Inspiring Change: Access Alliance celebrates a decade of transformative research

Informative, inspiring, celebratory … these are the words attendees used to describe the event Research for Change: Celebrating and Advancing 10 Years of Transformative Research. And what a cause for celebration! On April 27th, Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Organization marked a significant milestone: one decade of accomplishments in community-based, -led, and -located research.

Past and present collaborative partners with the Community-Based Research (CBR) Department were in attendance, 65 research and policy makers, academic and community partners, past placement students, volunteers, and Access Alliance staff and peer researchers in all. After all, this was a celebration of their work as well. Attendees were invited to share in Access Alliance’s learnings, accomplishments, recent and upcoming initiatives, and to use this occasion to network and discover collaborative opportunities with Access Alliance and amongst themselves. The shared history in the room was palpable.

Giving a jump start to the afternoon, Executive Director of Access Alliance Axelle Janczur reflected on the history of CBR carried out by the agency: the move towards basing research around those most vulnerable groups in Toronto, establishing partnerships within those communities, and then investing in their own capacity-building.

“(Access Alliance) was engaged in producing knowledge that would apply, and quickly found that the research paradigm and methodology excluded the voices of those most impacted by research findings.”

– Axelle Janczur, Executive Director

However, this meant first establishing CBR as an organizational priority. Dr. Yogendra Shakya, the Senior Research Scientist who took on this leadership role, spoke about how the CBR department has been shaped into what it is today, reflecting on the impact of the past decade of commitment to research and advocacy undertaken by Access Alliance. Their work on precarious employment, immigrant and refugee mental health, and healthcare access for non-insured and non-status communities represent only a handful of the initiatives undertaken by the agency over the years. See a more comprehensive snapshot here.

The panel discussion involved three noteworthy experts in their field, representing the diversity of stakeholders and partners of Access Alliance: Dr. Michaela Hynie of the Centre for Refugee Studies and the York Institute for Health Research, Jacquie Maund of the Association of Ontario Health Centres (AOHC), and Mohamed Malik of Peel Children’s Aid and the Ministry of Children and Youth Services.

Each spoke meaningfully on their unique experiences working alongside Access Alliance on research and advocacy, and provided their perspectives on the impact of this work on their agencies and more broadly in the field of CBR.

“…my learning about CBR and its principles of collaboration and partnership influences my practice today as a child protection worker supporting the child welfare sector with the settlement of Syrian Refugees.”

– Mohamed Malik

“AOHC benefitted by using their research and personal stories in our policy and advocacy work”

– Jacquie Maund, speaking on the impact of precarious work on health.

Panelists were succinct when it came to describing the success factors which characterize CBR at Access Alliance: they keep their ear to the ground when it comes to issues emerging in the community, they are able to report this research back in a way that truly reflects the personal experiences of the people thus bridging the gaps dividing research sectors while simultaneously creating a community, and they truly live the principles of CBR.

“By remaining true to their vision they have built tremendous capacity, have developed a reputation that draws others to their work, and are ahead of the game when it comes to thinking about participatory action research in health.”

– Dr. Michaela Hynie, whose research explores social inclusion and resilience in situations of social conflict and displacement.

Round table discussions also precipitated some valuable insights on the future of CBR in Toronto. Participants pointed out the significance of moving away from the binary narrative of CBR vs. ‘other’ research. CBR avoids many of the ethical challenges of traditional academic research with its socially-conscious, empowering, and participatory focus.

This celebratory gathering hit all the right notes for a successful event by initiating debate, providing food for thought, networking, reflection and acknowledging accomplishment. It is clear that Access Alliance has been and continues to be a strong leader when it comes to CBR. However, perhaps more importantly, as demonstrated through the prioritization of and commitment to partnerships developed over the years, the agency is an even stronger team player. Yet, as Dr. Shakya maintained, this is only the beginning.

“We are going to step up our game. And we call on all of you, wherever you work, to also step it up and become life-long champions of community based transformative model of research.”

– Dr. Yogendra Shakya, Sr. Research Scientist

Research Priorities/Evidence Gaps Identified through Round Table Discussions

  • Intervention research (to improve effectiveness of health equity programs/services)
  • Aging racialized men
  • Greater focus on mental health
  • Violence & community safety
  • Early child growth and development (impacts of adverse experiences)
  • More community engagement
  • More collaboration in data collection

The following agencies were in attendance: AOHC, Black Creek Community Centre, CAMH, Colour of Change, KCWA Family and Social Services, NAIFA, Supporting Our Youth (SOY), OCASI, Peel Children’s Aid, Ryerson University, Social Planning Toronto, St. Stephen’s Community House, Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network, Toronto Public Health, Unison, University of Toronto (Dalla Lana School of Public Health, School of the Environment), WACC, Wellesley Institute, Working Women, and York University