Faculty of Medicine’s Claire Kendall and colleagues receive $1M CIHR Award to study community-campus engagement

Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2022

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Community engagement has come to be seen as an important aspect of the delivery of health services, but there is no clear understanding of precisely how such engagement makes a positive difference. Now, thanks to a $1 million grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, a Canadian research team will spend the next four years measuring the impact.

Dr. Claire Kendall, associate dean of social accountability in the Faculty of Medicine and senior investigator at the Bruyère Research Institute, is leading a cross-faculty, interdisciplinary team of uOttawa investigators in partnership with investigators from Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) and, uniquely, representatives of two municipalities, Ottawa and Thunder Bay, as principal researchers.

These municipalities, along with Dr. Kendall and her counterpart Dr. Erin Cameron, director of the centre for social accountability at the NOSM, will use the CIHR funding to evaluate the impact of community-campus engagement on population health.

“One of the challenges in researching community engagement is that it’s a very complex phenomenon,” says Dr. Kendall. “Not only does it involve many different stakeholders, it also has components that interact and create feedback loops. Untangling all of these different aspects to see what’s actually going on is a lengthy, and frankly, quite difficult process, which is why it hasn’t been done before.”

Beyond community-campus engagement, the funding is also intended to evaluate how medical schools can best engage with communities to optimize population health outcomes, and how cities can engage with medical schools in turn.

“We are thrilled that CIHR recognises this as an opportunity to connect communities with academic research. It aligns with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine’s social accountability mandate to address the priority health concerns of communities,” says Dr. Cameron. 

It's rare for municipalities to be involved as co-applicants on a medical research grant, but Dr. Kendall says that aspect is critical to the success of the project. “Local governments play an essential role in the health of residents,” says Dr. Kendall. “We’re really excited to be working with them as partners, and further strengthening our relationship.”

Donna Gray, general manager of community and social service for the City of Ottawa, agrees. She applauded the CIHR funding and looks forward to seeing the impact of its findings on city communities.

“This research grant will provide us with the opportunity to evaluate our approach, build upon successes and address issues to improve our community-university collaboration. More importantly, this grant will allow us to understand how we can best engage and effect the health and well-being of those living in the city,” says Gray.

Lee-Ann Chevrette, community safety & well-being specialist at the City of Thunder Bay concurs, adding “This grant will help improve our understanding at the municipal level, to inform and improve population health outcomes and, ultimately, help make Thunder Bay a safer, healthier and more equitable community.”

The CIHR project will engage significantly with another new project that the researchers and their municipal counterparts have spearheaded called CityStudio, which aims to harness university resources, such as faculty expertise and student hours, to community-oriented projects identified by the municipality. The CIHR-funded project will study community-campus engagement taking place through CityStudio Ottawa/CitéStudio Ottawa, to see what kind of impact it’s having.

Dr. Kendall, who holds a Faculty of Medicine clinical research chair in strengthening primary care for integrated health equity, says “The CityStudio model depends on trust-based relationships, and that’s exactly what this team has been able to realize in the process of developing our research proposal. This grant is going to allow us to study the community engagement that takes place in this model, and find out the mechanisms that lead to improved population health.”

A critical element in this research is the participation of the very communities whose health is affected. At each stage, knowledge users and community stakeholders will be contributing their perceptions and evaluating the understanding of the impact of engagement.

“Thanks to the diversity of our research team, we were able to reach out to a range of community partners and get their support for this project. We’re excited to work with them in exploring this new area of population health research,” says Dr. Kendall.

Results of the CIHR study are anticipated in 2025. CityStudio Ottawa/CitéStudio Ottawa is slated to launch in Ottawa in September 2022.

Consider supporting the University of Ottawa.

The Social Accountability Initiatives at The Faculty of Medicine fund was established to support activities that enhance the reciprocal transformation of the medical school and the communities we serve through meaningful community and stakeholder engagement, enhanced learner experience, and collaborative scholarship.

Dr. Claire Kendall

Dr. Claire Kendall, associate dean of social accountability in the Faculty of Medicine and senior investigator at the Bruyère Research Institute.

Dr Erin Cameron

Dr. Erin Cameron, director of the centre for social accountability at the NOSM.

Donna Gray

Donna Gray, general manager of community and social service for the City of Ottawa

Lee-Ann Chevrette

Lee-Ann Chevrette, community safety & well-being specialist at the City of Thunder Bay.


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