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The Maturing of a Movement: CUExpo 2015 in Ottawa

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by Dr. Budd L Hall

In 1998, the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council created the funding mechanism called the Community University Research Alliance, which began what is called the institutionalisation period of community, based participatory research in Canada.  For the first time the funders required that all research applications had to be made by an alliance of community and higher education researchers.  That decision had a profound impact on a generation of researchers in both community and higher education settings who wanted to see their work linked to action for the improvement of the lives of those most in need in our society.  That decision had ripples elsewhere in the world as community based participatory researchers working in Europe, Latin America, Asia and elsewhere identified funding of this kind as a critical ingredient in building a movement of community university research partnerships or a way to strengthen knowledge democracy.  In 2003, the University of Saskatchewan organised the first Community-University Exposition as a means of drawing together all of the CURA funding recipients.  The keynote speaker for the event wasn’t an academic, it was a global civil society leader, Stephen Lewis.

Little did we know at the time that the 2003 CUExpo would become the most important space for the care and feeding of a burgeoning movement of action researchers.  Winnipeg hosted CUExpo in 2005, Victoria in 2008 (where both GACER and Community Based Research Canada were born), Kitchener-Waterloo in 2011, Grenfell, Newfoundland in 2015 and Ottawa, the nation’s capital in 2015. What is more, CUExpo has been a space that has drawn a substantial number of international presenters.  The Ottawa event attracted 350 participants from 15 countries attracted by what the convenor, Dr. Edward T. Jackson of Carleton University, notes as the, “genius in combining citizen and academic knowledge to make a better world”.

CUExpo 2015 marks the maturing of the Canadian movement.  While the institutionalisation phase is still incomplete across Canada, the questions of impact, quality, policy influence, training, and the de-colonisation of knowledge have moved to the top of the agenda for attention.  Major funding foundations were present.  The two largest Federal granting councils were there.  Major voices in movements for social justice held our attention and announcements of important new publications and projects were announced.

The keynote by Dr. Dawn Harvard of the Native Women’s Association of Canada on the fate of 1200 Indigenous women who have ‘disappeared’ presumed murdered and whose fate has still not been the subject of a national inquiry by the current Canadian government had the room at hushed attention ending with tears as Dr. Harvard told us that when her young daughter asked her if the stories of the murder of so many Indigenous murders meant that she was at risk, she had to respond, “Yes”.

Community based research is increasingly accepted as one of the means for advancing issues of social justice, for addressing challenges in our communities and for building a stronger and more just nation.  Challenges are perhaps even more visible than before however.  The persistence of underfunding of the research capacities of the CSO sector compared with higher education is disturbing.  Research on CBR that indicates that only 15 per cent of joint research projects originate in the community after all these years of talk is a concern.

Our UNESCO Chair was proud to have been a partner of CUExpo 2015 and offers its congratulations to Dr. Jackson and the terrific team in Ottawa for so wonderfully allowing us to demonstrate that we are indeed ‘growing up’.  In a world so filled with individual and collective tragedy and pillage, the strengthening of our movement is good news.

You can read more about the daily events at CUExpo, 2015 at: http://unescochair-cbrsr.org/unesco/category/canada-event/

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