Applied Research

  • Encouraging Master of Sustainability Student Participation in Conferences

    Once per term, the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre offers a travel award to assist Master of Sustainability students who wish to present their research at conferences with expenses, such as conference registration fees. This term, two SSAS students received the award and presented at two different online conferences before they complete their studies.

    Pulkit Garg (second from bottom left row) presents his research at the FOSS Research Colloquium.

    Pulkit Garg presented at Brock University’s Faculty of Social Sciences Research Colloquium in December 2020. His presentation, “Reviewing the Options for the Agricultural Sector to Adapt to Climate Change: Case Study of the Niagara Region, ON” consisted of MRP research he completed in the SSAS program under the supervision of Dr. Liette Vasseur. This was the second conference Pulkit has participated in, with the first being the International Conference on Sustainable Development that was held virtually in New York City in September 2020.

    Pulkit said of his presentation at the colloquium, “I couldn’t have asked for a better learning experience during this pandemic. The colloquium gave me an ideal platform where I could present my findings and lend impetus to my work while learning from other presenters in the process”. He also described “the feeling of pride and honour I experienced in representing my supervisor, the sustainability program and the ecology lab” as a highlight of the experience.

    Jessica Zugic presents her research at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly.

    At the end of April, Jessica Zugic presented her research at the European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly. The conference took place during the last two weeks of April, with Jessica’s presentation session taking place on April 27th, 2021. Jessica’s presentation about the short-term impacts of a partial harvesting technique on carbon sequestration and growth of a red pine plantation in southern Ontario, was based on thesis research she completed (and successfully defended) under the supervision of Dr. Michael Pisaric. This was Jessica’s fourth conference during her time in the SSAS program.

    Both Jessica and Pulkit mentioned the positive influence the SSAS program had as they prepared for their presentations. Jessica mentioned the weekly emails sent by the SSAS program as being influential in her decision to attend this conference, and added, “The SSAS program has always promoted different conferences and meetings that students could attend, thus encouraging students to present their research and get involved in the academic community”. Pulkit echoed these statements and added “the blend of field projects coupled with course work [in the SSAS program] taught me resilience and the importance of openness to feedback and continuous learning, along with research/analytical capabilities”.

    We are very proud of these students, both of whom will be graduating from the SSAS program in June 2021.

    Categories: Applied Research, Blog, Conferences, SSAS Program

  • Assessing Higher Education Institutions (HEI) – Community Partnerships Performance, Monitoring & Evaluation

    Blog Contributor: Erica Harper

    Partnerships between HEIs and communities are becoming increasingly important worldwide. More focus is therefore being placed on how these partnerships are created, how they transform over time, and they can achieve. Assessing the performance of HEI-community partnerships is essential for understanding their value (social, economic, and environmental value), accountability and transparency.

    Brock researchers carried out a national study to understand HEI-community partnerships and their performance in Canada. All HEIs in Canada with an explicit mandate related to community relationships were identified. A questionnaire was distributed to their offices, with the results illuminating the present state of partnership efforts. The key findings of this first part of this study include:

    • 25% of HEIs do not employ any monitoring or evaluation of their community partnerships
    • 67% of HEI community-focussed offices have an operating budget of $50,000 or more
    • 67% reported having over 30 active partnerships at their institutions

    A second questionnaire, sent to individuals at HEIs who are involved in HEI-community partnerships, as well as community partners, looked at how performance of partnerships should be assessed. A three-fold framework (inputs, process, outcomes) of indicators and measures was validated. The key findings of this second part of the study include what the most important inputs, processes, and outcomes are for effective partnership performance:

    • Motivation is the most important input
    • Communication is the most important process
    • Learning is the most important outcome

    These results bridge an important gap in the literature and you can learn more by accessing the Assessing Partnership Performance, Monitoring, & Evaluation webpage or by the reading the most recent publication by the ESRC research team in the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, The issue of performance in Higher education institution – Community partnerships: A Canadian perspective.

    To learn more we included some helpful links below:

    Categories: Applied Research, Blog, Collaborations, Innovative Partnership

  • EESI Partnership Roundtable Event

    Blog Contributor: Allison Clark

    Greenspaces, such as those found within Niagara Parks, have great ecological and social importance. For example, connecting with nature can provide benefits to physical and mental health. ThCovid-19 pandemic has increased the need for people to get outside and connect with nature. As a result, human activity in greenspaces has increased substantially, which has in turcreated challenges for parks management. To ensure ecological integrity is being upheld while also protecting visitor safety, new trail management strategies should be considered. 

    To discuss how Niagara Parks can navigate the increased use of greenspaces, a roundtable event was held on October 20th, 2020. This event brought together individuals from the Niagara Parks Commission (NPC) and Brock University. This event was made possible by the Excellence in Environmental Stewardship Initiative (EESI) – a partnership between NPC and Brock. During this event, Brock University’s master’s students, Samantha Witkowski and John Foster, presented their research pertaining to greenspaces within Niagara Parks. Implications of these research findings were discussed with regards to the management of greenspaces. 

    Samantha’s presentation was titled: Examining Stakeholder Perceptions in Monitoring and Evaluation of Environmental Management. Samantha presented two different studies. The first study examined inter-group differences in the perceptions of key performance indicators (KPIs) for viewpoints. Results showed that stakeholders, tourists, local residents, and environmental managers perceived KPIs differently in Niagara Parks. For example, stakeholders perceived view quality and vegetation as the most important KPIs, whereas environmental managers perceived viewpoint KPIs more critically. The second study explored the influence of engaging in a collaborative, or participatory monitoring and evaluation process on stakeholder perceptions of KPIs for trails. For this study, Samantha had stakeholders rank KPIs from what they perceived as most important to least important in terms of trail management. Stakeholders were then required to take a KPI workshop and re-rank KPIs. Results from this study showed that stakeholders perceptions of important KPIs for trail management differed significantly following the KPI workshop. Furthermore, it was noted that discussion, communication, and learning opportunities contributed to perception change. A main takeaway from Samantha’s research was that the NPC should move away from strictly expert-led, ecologically focused trail management approachesand move towards the inclusion of stakeholder perceptions in environmental management, monitoring and evaluation. 

    John’s presentation was titled: Niagara Glen Trails Assessment, Summer 2020. John’s research highlighted some challenges associated with increased human traffic in the Niagara Glen, as well as some short-term and long-term solutions to address increased traffic along the trail. John outlined challenges associated with social trails (networks of unauthorized trails), and visitor safety and communication. To protect ecological and human health at the Niagara Glen, John proposed that the NPC implements visitor education sessions, increases signage, and creates effective trail maps. 

    Overall, this roundtable event worked to successfully discuss how the NPC should navigate increased usage of greenspaces. The research findings presented by Samantha and John were received very well by members of the EESI, and the NPC were very receptive to suggestions for improved environmental and trail management.  

    Categories: Applied Research, Blog, Environmental Stewardship Initiative, Event, SSAS Student Contributor

  • Meet the Post-Docs: Janani Sivarajah

    Janani Sivarajah

    Dr. Janani Sivarajah joined the ESRC in July as a post-doctoral fellow with the Prudhommes Project working with Dr. Ryan Plummer. Janani’s transdisciplinary research explores the ecosystem services of urban trees and public green spaces, and finds greening solutions to improve the socio-ecological resilience of cities.

    What are your research areas of focus, and what was your journey like in getting to that area of focus?

    My research focus is based on urban ecology and finding greening solutions to improve the socio-ecological resilience of cities. I am particularly interested in building multifunctional landscapes and proposing nature-based solutions to global environmental and urban challenges. My journey here is a long road.  I started in Forestry and completed my Master of Forest Conservation at UofT and then went on to do a Ph.D. in Forestry at UofT.  My Ph. D. dissertation paved my way into transdisciplinary research to understand urban trees’ environmental services for human well-being.  While completing my Ph.D., I worked in non-profits and urban forest consulting, and these experiences further shaped my research focus. 

    As a sustainability scientist, how do you view the world?

    As a sustainability scientist, I believe we have a unique ability to use a transdisciplinary lens to see the future and find solutions to evolving and challenging problems.  We also have a responsibility to communicate science with the broader community and work together with other stakeholders to solve problems.

