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Research guides provincial decision-makers

By Rebecca Cohoe

Forget academics locked in ivory towers: at this year's Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador (MNL) Municipal Symposium, Memorial researchers were front and centre.

Held over three days in Gander, this year's event was an opportunity for municipal leaders from all over Newfoundland and Labrador to gather, share experiences and learn. And that learning element was where Memorial came into the picture.

MNL and Memorial have a strong history of working together to solve problems.
As Dr. Rob Greenwood, director of the Harris Centre explained. "Historically, local government has been weak in Newfoundland and Labrador relative to other provinces and most countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECP) but MNL is doing a lot to raise the level of local leadership and organizational capacity. This symposium is illustrative of how Memorial faculty, staff and students have partnered with municipalities across NL to help support informed municipal decision-making and community-engaged research."

The first day featured a presentation by the Department of Geography's Dr. Trevor Bell and graduate student Melanie Irvine. Along with Kimberley Bitterman, of the provincial department of Environment and Conservation, the two shared their work on creating a municipal climate change tool kit to help municipal leaders assess and plan for the impact of climate change in their respective communities.

On day two, Dr. Tom Cooper from Memorial's Faculty of Business Administration presented in partnership with Marg Ryan of Cal LeGrow- Baine Johnston Insurance. Dr. Cooper shared his findings on the critical issue of risk management in provincial municipalities, emphasizing the value of having a solid municipal plan in place to deal with the possibility of challenges before they happen.

The final day included presentations by economics professor Dr. Wade Locke and Dr. Greenwood.

Dr. Locke shared his analysis of municipal funding sources, including an exhaustive assessment of current sources of funding, as well as proposing new sources of income for municipalities, including income tax and sales tax, which could dramatically improve municipalities' ability to enhance community sustainability throughout the province.

Dr. Greenwood presented in partnership with Craig Pollett, executive director of MNL, Neil Dawe of Tract Consulting, and Jill Bennett of the Kittiwake Economic Development Corporation. The broad topic was planning for development, with much of the insight coming from two major provincial research projects, Rural-Urban Interaction in Newfoundland and Labrador: Understanding and Managing Functional Regions, and The Social Dynamics of Economic Performance: Innovations and Creativity in City Regions.

"The Harris Centre has worked closely with MNL since we started in 2004. MNL has played a leadership role in the province in fostering research and capacity building and has partnered with us on the project Rural-Urban Interaction in NL: Understanding and Managing Functional Regions," explained Dr. Greenwood.
In his presentation, he emphasized the importance of both understanding the social and economic realities of regions, and of putting policies in place that help to foster the sort of creative innovation that drives municipal success.

"The impact that Memorial research can have in the communities of this province is incredible. Municipalities are constantly asking the Harris Centre to connect them with Memorial researchers interested in researching the issues, challenges and opportunities they face," said Dr. Greenwood.

"When you look at the tangible influence these Memorial speakers are having across the province, it's evident: if you want to do research that will be heard, and that will, in many cases, inform policy and action, working in partnership with community organizations is your best bet," concluded Dr. Greenwood.