Turning Ideas into Solutions
Several times a year, Memorial faculty, staff and students pile into a bus – sometimes a plane – and take to the highways and rural roads of Newfoundland and Labrador armed with a stockpile of flipcharts and markers.
They are off to a Harris Centre-hosted regional workshop, one of the centre’s cornerstone activities in its regional policy and development work. The workshops are made possible through the support of the Harris Centre-RBC Water Research and Outreach Fund.
The journey to a regional workshop begins weeks, or months, before the team actually heads out on the road. It starts with Amy Tucker-Jones, knowledge mobilization co-ordinator with the Harris Centre. It is Amy who identifies the region to visit and works with local community leaders to form the organizing committee for each workshop. She spends countless hours on the phone with community members and leaders learning about their concerns, challenges and opportunities unique to their place on the map.
“Each area of our province faces challenges and possesses assets that are specific to them, and the workshop needs to reflect that,” said Amy. “People around the province have great ideas and they are different for each region. We want to help find solutions and research opportunities that will be of real benefit, so it’s important that regional workshops are tailored to the area we are visiting.”
Local planning committees set the themes of the regional workshops. From there, Amy searches every nook and cranny at Memorial for interested students, staff and faculty to join the travelling team to listen, learn and share ideas about how to improve quality of life for residents in that particular region.
“The workshops are true information sharing,” said Amy. “Memorial researchers learn about the needs of specific areas of the province and how their work can help find solutions for a community. But the community also gets to learn about research being done at Memorial, and about the opportunity for university researchers to work on problems or issues facing them. In some cases, the regional workshop is the first time community leaders understand and realize that our researchers may be an avenue to help.”
Amy’s efforts don’t end on the road; in fact, in many ways the regional workshop is just the beginning. Once back at the offices on the St. John’s campus, Amy and the Harris Centre team keep the wheels moving, brokering projects and opportunities raised at the workshop. She follows up with workshop attendees, fields calls and ideas from community leaders and stakeholders, and connects them with resources, researchers and expertise at Memorial. This work has resulted in hundreds of applied research projects affecting every region of this province – from the tip of Labrador to the toe of the Burin Peninsula and all areas in between.
The breadth and scope of the projects are as varied as the regions and the stakeholders attending. For example, a workshop held on the Burin Peninsula saw 18 Memorial faculty, students and staff meet with 35 community representatives. From that workshop alone, two significant research projects were brokered with Memorial researchers, in the areas of tourism and health care, and the work is still ongoing. A regional workshop that took place in Port aux Basques saw the story of local heroine Ann Harvey turned into a play that toured the province for several summers, creating employment while preserving local history.
“It’s a lot of work organizing regional workshops and doing the followup work, but it is extremely rewarding. There is no other job that would let me travel our great province and meet the amazing people that I do,” said Amy, who has both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geography from Memorial. “I’m happy to be working in the province and to be able to help people find answers to their questions through research at Memorial.”
The Harris Centre marks its 10th anniversary this year. With 26 regional workshops on the books, Synergy Sessions, Memorial Presents forums and $1.5 million granted to applied research projects in Newfoundland and Labrador, it is apparent the centre is an important link between Memorial and the people of the province.
Memorial University has a special obligation to Newfoundland and Labrador, and in many ways, the work of the Harris Centre helps bring that responsibility to life. The centre is Memorial’s primary conduit for regional development and public policy, connecting local and regional issues with the information, resources and people to make a difference in communities.
Planning is already underway for the next round of regional workshops, including determining which regions to visit and forming the planning committees. Early in the New Year, another group of Memorial faculty, staff and students, recruited by Amy, will hit the road to visit a community and hear their concerns first-hand. It’s regional and rural development in action, and it’s how the Harris Centre connects the university with communities to make things happen.