    What excites you the most about working with the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre?

    The most exciting aspect is the people at ESRC.  Even during unprecedented times, I felt welcomed and greeted warmly by all faculty and staff. I am excited to build friendships, foster a supportive environment, and collaborate on exciting projects. They are all superstars in their fields, and I’m eager to learn from their expertise and share my experiences.

    Categories: Applied Research, Blog, Innovative Partnership

  • Meet the Post-Docs: Jennifer Holzer

    Dr. Jennifer Holzer joined the ESRC in February 2020 as a post-doctoral fellow in the Water Resilience Lab working with Dr. Julia Baird and has recently been appointed as an Adjunct Professor in the ESRC. Jen’s doctoral work evaluated the research-implementation gap in social-ecological research in Europe using case studies in Spain, Scotland, and Romania, and provided recommendations that fed directly into enhancing European research infrastructures.

    What are your research areas of focus, and what was your journey like in getting to that area of focus?

     In my current position, I am developing the following areas of focus:

    • Developing and applying a decision support framework for ecosystem services governance at the landscape level
    • Designing effective participatory processes for environmental governance
    • Using social network analysis to understand knowledge flows, decision-making processes, and power dynamics of environmental governance
    • Using agent-based modeling to uncover links between attitudes about resilience and pro-environmental behaviors
    • Developing a tool to assess ‘sense of place’ globally

    My previous (and ongoing) research focused on:

    • Evaluation of transdisciplinary environmental research
    • Bridging the gap between environmental / sustainability science and policy
    • Integration of social sciences with natural science research

    It’s been a winding road from being a teenage environmental activist to where I am today. After some years as an environmental project manager, I returned to academia for a PhD that I hoped would bring me closer to conservation. As a project manager, I had become focused on energy efficiency, which is a crucial aspect of climate work, but I wanted my focus to be closer to the natural world.

    My PhD project was linked to a four-year EU grant to audit social-ecological research platforms in Europe. So the project was an interesting confluence of social ecology, conservation, sustainability, and science and technology studies. I had the opportunity to work with scientists from the European Long-Term Ecological Research network, and to be hosted by some of these colleagues for field research in Europe. It was fascinating, and I was hooked! I also learned a lot about what it means to manage an international environmental research network, so when the opportunity came up to work within a similar research network in Canada (ResNet) – in its startup phase — I jumped at the opportunity.

    As a sustainability scientist, how do you view the world?

     Everything is connected. A person’s mood or outlook can influence whether they decide to spend time in nature, and whether they spend time in nature can influence whether they want to help protect nature. Also, I’m a book person and I love learning for the sake of learning, but it’s important to me that what we learn be applied in the real world. The gap between science and practice is a deep concern, especially in these strange times where there is a strong anti-science movement.

    I also worry about whether taking care of the environment is a luxury. We are human first, paying bills, taking care of our families, and safety and security will always come first. Sometimes I lament that as long as we don’t feel completely reliant upon and intertwined with the natural world, we’ll never be able to prioritize taking care of it.

    Perhaps most importantly, I think optimism is a prerequisite to being a sustainability scientist. The bad news about environmental degradation and predictions about the future can be overwhelming. So, there is a moral aspect to a sustainability view of the world. I do believe that we, as humans, are obligated to care for our planet, both as a collective and as individuals. What this looks like is going to be different for everyone, depending on where and how you live and the resources available to you.

    What excites you the most about working with the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre at Brock University?

    I am excited about working in a context where ideas like sustainability and resilience are the starting point! And I’m excited about working with such great people — both in terms of their scholarship and being enjoyable to work with. Everyone seems to have their own quirky sense of humor!

    This is my first time working at a dedicated centre for environmental sustainability, so there are built-in applications to our research. The ESRC has made great efforts to build partnerships with local governments and environmental organizations. I’m looking forward to having results from my first studies and figuring out if we can take it a step further and find a way to apply our findings in the real world. Finally, it’s fascinating for me to work in Canada. From an environmental perspective, the Middle East (where I did my PhD) is a place of scarcity when it comes to water and other key natural resources, and Canada is so rich in natural resources that it’s bound to imbue me with quite a different perspective.

