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Volunteer sector partnering with MUN
Wanted: a few good researchers

Penelope Rowe (seated) is the director of the CURA. Dr. Larry Felt, (L) is CURA co-director, and Dr. Carla Wheaton, is a researcher with the Community Services Council.

The Community Services Council Newfoundland and Labrador (CSC) is exploring partnerships with Memorial researchers through a new project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

In 1998, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador published People, Partners and Prosperity: A Strategic Social Plan for Newfoundland and Labrador. This document highlighted the links between social and economic development, and also presented new policy proposals for investing in people and building on community and regional strengths. The Community University Research Alliance (CURA) is a three year project funded by SSHRC to allow CSC, an independent voluntary organization dedicated to promoting social and economic well-being, to evaluate the strategic social plan.

Penelope Rowe, chair of the CSC, said the groundbreaking strategic social plan "created a wonderful opportunity for some unique research."

She said the CURA program is "an effort on the part of SSHRC to enable academic researchers and community-based researchers to create partnerships which would benefit both the academic researchers in their links with communities and offer the opportunity for community based researchers to partner with academics who obviously have different sets of skills."

Dr. Larry Felt, a sociology professor at Memorial and a co-director of CURA, called the strategic social plan a "ground-up way of developing policy preferences that make sense."

Ms. Rowe said the $600,000 grant over three years is not enough to engage in a great amount of research. During the initial phase of CURA, representatives of community groups and researchers have been meeting to determine the long-term impact of the strategic social plan. "We spent the best part of the first year really laying the foundation, studying the background," she said. "The group is now following up with agencies that contributed to the strategic social plan to determine if they've noticed a change.

"A major objective of CURA is to create these partnerships and these relationships."

"It's capacity building and networking and partnering," added Dr. Felt.

Ms. Rowe said one of the challenges for the members of CURA is finding additional sources of revenue and new researchers to bring into the process.

"There are dozens and dozens of other pieces of research that we would really like to be doing and that some of the individual team members who are associated with us would like to be doing so we're always looking for additional resources."

Ms. Rowe suggested these are fertile research grounds for faculty members and graduate students.

"We spent the first year trying to put a solid foundation under the project … so that all of us will be coming into this research with a really good common understanding of what some of the factors were that lead to the development of the strategic social plan and we really felt that that was essential before we started to move on to some of our other pieces.

"We will see individual team members taking on pieces of research with some of their students. But any research we do under the aegis of CURA would be something that would be worked through the group."

Ms. Rowe said government's strategic social plan created the atmosphere for "some arms-length, multidisciplinary research around a whole series of elements of that strategic social plan. But our particular focus initially will be around the relationship of that plan with the voluntary community-based sector and how the functioning of that sector may be changed and altered in this new climate that we're operating in."

"If researchers want to ground themselves in some profound changers that are ongoing in this province and to do it in an interdisciplinary team context, this is a wonderful opportunity," said Dr. Felt. "If there are young researchers or graduate students that would be interested in some aspect of this, we'd like to hear from them."

For more information about this project. see the CSC Web site at www.envision.ca.

{Memorial University of Newfoundland}