, and as such she was selected to collaborate and to engage in the community initiatives.
About the MMFC
The MMFC was established in 1993 and together with four other sites, is a member of the national Alliance of Canadian Research Centres on Gender-Based Violence. The mission of the MMFC is to sponsor activities that contribute to the eradication of family violence, domestic and intimate partner violence (D/IPV), and violence against women and children.
The MMFC supports researchers who investigate a variety of topics, such as violence across the lifespan, disability, religion and violence, as well as the intersection of intimate partner violence and the workplace. The Centre provides infrastructure support for multidisciplinary research, scholarly and community-based engagement, conferences and workshops, and public education initiatives. The MMFC’s dedication to knowledge transfer and mobilisation (with a focus on action-oriented research methods, applied research, community engagement, and service and policy analysis) has earned it a prominent reputation and standing in the field of D/IPV research.
MMFC-facilitated research frequently aims to initiate institutional and discursive change, critical policy revision and development, and community- engaged action. These works have allowed the MMFC to play an important role both in academia and also in broader social, professional, and political Canadian contexts. To this end, Lucia’s knowledge synthesis and mobilisation initiative aligned with the centre’s mission.
During the fellowship, Lucia delivered a presentation, introducing her research, through which she gained numerous invaluable contacts in the field across Canada. She also led community conversations with frontline workers about the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on their work; organised a roundtable discussion and wrote a report with a summary of key points, which was distributed among professionals in D/IPV relevant fields; and collaborated as well as co-authored this article with Dr. Matt Rogers (acting director of the MMFC) to bring attention to some of the most pressing D/IPV gaps and questions arising from these conversations.
One key theme brought up during these engagements, by leading experts in IPV-relevant fields across Canada, including community educators, social and healthcare professionals, academics, policy makers and government officials, was related to a ‘tick-box’, generic and information-driven approach towards professional training and IPV prevention. At the same time, they raised important issues about other gaps in the system that needed to be addressed namely: the White cis-heteronormative ideology; a lack of engagement and consistency from the government(s), including (mis)allocation of funding, as well as a lack of support and resources for frontline workers.
However, as professionals who have dedicated months, years and some even decades addressing D/IPV, we were in agreement that it is time for a new approach towards professional development, one that is people and skill-centered. Professionals are often faced with an enormous amount of information and their capacity to respond is being diminished by having minimal or a distorted idea of how to respond and/or no support to do so. Hence, the training ought to build relevant skills and capabilities that empower professionals to respond to D/IPV, more specifically, relevant to their job positions as well as their own life.
Professional training should aim to train allies for D/IPV victims of all ages, backgrounds and identities while simultaneously considering professionals’ own safety when filing a report. Furthermore, professional holistic training consolidates information, provides relevant resources and tools, and ensures that training fits within the larger framework of collaborations. We must understand, ideally through feedback, how these resources serve target audiences as well as professionals who are the safe space for victims and peers/colleagues, recognising that we are all capable of harm by for instance, not responding to D/IPV cases appropriately or not believing. This is a huge learning curve for us as a collective to leave hierarchies and expertise behind, and start asking instead “how can I best support you or your experience?”
In conclusion, engaging the community in research enhances public involvement and collaborations. It allows research to contribute in practical ways to change and influence existing policies and practices, and fosters new partnerships with immediate access to information (i.e. through reports produced after every meeting). Indeed, these community-driven research relationships left us with important points to consider that we discussed in previous paragraphs; however, we were also left with the following questions about D/IPV-related services and research in the Canadian (and perhaps international) context:
- What resources do professionals need in order to respond differently and how can we give them these resources?
- In an ideal scenario, what do children, young people and families need to respond to D/IPV or to respond differently?
- What should healthy relationship education look like (perhaps something that Relationship and Sexual Education is currently not addressing)?
- How can research and policy help specifically in achieving our objectives?
About the Authors
Lucia Klencakova is a Horizon 2020 funded Marie Skłodowska-Curie doctoral training programme fellow whose research interests are in interpersonal violence prevention and interventions for young people in education.
The featured image has been provided by the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre.