Early staff and board retreat
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Founding the Centre
The Centre was established in 1982 by a small group of academics and social advocates. The founders all had experience as university-based researchers, but saw a need for research that was more closely linked to community based work. They were also interested in how research could provide insights into innovation and be more relevant to social change. In the early 1980s, the founding director and Centre board members were promoting a style of social research that was still very marginal in Canada at that time: one that relied strongly on participatory approaches and qualitative methods.
The founders believed that the Centre would help to facilitate collaboration among academics, consumers, service providers, and advocates by making research tools available to those who were marginalized. In order to ensure that this new entity had the independence to provide a true alternative to academic research, the Centre for Research and Education was incorporated as a charitable, not-for-profit organization. Board membership was expanded to include consumers, researchers, service providers, academics, and advocates, in order to ensure that the Centre remained grounded in the experiences of those who make use of human services.
Early Centre projects included a three year action research initiative with the national Canadian Mental Health Association, a major study of institutional closures in British Columbia, and a qualitative review of Independent Living Centres across Canada. These early projects helped the Centre to establish connections across Canada with leaders who were interested in utilizing research as a key tool for understanding innovation and social change.
Leaders at the Centre have always seen it as an organization that twins community research and education. From the beginning, Centre staff and board members have engaged in various types of applied social research, including needs assessments, policy analyses, program evaluations, descriptions of change process, applied research projects, and research-based community mobilization efforts. By its very nature, participatory action research is as much about education and training as it is about organizing and interpreting data. Student interns and volunteers have always been an important part of life at the Centre, and we are actively involved in training people in a wide variety of settings. Centre staff members frequently offer workshops on community research and teach courses at universities.
The link between research and education is fundamental to the Centre's participatory approach. We often hire and train community researchers who have direct personal experience with the issues under study. The Centre's NewsReport, first published in 1984, has been an important educational vehicle for friends of the Centre, consumers, other researchers, and policy makers.
The focus on "human services" arose because early staff and board members had a great deal of experience and passion around issues facing people with disabilities and other vulnerable citizens. Since human services play such a large role in the lives of vulnerable people, the Centre for Research and Education in Human Services (CREHS) took these services, the ideas behind them, and emerging literature about alternative solutions as its starting points.
By 1985, the Centre had four full-time staff, including an administrative coordinator, and it had moved into a suite of offices at 26 College St. in downtown Kitchener. Over time, as the staff team grew and matured, the responsibility for developing new projects and new theme areas came to be shared by a team of senior staff members. This was a significant development, because it led to a huge increase in the number and diversity of research projects. In 1988, the Centre's Review of Support Services for Ontario and in 1991, Ontario Evaluation of Special Services at Home, were the first of a number of large-scale studies that utilized both qualitative and quantitative approaches. In 1996, a major evaluation of Ontario's Community Action Programs for Children paved the way for a family of projects about early childhood development and family support. In 1998, a report entitled Dignity and Opportunity led to a series of interconnected projects about immigration. CREHS continued to grow, moving to new, larger offices in 2002 and again in 2005. New partnerships with researchers, practitioners and community groups have continued to develop. In 1998, an Evaluation Handbook which described Centre's approach to research and evaluation in detail was published.
In 2001, a book entitled "Shifting the paradigm in community mental health" was published. The Immigrant Parenting study conducted with over 300 newcomers in Ontario was a major collaboration with the Joint Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Settlement and the Longitudinal Study of Consumer/Survivor Initiatives in Ontario was a partnership with Wilfrid Laurier University, Ontario Peer Development Initiative and Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. The development of an evaluation framework for 26 provincially-funded early childhood initiatives was a highlight of the Centre's ongoing program of research on interventions that support families with young children. In 2005, the Centre initiated a Community University Research Alliance (CURA) on mental health and cultural diversity bringing together over 50 partners.
Theme areas have also continued to expand. In recent years, Centre staff members have developed research projects focused on organizational capacity building, international development, community safety and violence prevention, women and youth issues.
"The Centre" has never been an organization that simply does research and education. It is committed to a particular approach - one that emphasizes the role of the social researcher in knowledge mobilization and community mobilization. Over time, as interest in alternative approaches to research has grown, staff and board at the Centre began to feel it was important to foreground our commitment to community based research.
Our philosophy has not changed. The principles of a participatory, community based approach that twins research and education guides all the work we do. We continue to be committed to creating a world where everyone can participate and be full citizens. And we believe that it is important to understand our research findings within a social context and within power relations that exist in the world. Our purpose, as an organization, is to promote and enact a particular vision about how social research can most constructively contribute to the creation of strong, inclusive communities. In order to emphasize this fact, we became the Centre for Community Based Research on October 31, 2007.
Formerly Centre for Research and Education in Human Services (CREHS)