Public Policy, Faculty, Research

Faculty Profile: Judith Sixsmith, Public Policy

April 14, 2015

With a Masters in Environmental Psychology and PhD in Psychology from University of Surrey, SFU’s Public Policy professor, Judith Sixsmith joined SFU’s School of Public Policy in 2009 and says the department was an excellent fit with her commitment to community-based and interdisciplinary research.

Judith’s research centers on exploring the needs and challenges of people living in disadvantaged communities, people who have experienced processes of marginalization within social systems. “The complex problems in society demand more than one focus,” she says. “I believe they require working within and across disciplines; for me that means working with a range of experts in fields like economics, geography, political science, or sociology. We need to get together to really unpack the ‘wicked problems’ that face us in society today, especially people who struggle to navigate our social norms and our social systems. We need policy which really is based on the experiences and perspectives of people living in our diverse communities.” 

The Kiwanis Towers are located in the Brighouse Village neighbourhood in Richmond and are expected to be completed in Fall 2015.

Judith’s PhD research looked at place-making among unemployed people, questioning how the meaning of home shifts in relation to one’s employment status.  These questions about place-making and how we understand home resurface in two projects produced in collaboration with SFU’s Gerontology Research Centre. The first project funded by the Vancouver Foundation looks at the impact of displacement of the elderly in the case of the current Kiwanis Towers Project, Richmond, BC, asking how are individuals recreating their homes in the context of displacement.  The second project, funded by Baptist Housing, evaluates health and wellbeing issues as seniors transition from two out-dated, long-term care facilities into a newly designed facility where design principles have been articulated specifically around health and wellbeing. Judith notes that much of her research concerns a critical investigation of ‘ageing-in-place’ an academic concept and important policy-driver which has serious implications for the quality of  life as well as the costs of care for seniors across Canada.

Building on her work with seniors, Judith also recently completed a research and development project which designed and tested a ‘Smart Distress Monitor’ for in-home passive monitoring of older frail and disabled people. The project developed infra-red sensors to “detect the activity or inactivity of older people in their home in order to raise alerts concerning developing health care needs.”

Judith’s work in the area of ageing and technology has expanded recently with her involvement in the tri-council funded AGE-WELL  (Aging Gracefully across Environments using Technology to Support Wellness, Engagement and Long Life), a Network of Centres of Excellence headed jointly by SFU’s Andrew Sixsmith and University of Toronto’s Alex Mihailidis. AGE-WELL was recently awarded $36.6 million over five years as part of the NCE program and, according to its mandate, seeks to advance the health and wellbeing of older adults and drive aging research, innovation and technology transfer across Canada. Funding over twenty 20 projects in a range of disciplinary areas, AGE-WELL is a transdisciplinary network and Judith Sixsmith sits on the Research Management Committee for AGE-WELL, and, with University of Toronto’s Pia Kontos, Judith co-leads AGE-WELL’s Transdisciplinary Working cross-cutting theme and is one of several researchers responsible for ensuring the network remains transdisciplinary in its research initiatives over the next five years. She has also been successful in securing AGE-WELL funding to co-lead a study with Dalhousie University’s Susan Kirkland, mapping older people’s active participation in research.

Mei Lan Fang is a Research Associate SFU's Gerontology Research Centre

Further contributing to gerontological research, Judith is involved in research on End-of-Life (EoL) service provision and the barriers and facilitators to accessing appropriate and sensitive cultural and religious EoL care in home and in institutional settings. This work is part of a cross-Canada initiative to develop empowerment tools to support EoL care, bringing developments in palliative medicine to varied cultural and religious communities with the goal of informing perspectives and improving various care settings.  Headed by the Virtual Canadian Hospice (which provides information about palliative and end-of-life care to patients, family members, health care providers, researchers, and educators) and funded in association with the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer (CPAC), Judith, and SFU colleague, Mei Lan Fang at the Gerontology Research Centre have just completed two scoping reviews of EoL care services for people of diverse cultural and religious backgrounds.

In addition to dealing with issues that impact Canada’s seniors, Judith is currently working on projects in the UK that relate to children’s mental and physical wellbeing in school environments and a critical discourse analysis of dementia policy. Judith’s recent projects have also examined how children and young people are affected in situations where they are living with, experiencing or being exposed to domestic or physical abuse.  Collaborating with project lead Dr. Jane Callaghan at the University of Northampton, Sixsmith says rather than view young people as witnessing or experiencing abuse passively, ‘broken’ or ‘damaged’ by their experiences, or continuing the chain of abusive behavior,  hers and Callaghan’s recent work explores how young people demonstrate agency and embody resilience in abusive situations.

Having published widely and presented at numerous conferences in the fields of gerontology as well as public health and wellbeing, Judith is also professor of Public Health Improvement and Implementation at the University of Northampton, UK and has held a previous post as professor of Adult Social Care at Manchester Metropolitan University