Welcome to the Niagara Community Observatory

The Niagara Community Observatory is a public-policy think-tank working in partnership with the Niagara community to foster, produce and disseminate research on current and emerging issues.

Student Research

The NCO welcomes graduate students who may wish to be affiliated with the institute, participate in its community outreach activities, and contribute to producing and disseminating evidence-based research on current and emerging issues in Niagara and beyond. Visit our Opportunities to Participate page for more information. If interested, contact the NCO Director, Dr. Charles Conteh, by email: cconteh@brocku.ca.


The NCO is extremely excited to present you with some great student research from Dr. Pascal Lupien’s fourth-year class: POLI 4P36/5P36: Comparative Democratization in a Global Age.

This applied research project matched fourth-year Political Science students studying democracy, with community organizations dedicated to supporting citizen participation and inclusion. The purpose of this experiential education project was to support and inform the organizations’ advocacy efforts and research needs. At the same time, the project provided students with experience in developing the kind of professional research project that will help them find employment in sectors such as non-profits, government, consultancy, think tanks, and international organizations.

A Case Study on Asset-Based Community Development Organization: Creating Stronger Neighbourhood Relationships is written by Cody Lee, Korrah Sawyer-Dimech, Hailey Bayne-Foster, and Sam Van Clief. This policy brief is based on research conducted with Fitzgerald Neighbours, a neighbourhood association in St. Catharines. It explores ways to enhance the engagement of neighbourhood associations in municipal governance, in an effort to better democratize local politics, and examines how neighbourhood associations can help municipalities by, for example, improving public consultation processes.

Increasing Civic Engagement Among Non-Citizens in Hamilton, ON is written by Mattheus Roest, Rima Channan, Carlie Pagliacci, and Sulemana Saaka. The policy brief identifies tangible and practical mechanisms, channels and procedures for providing non-citizen newcomers with opportunities for local civic/political engagement and considers the best means of developing or applying these practices in Hamilton.

Hot off the presses !!!


Thank you to all who participated in the Dec. 8 presentation of our latest brief, Growing Agri-Innovation: Investigating the barriers and drivers to the adoption of automation and robotics in Ontario’s agriculture sector, written by Dr. Amy Lemay, Dr. Charles Conteh, and Dr. Jeff Boggs. More than 75 people from across the agriculture and policy-making community attended the event. Special thanks to our panel: Rodney Bierhuizen (Sunrise Greenhouses), Kathryn Carter (OMAFRA), and Hussam Haroun (Vineland Research).

This is an Ontario Agri-food Research Initiative (OAFRI) project. OAFRI projects are funded through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a fiveyear, $3-billion commitment by Canada’s federal, provincial, and territorial governments that supports Canada’s agri-food and agri-products sectors

To be, or not to be, remote?

Dr. Kate Cassidy (Dept. of Communication, Popular Culture & Film) and research assistant Mackenzie Rockbrune open our Fall term with their research into what employers and their employees need to consider as we navigate our way back from pandemic-induced remote work.

Policy brief #52 To be, or not to be, remote? Examining the essential factors needed for ongoing remote work success   provides some questions that all employers should be asking as they determine a new remote-work policy.

Thank you to all who attended our Oct. 20 presentation. What a great conversation. Special thanks to our panel: Mishka Balsom, Pres. & CEO of the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce; Dolores Fabiano, Executive Director of the South Niagara Chambers of Commerce; Laurie Ryan-Hill, HR Director for community support agencies Mainstream and Gateway; and Stacy Terry, Executive Director for Distress Centre Niagara.

Here’s a great write-up of the work in The Brock Press.

summer reading

As we head into summer, the NCO would like to bring to your attention a couple working papers we’ve published from our ongoing research projects.

Neighbourhood Associations and the Municipality: Supporting Citizen Engagement in the City is written by Dr. Carol Phillips & Dr. Charles Conteh and is meant as a backgrounder for local municipalities looking for ways to better support neighbourhood associations. The research stems from a City of St. Catharines initiative to host a neighbourhood forum in March 2020, that was cancelled due to pandemic restrictions. It is the NCO’s hope that this working paper can be used to re-start the conversation towards hosting a similar event once large face-to-face gatherings are allowed.