     

     

    Categories: Applied Research, Blog, Faculty Contributor

  • Understanding Public Perceptions of Niagara Parks

    Blog Contributors: Bani Mani & Dr. Jessica Blythe 

    (L-R) Samantha Witkowski, Seyi Obasi, Angela Mallette, and Dr. Jessica Blythe get ready to collect research in Summer 2019

    Public perceptions of Niagara Parks – the project is being led by Dr. Jessica Blythe. Her research aims to understand how residents and visitors value Niagara Parks. This project emerged from the ongoing Excellence in Environmental Stewardship Initiative (ESSI), which is a five-year partnership between ESRC and Niagara Parks that aims to use expertise and resources from both organizations to increase environmental stewardship. During a team meeting, both NPC and ESRC teams realized that there was an opportunity to explore how people value Niagara Parks. The research part of the project is being conducted by Dr. Jessica Blythe, Dr. Julia Baird, Dr. Ryan Plummer and Dr. Gillian Dale.  The communication side of the project is being led by Amanda Smits and Erin Daly. Here is a brief interview with her on the progress of the project: 

    Please tell us more about the project  

    The project aims to provide park managers and decision-makers with data on the ways that residents, domestic and international tourists value and connect with Niagara Parks ecosystems.   

    Could you highlight the importance of the project? 

    Effective management of iconic ecosystems – like Niagara Parks – requires more than a comprehensive understanding of ecological components of the system.  Understanding the human dimensions is also essential for long-term planning, adaptive management and successful environmental stewardship.  Through this project, we hope to highlight some of the human dimensions of Niagara Parks. 

    Could you briefly outline your approach?  

    In the late summer and early fall 2019, more than 220 people were surveyed by myself, Angela Malette, Seyi Obasi, and Samantha Witkowski. Using tablets, we survey people in Niagara Parks.  We talked to a range of visitors from residents to international tourists. 

    What are the implications of research outcomes for the NPC? 

    We hope that this research will support park managers and decision-makers in incorporating the human dimensions of Niagara Parks into their planning and management. We also aim to contribute to ongoing research about the importance of people’s connections to nature for leveraging sustainability outcomes. 

    Click to view an infographic of this research

    Categories: Applied Research, Blog, Environmental Stewardship Initiative, Innovative Partnership, Student Contributor

  • Researchers Investigate the High Seas with the help of Virtual Reality

    If you walked through the newly opened Rankin Family Pavilion on March 10th and 11th, you likely noticed Virtual Reality stations that were set up in the atrium. What you may not have realized is that these stations were part of an ongoing research project led by Brock professors Dr. Jessica Blythe, Dr. Gary Pickering and Dr. Julia Baird.  Their research is enabled by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Development Grant they received in 2019 worth $74,970.

    With colleagues from around the world, Drs. Blythe, Pickering and Baird are exploring whether virtual reality can shape knowledge of and attitudes towards the high seas (which refers to the open ocean beyond national boundaries). The idea, Dr. Blythe mentioned, is to see whether being immersed in a future scenario, that shows what the ocean might look like in the year 2050, changes how people feel about the issues that are currently affecting the high seas, including overfishing, pollution and inequitable access to marine resources (including genetic material and oil).  Ultimately, they aim to understand if virtual reality can boost public support for oceans that are normally “out of sight and out of mind”, which might encourage better protection of what has been called Earth’s final frontier.

    As virtual reality becomes increasingly popular for a wide variety of purposes, the ESRC is honoured to have home unit faculty members Drs. Blythe, Baird, along with ESRC Faculty Affiliate, Dr. Gary Pickering, leading this cutting edge research!

    Categories: Applied Research, Blog, Collaborations

  • Student Research Highlight: Participation in Trail Monitoring & Evaluation

    Blog Contributor: Bridget McGlynn

    On March 5th Samantha Witkowski, a current Master of Sustainability student at Brock, led a workshop in partnership with the Niagara Parks Commission (NPC) to continue her research on participatory monitoring and evaluating processes. This workshop was made possible by the Excellence in Environmental Stewardship Initiative (EESI), a partnership between the NPC and Brock University. Hosted at the beautiful Niagara Glen Nature Centre, the workshop included a variety of stakeholders, such as community members, Niagara Parks staff, and ecology experts, who discussed management possibilities for the trails in the Niagara Glen. 

