In 2020, four applied research projects led by professors in the Faculty of Social and Community Services received over $1.2 million in funding obtained through grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). In total, NSERC awarded Humber College $1.8 million to conduct and complete six research projects. The College and Community Social Innovation Fund (CCSIF) grants are intended to support college social innovation research projects in partnership with local community organizations.
We met with seasoned researchers Sara Nickerson-White and Tina Lackner, faculty members in the Child and Youth Care Practitioner Programs, Faculty of Social & Community Services–leading a three-year research project, as Principal Investigators, in partnership with eight community organizations–this project was awarded $323K:
Experiences of hope, self-compassion and authentic collaboration:Foundations for a consumer-informed compassion-based human services delivery framework in a Canadian Context
Humber Office of Research & Innovation (ORI): The “raison d’etre” for undertaking this project
Sara Nickerson-White (SW): As applied social researchers, we are committed to understanding the needs of the community organizations we work with–their purpose and reason for being. We aim to improve the systems and structures supporting them and approach our learnings not from the perspective of an expert but that of an observer and empath. What are the lived experiences of the individuals supported, how do they decide to seek support, what brings them to the door, how do they stay committed, and importantly, what are the supports that allow them to lead self-directed lives? We find that the beauty of our work rests in the unintended consequences of one’s work.
Tina Lackner (TL): We touched upon the topic of ‘resiliency’ and ‘hope’–how do people cope, what brings them hope, how self-compassion fosters, and what role do healers play in supporting individuals? From a broader perspective and within the Canadian content, what are the narratives around hope? How do human services (HS) delivery offer support? Can we collect that knowledge, build a foundational framework and share that information with others?
SW: We recognized that hope exists, brings people through the door and empowers them. We noted that professional practitioners know this, but they do not deeply understand it or document it. At some point, we would like to approach the federal government and assert, “Hope is experienced in this way, through these services, by the consumers and practitioners. Authentic collaboration and self-compassion are experienced in this context. Here are the important features of those components. Therefore, we recommend this particular guiding framework for all human-services (HS) in Canada that will support hope, self-compassion, and authentic collaboration as people lead self-directed lives.” This became our driving force.
“The key is ‘lived experiences’. We do not intend to measure levels of hope. We want to reach out to people and ask them about hope and have them explain it to us, and we will then extract what we can from it. We want to understand from ‘their’ perspective.” —Tina Lackner
ORI: A brief synopsis of this research project
SW & TL: Human Services (HS) is a broad multidisciplinary field that is held together conceptually by the overarching goal of improving the quality of life of individuals, families, and communities in and through service delivery participation provided in public and non-profit organizations. Since the early 2000s, HS have been evolving to a person-centred delivery structure with its consumers increasingly engaged in the service delivery processes. Problematically, though, the HS field remains without an evidence base that can inform a guiding framework to root service provision principles across its multidisciplinary workforce and varied institutions.
The essence of this work is threefold
- To collect and develop an understanding of what human service consumers and professionals experience as hope, self-compassion and authentic collaboration in the course of service delivery;
- To understand the role hope, self-compassion and authentic collaboration play in supporting consumers as they lead self-directed lives during and after human service participation; and
- To develop a compassion-based framework that will strengthen human service delivery in Canada.
The larger scope for this three-year research study is to produce a compassion-based, consumer-informed, guiding framework for human services in a Canadian context; a blueprint that will help organizations to strengthen how they engage with hope, self-compassion and authentic collaboration in their work which aims to help consumers to lead self-directed lives.
ORI: Collaboration with community organizations
- Southwest Nova Transition House Association - Juniper House - Southwestern Nova Scotia
- Hope Resource Centre Association - Westlock, Alberta
- Family Transition Place - Orangeville, Ontario
- Heartache2Hope - Oakville, Ontario
- Wellspring National - Toronto, Ontario
- Wellspring London and Region - London, Ontario
- Canadian Centre for Diversity & Inclusion - Central Offices in Toronto, ON; Calgary, AB; and Moncton, NB
- Lutherwood - Waterloo Region, Ontario
“Authentic collaboration is not only a topic of our work, but it is the core to how we exist as researchers. This means that:
- We purposively work to deeply understand the communications of another and to understand how what is said is meaningful from with their situated living.
- We are required to be actively open to the possibilities that exist for another, which may not be possibilities for one’s self.
- We deliberately do the work of honouring the voices of those with whom one is interacting, rather than converting to one’s own expert knowledge, desires and needs.”
TL: Our partners are primarily non-profits, supported and managed by volunteers. Due to COVID-19, we had to delay our project by a year out of respect for the organizations and the communities they support. This period of rest gave us time to honour the process they needed, to clearly understand the scope of this research. As a result, we have nurtured deeper relationships with our partners. We began with four, and we are now collaborating with eight partners, each of them eager to participate as they firmly believe in the concepts and are aligned with the trajectory of this study.
ORI: Research Approach
SW: The phenomenological hermeneutic framework approach is laying the groundwork of our research. We had to revise our research methodologies to fit with COVID guidelines and resubmit ethics approvals. The organizations we are collaborating with are inherently adaptive in nature, and they had to revise their strategies in how they support the communities virtually. As researchers, we are adapting to meet their situational needs by creating online surveys, and we will be supplying some sites with electronic postcards. Some may receive tablets and some a variety of software that will ease data collection in ways that can be friendly, easy, supportive and confidential.
TL: We spent time trying to understand what we could do to make the data collection as seamless as possible. For example, if there are language barriers or people need assistance with filling out surveys, we can do so over the phone anonymously. Beginning September 2021, we will share the surveys and questionnaires with our partners and assist them in the process.
