The Community Knowledge Program at Wellesley Institute encourages collaborative research and knowledge sharing within the immigrant and refugee-serving sector in the Greater Toronto Area. We offer webinars, training and resources for community groups, settlement service providers, academic researchers, policymakers and anyone else involved in research in support of newcomers.
As part of our work, the Community Knowledge Program seeks to establish a community of practice to build capacity and foster relationships for research about migration, settlement and integration for newcomers to the Greater Toronto Area.
In the immigrant and refugee-serving sector, as in so many other social service sectors, there is a strong emphasis on using evidence to shape front-line work. Yet there is also a clear gap between research and practice. Research does not always influence programs and services or policymaking, and the voices of service providers often go unheard in academia and government (Adebayo et al., 2018; Graham et al., 2018; Mooney, 2021; Shields et al., 2015; Vaughn et al., 2017). This gap is well-documented, and the Community Knowledge Program at the Wellesley Institute is working to close it.
In 2021, we looked to the sector to understand what is needed to foster research that brings academia, community agencies and policymakers together in support of newcomers. Our assessment found a strong need for research and, especially, knowledge mobilization throughout the sector, as well as many challenges (Shields & Evans, 2015). These include insufficient resources and capacity among community agencies to participate in and learn from research and power imbalances and lack of relationships between agencies and researchers. As is so common in diverse sectors, too much work happens in silos. A community of practice can help address these issues and many more.
What is a community of practice?
Communities of practice can take many different shapes and work toward many ends (Amin & Roberts, 2008; Li et al., 2009). Regardless, all communities of practice share three main characteristics: a domain, a community and a practice (Wenger, 2004).
In short, a successful community of practice needs a topic or area of common interest (the domain), a group (or community) that comes together to learn about the topic, and the work (or practice) that comes from the sharing of knowledge.
Here, the shared topic of interest is migration, settlement and integration in the GTA. We hope for the group to include academic researchers, front-line practitioners, agency management, policymakers, students, consultants and anyone else interested in research with and for newcomers. The work is the research about newcomers’ demographics and needs, effective settlement practices and outcomes, and many other topics about newcomers to the GTA.
Why is it needed?
A community of practice about settlement research in the GTA will enable researchers, community agencies and others to understand and act on the most effective approaches for promoting successful settlement. We have chosen this approach for several reasons:
- Communities of practice are successful in bringing together diverse practitioners to learn from and with each other over time (Amin & Roberts, 2008; Wenger et al., 2001).
- Researchers, community agencies and policymakers want to hear from each other. Knowledge shapes practice, and practice generates knowledge. A community of practice provides regular opportunities for people with shared interests to come together and learn from each other (Denscombe, 2008; Wenger, 2004).
- The immigrant and refugee-serving sector is very diverse, and communities of practice can include people with a wide variety of interests, skill levels and roles (Gullick & West, 2016).
What will a community of practice for settlement research look like?
Communities of practice can take many forms (Wenger-Trayner & Wenger-Trayner, 2015). They can be formal or informal, face-to-face or virtual, large or small, short-term or long-term (Gilbert, 2016; Li et al., 2009). Our analysis of research relationships and practices in the immigrant and refugee-serving sector in the GTA has led us to envision a diverse group that comes together for social learning about settlement research in a context of belonging and support.
Although communities of practice may look very different from each other, research has shown there are common characteristics that can contribute to their success. Interacting socially to share existing knowledge about a common interest can help participants create new knowledge and build professional identity and expertise (Li et al., 2009).
What can I expect from participating?
Whether you are an academic researcher, a service provider or anyone else interested in research about working in support of newcomers, you can benefit from joining this community of practice. Community of practice members can:
- interact with others who bring different experiences, skills and knowledge to research,
- create and engage in opportunities to share and learn from one another, and
- build understanding about working in partnership toward shared goals, in ways that recognize and draw on every partner’s strengths and expertise
We hope you will join us at this starting point as we build a new community of practice for settlement research!
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Mooney, E. (2021). Research and knowledge mobilization in the GTA’s immigrant and refugee-serving sector: A needs assessment. https://www.wellesleyinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Needs-Assessment-CKP.pdf
Shields, J., & Evans, B. (2015). Building a policy-oriented research partnership for knowledge mobilization and knowledge transfer: The case of the Canadian Metropolis project. Administrative Sciences, 2(4), 250-272.
Shields, J., Preston, V., Richmond, T., Sorano, Y., Gasse-Gates, E., Douglas, D., Campey, J., & Johnston, L. (2015). Knowledge Mobilization/Transfer and Immigration Policy: Forging Space for NGOs—the Case of CERIS—The Ontario Metropolis Centre. Journal of International Migration and Integration, 16(2), 265-278. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12134-015-0425-1
Vaughn, L. M., Jacquez, F., Lindquist-Grantz, R., Parsons, A., & Melink, K. (2017). Immigrants as Research Partners: A Review of Immigrants in Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR). J Immigr Minor Health, 19(6), 1457-1468. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10903-016-0474-3
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Wenger-Trayner, E., & Wenger-Trayner, B. (2015). An introduction to communities of practice: a brief overview of the concept and its uses. https://www.wenger-trayner.com/introduction-to-communities-of-practice/