    The day began with coffee and a guided walk though trails in the Niagara Gorge for participants to enjoy and observe the trails prior to considering management practices. Our Niagara Parks guide spoke about the history of the Glen, current management practices, recent site improvements, and usage patterns. Upon completion of the hike, participants returned to the Nature Centre and the exciting discussions began! The Niagara Glen received an unprecedented number of visitors in Summer 2019, and as such much of the discussion revolved around ways in which Niagara Parks can manage the trails in the Niagara Glen while upholding their mandate of “Preserving and promoting the natural and cultural heritage along the Niagara River corridor”. Through their vision, Niagara Parks also aims to be an “innovative example of sustainability” and a “welcoming, accessible and inspiring place”. Consequently, brainstorming regarding management practices revolved around maintaining and improving current trail quality, encouraging visitor stewardship through education, and promoting alternative Niagara Parks trails. The varied backgrounds of the participants presented multiple perspectives on the current needs of the Glen, management priorities, and relevant key performance indicators. The workshop provided an excellent example of the transdisciplinary research being conducted at the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC) as it brought together diverse stakeholders to address a local, solution-based research question.

    Categories: Applied Research, Environmental Stewardship Initiative, Innovative Partnership, SSAS Student Contributor

  • Learning the Art of Conference Intentionality

    Blog Contributor: Meredith DeCock

    Once you’ve been to one or two conferences, you’ve been to them all, right? I have been to leadership, industry, and academic conferences, and until recently, I would have said that I went into each with the same mindset: networking. The goal was to make connections with people. The more connections the better. Until recently, I would say I fell into the habit of blindly treating all networking opportunities the same.

    As a graduate student in the Sustainability Science and Society master’s program, I have been very fortunate to attend and present at a few conferences in the last year. Each conference experience was unique in the type of conference, the audience in my presentation sessions, and the type of connections I made.

    The first conference I presented at was Mapping New Knowledges (MNK) at Brock University last fall. I presented a poster in a spot that was hard to access – behind a door, on the inside row of posters, and right by the window. There were not many people who attended my poster, which I don’t think had much to do with the non-ideal location. Poster sessions are awkward. People don’t want to come straight up to your poster until they are certain they want to engage in a conversation. The strange and beautiful thing about the MNK conference is that it is open to all Brock gradate students, regardless of faculty. Walking through the poster session, there may be an ecology poster beside a humanities poster, across from a linguistics poster – it’s what makes the MNK conference so interesting and allowed me to gain a deeper appreciation for the range of research being conducted on campus. The other fantastic part of MNK is the professional development element. Each day there were sessions to select from that were dedicated to student’s professional development, either within academia or outside of the academy. I may not have made any career-benefiting connections, but I went away from the conference with a feeling of deep support from the University for my personal and professional development.

    The second conference I attended was the Marine Environment Observation, Prediction and Response Network (MEOPAR) conference in Victoria this past June. This conference was different as it was primarily organized for people working on MEOPAR-funded research projects. Being surrounded and engaging with peers working within the same discipline almost made it feel like you were amongst family. Networking felt easy. Everyone was overwhelmingly supportive of each other’s work. I was placed in a session to present my work in what seemed like the only social science related break-out session of the conference. And although there were only two of us presenting it was still very well attended. My presentation title, which included the term “community engagement”, attracted certain attendees and led me to connect with an employee working for the City of Surrey, BC who was interested in our process due to his extensive work with public engagement.

    I recently came back from the inaugural Sustainability: Transdisciplinary Theory, Practice, and Action (STTPA) conference hosted by University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM). What I noticed immediately upon arrival at the conference was that most people seemed to know each other, and it was obvious who wasn’t affiliated with UTM. Networking felt like much more of a challenge than at the MEOPAR conference. As sustainability science is inherently inter and transdisciplinary, the research projects are as complex as the problems they are trying to help solve. This makes it challenging to group projects into themed sessions. I ended up in a geospatial group, presenting alongside researchers working on machine learning and remote sensing to identify tree species and track ecosystem health over time. My presentation certainly included geospatial data, but it also included a social science aspect that made me feel as though I didn’t quite fit with the others. I was nervous about this leading up to the session. But each of the presenter’s research was unique and stood out in its own way. Being in this particular session led me to making a connection afterwards with a peer at UTM wanting to cite our upcoming papers.