Preliminary Findings of a Provincial Survey on the Adoption of Automation & Robotics Technologies in Ontario’s Agriculture Sector  is written by Dr. Amy Lemay, Dr. Jeffrey Boggs, and Dr. Charles Conteh as part of our OMAFRA 2020-22 Agrifood Innovation Research Project. Interviews and focus groups will be conducted to supplement the findings in this survey, with a policy brief to be released in Fall 2021. Contact Dr. Lemay at mlemay@brocku.ca for more details.


June – We had a great turnout and discussion on our latest research, Parks and Recreation as an Essential Service: Using a health equity lens to strengthen provision in Niagara. Thanks to our panel: Niagara Regional Chair Jim Bradley, St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik; Commander, Mobile Integrated Health for Niagara EMS, Marty Mako; and Niagara Falls Director of Recreation & Culture, Kathy Moldenhauer.

COVID-19 and its restrictions on parks and recreation delivery has highlighted the importance of the sector to our citizens. The challenges of pandemic crisis management in the sector has also provided an opportunity to position parks and recreation delivery within a broader public health and community well-being conversation.

This latest policy brief, #51 in the NCO series, was created in partnership with the Centre for Sport Capacity and addresses the role of parks and recreation as an important policy tool to address broad society-level crises facing all Niagara communities. It is written by Dr. Julie Stevens, Dr. Martha Barnes, Sarah Ane, and Dr. Carol Phillips.


April – Our latest brief explores the role of the arts and arts education as a community emerges from the pandemic. NCO Policy Brief #50, What’s Art Got To Do With It? The role of arts and culture in a community’s survival during a global pandemic, is written by Dr. Kari-Lynn Winters, an associate professor in the Faculty of Education. Dr. Winters uses vignettes to tell the stories of how people can use the arts as a source of empowerment.

Dr. Winters writes:

These vignettes highlight human experiences. This assemblage celebrates artful practices, suggesting why the arts continue to be important to the lives of Niagara citizens, and should be supported by policy makers and
stakeholders even during a global pandemic and during the community’s recovery.

She also makes recommendations for policy makers to boost the sector — one of the most devastated by the COVID-19 restrictions — moving forward.


January – Sean Giverin, MA, adapted his graduate research project to become the NCO’s Policy Brief #49 Land-Use Planning in Niagara: A study in multilevel governance and smart growth. Giverin highlights the role of the municipality in combatting climate change in his research. The brief, co-authored by NCO Director Dr. Charles Conteh, examines how multiple tiers of governance can work together in a smart-growth approach to land-use planning. It calls for a broadening of the role of non-governmental actors in the implementation of smart-growth principles, including the Indigenous community and housing advocates. You can read more about the brief and its authors in The Brock News.

We had a great turnout February 24 for our presentation “Land-Use Planning in Niagara: A study in multilevel governance and smart growth”, by recent graduate student Sean Giverin and Dr. Charles Conteh. Special thanks to our panelists Doug Giles, Niagara Region’s acting commissioner of planning and development, Niagara Region Councillor Diana Huson, and Dr. Catherine Longboat, asst. professor in the Faculty of Education at Brock University.

2020 Research


Dr. Joanne Heritz, assistant professor in the Dept. of Political Science, provides our latest policy brief, Looking Ahead and Looking Up: Affordable Housing in Niagara. “The housing crisis affects everyone in Niagara but hits some harder than others,” she writes in NCO Policy Brief #48. “The most vulnerable bear the brunt of the shortage of affordable housing, including Indigenous Peoples, women and children, older adults, newcomers, veterans, at-risk youth, the LGBTQ2S community and people facing mental health or addiction issues.” The brief aims to answer questions such as what issues contribute to the crisis, what is being done to increase affordable housing stock and will there be enough to meet future need.

You can read about it in The Brock News or listen in as Dr. Heritz and 610 CKTB’s Matt Holmes discuss her research.

Thanks to all those who joined us October 30 when the NCO and the Women in Leadership series partnered for a virtual presentation and panel discussion on our affordable housing brief. Special thanks to our panelists Lori Beech, executive director of Bethlehem Housing and Support Services, and Elisabeth Zimmermann, executive director of the YWCA Niagara Region. You’ll find Dr. Heritz’s slide deck of her presentation right here. The session was recorded and is posted both here and on the WIL webpage.


As the economic shutdown continued during the COVID-19 pandemic, it became apparent to economists in Canada that the impacts of COVID-19 on employment
were not equal between men and women. Women were bearing the brunt of employment losses and there would be no true recovery unless they were able to get back to work.

