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Introducing FCAT Research Spotlight

June 13, 2023

The latest edition of the FCAT Research Newsletter featured a spotlight on community-engaged research (CER) at FCAT.  If this topic resonates with you, we’d love to hear your thoughts! Please share them with our Research Coordinator, Brendan Anderson, at Watch your inbox for our upcoming spotlight on research creation.

Photo from Imaginative Methods, Digital Democracies Institute

Community-engaged research requires relationship building, background learning and collaborative framing that is often underrecognized and undersupported. We connected with SCA’s James Long, SIAT’s Gillian Russell and CMNS’s Siyuan Yin, plus Am Johal, Co-Director of SFU’s Community-Engaged Research Initiative (CERi) and Director of Community Engagement at SFU's Vancity Office of Community Engagement to learn what pre-research looks like for them, and what's required to succeed in community engaged projects.


Sustained personal engagement is essential to establishing trust, reciprocity, and collaboration with communities before, during, and after research initiatives."

“Relationship-building allows me to avoid the ‘subject’-researcher relationship and instead seek out a more collaborative approach,” says the SCA’s James Long. For one project, he spent 5 months meeting with seniors each week to watch and discuss films from their youth. 

The School of Communication’s Siyuan Yin works with groups of migrant workers in Canada and China to examine the forces shaping their living and working conditions. For her, pre-research involves working with NGO activities for several months and getting to know the migrant workers with whom they work. 

For SIAT’s Gillian Russell, each project is different—"we avoid a one-size-fits-all approach to community-engaged research.” She mobilizes her Imaginative Methods Lab to facilitate collaborative imagining and prototyping processes that put community members in charge of creative processes.

Time and resources 

Relationship-building requires time, energy, and resources. For Long, “those initial conversations required space, media support, hospitality, transcription, production support, technical equipment, fundraising, administrative labour, scheduling, waiver and ethical approach development, and on and on.”

Yin added that she uses resources to “organize events and have more social time with NGO staff members and migrant workers in the pre-research stage,” which is important to relationship-building. 

For Russell, this work is “slow, process-based and always co-created with people.” As such, “having support—both time and money—to work with people in these early stages is key to fostering this type of work.” 


Relationship-building leads to co-creation between researchers and community—deep collaborations at every stage of the project, from project design to knowledge mobilization.  This means that research is more responsive to the needs of communities, and knowledge mobilization is often ‘baked in’ to the research process.

Russell’s approach to community-engaged research centres the idea of working with people as co-researchers. “This means that we don’t decide for ourselves what issues need to be addressed and how to address them, but instead we work with people to come to these decisions together. How we work with people depends on the people, the issues we are dealing with, and types of outcomes that they desire.”

A need for flexibility in research funding 

Traditional sources of research funding rarely extend to pre-research activities.

Community-engaged research practices “[do] not map well into funding models that often expect you to come to the table with a well-defined problem space and approach for investigation,” according to Russell. 

Flexible sources of funding are a key consideration. “These projects aren’t necessarily all about needing massive budgets,” says Long. “However, they are about various different supports.” 

Research metrics are often ill suited to CER

Community-engaged research entails a panoply of pre-research and research activities, methodological approaches, and knowledge mobilization activities tailored to specific contexts and different ways of knowing. 

According to Russell, “at the moment, we struggle to translate the richness of this type of work into the very limited and specific language and requirements of funding agencies.”  

CER also challenges standard metrics of research productivity, research impact, and career progress.  How can we better ensure that CER is reflected in university metrics and award adjudication processes?

What supports exist for CER at SFU?

According to Johal, SFU’s Community Engaged Research initiative (CERi) has worked to “collectively build out an infrastructure that supports and recognizes the complexity of doing community-engaged research.” 

CERi members, including CMNS alumni Tara Mahoney, have developed a Community Resource Handbook, which Johal tells us is “a useful guide to building community-engaged research projects and a useful starting point to look at the continuum of approaches that can be taken with community engaged research.” 

Another excellent resource is CERi’s Community-Engaged Research Funding Program, which provides up to $5,000 for a one-semester community-engaged research project. Submissions for 2023 are open from May 24 – June 30

Within FCAT, we are exploring how to better support CER, with a special focus on support for pre-research activities.  If you have feedback about how FCAT can better support your research in this area, please reach out to Brendan via

A special thank you to Gillian Russell, Siyuan Yin, James Long, Am Johal, and the team at CERi for their generous contributions to this article.

Photo from SFU’s Community-Engaged Research Initiative

Learn more about CERi

SFU's Community-Engaged Research Initiative (CERi) is focused on extending community-engaged research to provincial, national and international communities. Our aim is to act as an infrastructure that advocates for community-engaged research rooted in values of reciprocity, collaboration, equity, justice, and social transformation. We do this by strengthening the capacity of SFU’s researchers and students to develop meaningful, productive and reciprocal research partnerships that are capable of making a positive difference in communities throughout British Columbia and beyond. Click here to learn more, or visit CERi in-person at 312 Main coworking space in downtown Vancouver.

— Joanna Habdank
Program Manager, CERi