    A key lesson I have learned from these conferences over the past year is which sessions you choose to attend is important. Do you attend ones that sound the most interesting, or do attend one because the presenter could potentially be a great contact to make? Sometimes I choose not to go to the ones that most interest me, but the one I think may benefit myself or my research team the most. I also keep my future possible career options in mind when selecting which sessions to attend. Being intentional about which ones you choose may lead to connections or ideas that benefit you in ways you never could have seen coming. Not looking at the program in detail before the day of the conference can result in you ending up in the wrong room, in a session that you have no interest in attending, but you feel awkward leaving once you realize the mistake you made. Compare that to when I went to a session specifically because there was a researcher whose bio sparked my interest as she was doing similar work to my team at Brock. This led to us having an extended conversation after the session about different strategies that we are using for focus groups in our case studies and will hopefully lead to a mutually beneficial relationship between our teams.

    My experiences in the last couple of years have made me realize how important it is to be intentional about which conferences you are choosing to go to, which sessions you attend, and who you are trying to connect with. You don’t always get it right, but when you do, it is a rewarding experience.

     

    Categories: Applied Research, Conferences, SSAS Student Contributor

  • ESRC Researcher to Tackle Ecosystem Services Resilience and Sustainability in New Five-Year NSERC Strategic Network Project

    NSERC has recently announced $5.5 million in funding for NSERC ResNet: A network for monitoring, modeling, and managing Canada’s ecosystems services for sustainability and resilience, led by Dr. Elena Bennett (McGill). Dr. Julia Baird (CRC and Assistant Professor in the ESRC and DGTS) is a co-lead of one of three themes: ‘Mapping the decision-space for ecosystem services management’ and is one of 26 co-applicants from across Canada on the project. The funding will support a Post-doctoral Fellow at Brock University for four years and several Master of Sustainability students will engage in this pan-Canadian research project.

    NSERC ResNet “aims to transform Canada’s capacity to monitor, model, and manage its working landscapes and all the ecosystem services they provide for long-term well-being”. Ecosystem services are the benefits people derive from nature, such as food and timber, as well as the benefits that may be overlooked like carbon sequestration, flood regulation and aesthetic appreciation. These ecosystem services are not independent; rather, decisions that are targeted to one ecosystem service, such as food production, also have consequences for other ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration. Accordingly, the decisions we make have far reaching implications for the ecosystem and human well-being and appropriate management is critical for resilience and sustainability.

    The project focuses on landscapes that are actively being used for resource production (such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries) that are abundant in Canada and so important to the well-being and prosperity of Canadians. The theme Dr. Baird is co-leading with Dr. Gordon Hickey (McGill) is focused on the management of the range of ecosystem services these landscapes provide to ensure their sustainability far into the future. They are using innovative research approaches that engage those in the study landscapes to tackle the question of management and dealing with the ‘messy’ nature of interrelationships and trade-offs among ecosystem services. Fortunately, they are drawing on a complement of accomplished collaborators from Brock (R. Plummer), U Waterloo (D. Armitage), McGill (B. Harvey), U Winnipeg (A. Diduck and R. Bullock) and the Stockholm Resilience Centre (Ö. Bodin) who bring a wealth and diversity of expertise to the project.

    An innovative element of NSERC ResNet is that the project model is transdisciplinary. It brings together academics, industry, non-governmental organization, Indigenous partners and government agencies in a co-design process. This is important since the project addresses a complex question embedded in diverse landscapes and social-ecological contexts. While each of the landscapes is unique, one of the goals of NSERC ResNet is to identify commonalities across them that will support the development of a decision support tool in the form of an ‘ecosystem services dashboard’ – a practical tool to incorporate an understanding of ecosystem services into management decision on working landscapes across Canada.

    Categories: Applied Research, Collaborations, Innovative Partnership