ORI: Research Assistants and learning outcomes
SW: To engage students in different ways throughout the development process of this study has been a priority. Getting involved in such game-changing applied social research opens up a world of possibilities and opportunities for our students at Humber. The linchpin of this work is ‘lived experiences’. The research assistants (RAs) are mentored with that mindset. This research study will demonstrate how we should exist as healers and practitioners in this world, guided by the fundamental principles and framework identified. Our work is about instilling and teaching self-reflection so that practitioners and HS delivery services can identify consistencies and inconsistencies in how they provide service and support.
“Without the perspective of others’ lived experiences, we are still within our own possibilities. What we get to bring in the classroom is that the things that were seemingly invisible, blurred, or impossible to see, purely because they were not our realities, now become possibilities.”
TL: The RAs will be involved in the administrative work, equipment sourcing, supplying to the sites, logistics, data collection and many other aspects. This work encourages students to think systematically and empathetically and talk about hope and self-compassion with a purpose. We firmly believe that ‘this framework for a consumer-informed compassion-based human services delivery’ can be taught. I tell my students, “get out of your head and into your heart. It is a practice that needs to be nurtured, and as the practice grows, it evolves and becomes more natural to you”.
“In this kind of social research, there is a bit of unlearning or recognition of the boundaries that empirical science brings up and how this is different. We are proposing that what we have learnt is important for a variety of reasons, we need to restructure systems that are compassionate to peoples’ voices, and we intend to do it in a certain way. It requires developing an understanding for different ways of knowing and approaching research.”
Background and Research Expertise
Dr. Sara Nickerson-White acquired her Bachelor of Arts (Sociology & Criminology) from Saint Thomas University in 1999, Master of Arts (Sociology) from Queen’s University in 2001, and her Ph. D. (Sociology) from the University of Waterloo in 2017. Sara is a passionate teacher, successful researcher and program evaluator for nearly 20 years. She firmly believes in the ability of collaborative research to make a difference in the lives of children, youth, families and professionals.
Sara has designed, implemented and managed research and evaluation projects for organizations, communities and governmental agencies across Canada and internationally. Sara has also designed and implemented evaluation schema for a variety of community and governmental agencies. For instance, she created the evaluation structure for the Toronto Shelter Standards and the evaluation criteria for eight Healthy Work Environment Best Practice Guidelines for the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario. In her published text, Sara has outlined a new framework that includes a developed Phenomenological Hermeneutic (PH) theoretical approach complete with four Professional Care Practice (PCP) tactics for being, knowing and doing authentic collaboration when engaged with care consumers. Sara’s innovative PH PCP approach has been highlighted in national and international professional practice conferences and is the foundation for her Lived Experience Narrative Program of Research.
Tina Lackner acquired her Honours Diploma (Child & Youth Worker) from Humber College in 1992, Bachelor of Applied Arts (Child & Youth Care) from Ryerson University in 1994, and her Master of Science (Family Work) from Nova Southeastern University, US, in 1997. Tina is currently completing her Ph.D. in Philosophy, Human Relationships Spiritual Care and Psychotherapy at Martin Luther University College Federated with Wilfrid Laurier University. She brings over 20 years of academic and clinical expertise to her current research role. She is a Certified Play Therapist, Registered Psychotherapist, Adult (and Children) Yoga Teacher and holds a Specialist Certificate in Applied Mindful Meditation.
Tina is the founder and lead trainer of TIYAMA Children’s Yoga Teacher training school, a specialized training that focuses on yoga, mindfulness, meditation, and mental health. Tina continues to support individuals in her private practice since its inception in 1999. Tina is a full-time faculty member in the Child and Youth Care Practitioner (CYCP) programs. Tina embodies a holistic approach to healing and mindfulness. She has held several workshops and seminars; articles published in related magazines; invited as a keynote speaker and lecturer on many occasions; contributed in her involvement with the Board at the Canadian Association of Play Therapy; and continues as an Adjunct Professor at Martin Luther University College.
We thank Sara and Tina for their invaluable contributions to the academic and research field. We are deeply appreciative of the learnings and observations that this research study will shed light on to inform and support community organizations and HS delivery services in Canada. The Humber Office of Research and Innovation (ORI) is committed to supporting the research team through this insightful and impactful project.
“I am thrilled to be Co-Leading this research with Tina. We have a wonderful group of engaged partners who are just as interested as we are in collecting an understanding of how hope, self-compassion and authentic collaboration exist in HS service delivery and what role these components can have in strengthening HS service delivery in Canada. Receiving this research support from NSERC confirms to our partners and us that we have shared interests that are valued and resourced. It is certainly an exciting time to be a social researcher who is committed to social innovation!”
“This research project excites me on multiple levels. To know that hope, self-compassion and authentic collaboration are seen as valuable areas of research gives me hope for our future. Not only to focus on these areas of research but to obtain an understanding of them from a personal narrative and lived experience perspective is profound. I am eager to enter the unknowing, letting the stories unfold and guiding a deeper understanding, and for this I am grateful.” —Tina Lackner
Get to know Sara and Tina a little better; here are two things you did not know about them in their own words:
- When I’m not working: I am enjoying time with my children and husband, reading, cooking or quilting.
- A favourite book (or two): My two favourite books, because they fundamentally changed me and how I think about the world, are “Being and Time” by Martin Heidegger and “The Mystery of Being” by Gabriel Marcel.
- When I’m not working: I regularly practice yoga, meditation and mindful outdoor experiences. I love nature and spend as much time as I can trail walking or by the water with my husband and three daughters.
- A favourite book (or two): Anything by Dr. Brene Brown, I re-read her books regularly. Not only does her style of research resonate with me, but her focus on shame and whole-heartedness are powerful lessons for us all. More recently, I've read and fallen deeply in thought with Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey's "What Happened to You?"