New project brings Social Science research to the community

May 10, 2022

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A new project launched by the Faculty of Social Science and led by the Network for Economic and Social Trends will give community organizations access to high-quality research, and provide research experience for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows outside of academia.

The Social Science Community Research Consultancy has received funding from Western’s Strategic Priorities Fund. In support of key priorities outlined in Western’s new strategic plan—Towards Western @ 150—the University is investing $20 million in one-time funding for initiatives and activities that will contribute to and further the plan’s strategic commitments.

The research consultancy aligns with the goals of the strategic plan through strengthening the university’s connection to the community and providing paid, experiential learning opportunities for students and postdoctoral fellows.

The Research Consultancy will connect teams of researchers in Social Science – graduate students and postdoctoral fellows , led by faculty members – with non-profit organizations, government departments, and the private sector with research needs for evidence-based decision making.

“Organizations and government departments need to have evidence supporting their activities. This evidence base is required for decision making on what projects to launch and how to structure them, and once they are running, for determining impact,” said Victoria Esses, Director of NEST.

“I often speak to faculty members looking for opportunities to put their research findings into action in the wider community. This Consultancy will open the door to many new partnerships with not-for-profits, industry and governments, and will allow social scientists to increase the impact of their research by applying it to some of society’s toughest challenges,” said Marc Joanisse, Associate Dean Research for the Faculty of Social Science.

NEST has a track-record of community-based research, but there has not been a systematic approach to supporting or expanding these efforts. The Research Consultancy will provide this formal structure.

While the Strategic Priorities Fund support will help establish the Research Consultancy through two years of funding, the intent is for the Consultancy to become self-sufficient. A dedicated staff person will work to find contracts and maintain a directory of faculty members, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows interested in non-academic research and set up teams for specific projects. Every research team will be led by a faculty member.

“Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows don’t always want to go into academia,” said Esses. The research consultancy will “expand their career opportunities outside of academia through the skills, experience and connections that they will obtain, while at the same time contributing to our city, region and nation through the practical, rigorous social science research that will be conducted.”

While housed in NEST, the consultancy will be open to all researchers in Social Science and will provide interdisciplinary experience and research, taking advantage of skills from different departments.

“The Consultancy will be open to all members of the Faculty, and as a result it has the potential to have an impact across the full breadth of Social Science research here at Western,” said Joanisse.

“We want to be embedded in the community, to be accessible in the community,” said Esses. “We see it as a win-win. Our students and postdoctoral fellows get great experience, and organizations and government departments get our expertise to support their activities and planning.”