Extending Social Science Research Partnerships to Canada’s North: A Mitacs Panel

June 4, 2021
Valerie Leow, J.D. Candidate, University of Alberta

Congress 2021 blog edition

Mitacs, an independent, not-for-profit organization that fosters global growth and innovation, hosted a two-part session entitled, “Developing Research Partnerships in Canada’s North – Opportunities and Challenges: How Social Sciences Can Contribute,” at Congress. The first part was available as an on-demand pre-recorded 32-minute video to watch before the live Q&A session on Thursday, June 3, 2021 that comprised the second part. The pre-recorded video examined research partnerships between Mitacs, academia, and for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. At the live Q&A session, the three panelists who were featured in the pre-recorded video spoke on their process for developing relationships during their research partnerships; their experiences working in co-construction; how they ensured that their research was driven by the needs of the community; and the importance of youth involvement, capacity building, and knowledge mobilization in research.

The live Q&A session was moderated by Vice President of Strategic Markets at Mitacs Duncan Phillips. To start, Sarah Fairlie, Business Development Director of Social Innovation at Mitacs, provided a brief overview of the organization and encouraged all who were interested in partnering with Mitacs – be it in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields or the SSH (social sciences and humanities) disciplines – to reach out, as they are currently accepting applications.

Eva Wu, a Director on the Board of Directors of the Arctic Youth Network, described the Arctic Youth Network as a youth-founded and youth-led not-for-profit organization that supports an international network of youth in capacity-building and developing international cooperation. Its goal is to let youth “drive their own interests” in pursuing the issues that they think are the most pressing, even from the comfort of their own homes. Since the organization has members spread out across many different countries, and due to the organization’s heavy reliance on volunteer-based individuals and teams, who may also simultaneously be focusing on their own work or studies while engaging in this volunteer work, Wu characterized the Arctic Youth Network as having previously struggled to provide sufficient support and resources to their volunteers. However, the Arctic Youth Network’s partnership with Mitacs has increasingly allowed it to bring more members onto the team on a paid-basis as interns in order to give them greater ability to fully dedicate themselves to their projects.

Alumni Team Lead for the Students on Ice Foundation Lynda Brown spoke on some of the outreach strategies employed by Students on Ice, a not-for-profit organization that leads educational expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic aimed at high school and university students. Students on Ice places a strong emphasis on networking, and developing and maintaining close connections with youth and the community. “It’s better to build connections ahead of time before attempting to get people on board,” said Brown. She also considered “what keeps getting forgotten”: the concept of ‘access.’ As an example, she compared the differences in the means of reaching youth and getting your message out in northern communities as compared to, say, Ontario in the south of Canada. According to Brown, if you want to reach people in the north, you should put your message out on the radio, put up posters around the community, or pick up the phone and directly call people. In contrast, people in the south of Canada tend to rely more on emails or social media posts, which tend to get ignored in the north.

CEO and Operations Director of the Arctic Research Foundation Adrian Schimnowski testified to the value of teamwork and cooperation in his work with the Arctic Research Foundation, a private not-for-profit organization focused on developing new scientific infrastructure for the Canadian Arctic through the operation of research vessels and self-powered mobile labs that run on green energy, solar and wind in particular. “When I am in the north, I am a visitor. The people in the community know their land best, so I make sure to learn from them,” said Schimnowski. In his view, part of the Arctic Research Foundation’s work involves listening to the communities in the north and learning about their concerns, having an open mind towards the arts and culture that they have to offer, and inviting Elders to pass on their knowledge to youth through hands-on learning and acting as the youths’ guides to the north. “To run a program, it really takes partnership, expertise. Elders often say you can’t go out on the land alone. You have to work with a team.”