In this special report, the Niagara Community Observatory has once again partnered with the Niagara Workforce Planning Board to look specifically into the employment numbers for women and men over the course of the pandemic in an attempt to examine the local impact from a gendered perspective.


Here is our latest brief that’s been getting a lot of attention in the media! Gender Representation and Governance in Niagara, written by Dr. Carol Phillips and Dr. Sarah Pennisi, documents the gender composition of local councils and advisory committees across Niagara. Only 27 per cent of council seats are held by women. But that number improves to 45 per cent of appointed seats on local advisory committees and boards. Read NCO Policy Brief #47 for a discussion of the barriers women face when participating in politics, why it’s important to have a diversity of voices at the decision-making table, and what steps can be taken to improve the numbers.

Take a listen as we discuss the issues with 610 CKTB’s Shelby Knox. Knox continued the conversation in her next segment, How to Get More Women in Politics, with Regional Councillor Diana Huson and Lincoln Mayor Sandra Easton.

Brock NCO presentation of Policy Brief #46: Transportation and Logistics in Niagara

Listen in on this July presentation by Brock University’s NCO Director, Dr. Charles Conteh, on trends, challenges and opportunities in Niagara’s Transportation and Logistics sector.

You can also read his policy brief here.


The NCO is excited to release Policy Brief #45 Mood Walks: The role of parks and recreation in mental health promotion This is our first publication in the COVID-19 era and comes at the perfect time. Mood Walks, written by Dr. Kyle Rich and Dr. Martha Barnes from Brock’s Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, explores the networks that were established in the implementation of this program and encourages our municipal parks and recreation departments to embrace their important role in the promotion of mental health.

2019 Research


Looking for Prof. David Siegel’s latest discussion of regional amalgamation since the provincial government’s decision to not forge ahead with restructuring? Look no further! You can find it right here, Reflections on Amalgamation: Where do we go from here? 

An excerpt from this brief appeared in The St. Catharines Standard on November 15 and Prof Siegel has also spoken with Matt Holmes on 610 CKTB on municipal amalgamation, democracy, and (the myth of) efficiencies.


It was great to see such high-powered attendees at our latest presentation Elusive Quest or Emerging Reality: Niagara’s ICT Innovation ClusterNCO’s policy brief #43, discussing the emerging state of Niagara’s ICT sector. It’s just the latest research by Dr. Charles Conteh taking a deeper dive into the pivotal sectors of the Niagara economy. The data, which was collected in partnership with Niagara Region Economic Development, includes the number of jobs by industry, median wages, business counts, and how the St. Catharines-Niagara CMA compares to other Ontario CMAs. A special thank-you goes to our panelists: Mishka Balsom, president and CEO of the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce; Jeff Chesebrough, CEO of Innovate Niagara; and Bob Lytle, president and founder of rel8ed.to


Cross-Border Innovation Corridors: How to support, strengthen and sustain cross-border innovation ecosystems. NCO Policy Brief #42 is a continuation of our Binational Prosperity Initiative research being conducted in partnership with University at Buffalo. Charles Conteh spoke to Matt Holmes on 610 CKTB about the importance of cross-border collaboration (pre-COVID).

Once COVID-19 shut down our borders, the partners regrouped in May 2020 to host a roundtable with stakeholders from both sides of the border. The result was a letter to politicians at the federeal, provincial, and state levels of government with seven recommendations on the safe re-opening of the border. You can read about the discussion and the recommendations here in the The Brock News.

Dr. Conteh also spoke to WKBW Channel 7 in Buffalo about the border closures.


PROF. SIEGEL on Regional Restructuring

Last April, the NCO presented policy brief #38 Under the Knife & Under the Gun: An Overview of Regional Government in Niagara by esteemed scholar David Siegel, who tries to provide factual information for people to make evidence-based decisions on the future of Niagara governance.

Prof. Siegel, who specializes in local government, public policy and administration, presented his research to a crowd of 70 stakeholders in Pond Inlet on April 16, culminating in some great discussion. Special thanks to Niagara Regional Chair Jim Bradley and former Chair Debbie Zimmerman for some thoughtful opening and closing remarks. The full policy brief can be found on our website (see the above link) and the power-point presentation can be found here.

From our Director

Dr. Charles Conteh, director of the NCO, is an associate professor in the Dept. of Political Science who specializes in public policy & management, political economy, and governance.

You can find his most recent column for The St. Catharines Standard here:
Engaging the next frontier of manufacturing in Niagara – May 31, 2019

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