By Erin Martel, Communications RA.

At CFICE, we feel good about being part of community success stories–but how can we measure if we’ve truly made an impact? This is the question that Emily Amon, a master’s student at Trent University, is tackling with her research on the U-links model and its environmental, social, cultural and economic impacts. In case you haven’t heard, U-Links is a community organization that “links” faculty and students from Trent University with local Haliburton County community groups to work together on research and development projects.

We got a chance to interview Emily at the Canadian Community Campus Engagement Roundtable (CCCER) that took place at Carleton University on February 14th, 2018. At the meeting, members of CFICE, community groups and academic institutions met to network and share ideas. Among the many topics we discussed was the importance of measuring community impact and the outcomes of community-campus engagement.

Picture of a water ripple superimposed over a globe

Emily is a U-Links student research veteran. During her undergraduate studies at Trent she was a student researcher on several projects. She says that she was motivated to work with U-Links again, this time to look at community impact, because of her belief in direct social action: “I think it is common to community-based practitioners that they may not see themselves as a researcher but more as an agent of change.”

Techniques for measuring community impact must be based in the community. To this end, Emily will be embedding herself in the Haliburton community and conducting a range of research activities there. She will spend the summer following up on past U-Links projects and interviewing the project hosts, as well as capturing some community perspectives on U-Links via online surveys. From these community sources and from a participatory action workshop with U-Links, she hopes to create a picture of the tangible outputs of the projects, focusing on “how they attribute changes to the processes and products of the U-Links relationship.” Emily says, “You can’t necessarily state causation in many cases but you are able to state what they feel has changed as a result of the research.”

Emily foresees that the data she collects might provide some best practices for engaging in community-based research. When looking at projects that have been successful, she says that she aims to “identify the building blocks of a particularly impactful project. So perhaps there will be themes that come across as we look at successful projects.” She also hopes that identifying these success factors can help to encourage more community work and justify increased funding for new projects.

Knowing more about best practices may also go a long way in helping to facilitate good community-campus relationships. Emily points out that, “Often times, there is a lot of mistrust because the academic institutions sometimes come into communities to, what can feel like, meet their own ends rather than use a truly collaborative process. People may be concerned about whether or not the research will be useful to them, or whether they will be an active participant. So looking at how to better have these relationships can help to really solidify that this is an explicitly community-first approach.”

Look for more blog posts about this project in the future. In the meantime, you can check out U-Links at their website:

Have you evaluated the community impact of your community-based projects? Please feel free to share your insights in the comments below!