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.

You can find all NCO research on our Policy Briefs page.

Wilson Foundation Partnership

Exploring Niagara’s Economic Past and Potential Future

How did we get here? And where are we going?

The Niagara Community Observatory and Brock University are excited to partner with the Wilson Foundation to tell the story of Niagara’s economic development from pre-1900 to the present day.

Over the past several months, our interdisciplinary research team has focused on six key economic sectors: hydroelectric power generation; manufacturing and industry; marine transportation; tourism; agriculture and agri-business; and the emerging sector of information and communications technology. The information and knowledge gathered will be presented through digital media, archives and special collections’ exhibitions, symposiums for researchers and the academic community.

The project will also provide experiential learning and research opportunities for Brock’s student body.

NCO Director, Dr. Charles Conteh, leads the two-year project along with a research team gathered from the university’s Faculties of Social Sciences, Humanities, Education, and Goodman School of Business, as well as Library Archives and Special Collections.

For more information, updates, and the latest releases of our working papers, please go to our Wilson Foundation page. You can also read The Brock News announcement from Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022.

Latest Research

We are pleased to release our latest policy brief (No. 56): Municipal Collaboration in Regional Event Hosting Processes: The case of the Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games. This brief was written by Kyle Rich, Erin Sharpe, Martha Barnes, Carol Phillips, and Emily Romano as part of the Vice President-Research Canada Games Research Grants program.

This research examines how local area municipalities collaborated once the Niagara Region was awarded the hosting rights to the Canada Summer Games, held in 2022. The research team presents a case study of the event using social network analysis and interviews to understand the structure of the hosting network, as well as the relationships and collaborations that developed. These relationships and collaborations can have implications for creating sustainable legacy and building knowledge and expertise within our municipalities.

The hope is that these findings can inform future decision-making related to how event bids are pursued and assessed within a regional hosting model, and how hosting structures can be strategically engaged to be beneficial for all participating municipalities.


Our Agri-Innovation Research Day showcased the projects we have been working on over the past two years, funded by the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (the Partnership), a five-year, $3-billion investment by federal, provincial, and territorial governments to strengthen and grow Canada’s agriculture and agri-food sector.

The online event on Wednesday, Jan. 25 featured three sessions.

Morning Session (10 am to 11:30 am)Automation & Robotics Adoption in Ontario’s Agri-food Sector (presented by Dr. Charles Conteh, Dr. Amy Lemay, and Dr. Jeff Boggs)

Thank you to our panelists: Steve Boese (Innovate Niagara), Kristen Obeid (OMAFRA), and Bill VandenOever (Bold Robotic Solutions, Inc.)

FINAL REPORT Building Competitive Agri-food Production Systems: Recommendations for Accelerating the Adoption of Automation & Robotics Technology in Ontario’s Agriculture Sector

Lunchtime Session (12 noon to 1 pm) – Niagara Agriculture Municipal Learning Network (presented by Bunmi Okuwa and Dr. Amy Lemay)
Afternoon Session (2 pm to 3:30 pm) – Mobilizing Knowledge for the Adoption of BMPs in Ontario’s Horticulture Sector (presented by Shannon Ruzgys, Paige Fournier, Kaitlyn Carr, and Dr. Amy Lemay)

A recording of these presentations can be found at the following links:

Automation & Robotics Adoption
Niagara Agriculture Municipal Learning Network
Mobilizing Knowledge for the Adoption of BMPs


Growing agri-innovation series phase 3

Our latest policy brief — #55 — has just been released!

Systemic Barriers and Drivers to Technology Adoption in Canada: Lessons for Agri-Innovation in Ontario from Stakeholders of Canada’s Global Innovation Clusters was written by Dr. Amy Lemay, Allison Clark, Dr. Jeff Boggs, and Dr. Charles Conteh as part of our ongoing research project funded by the Canadian Agricultural Partnership.

In this policy brief, which follows a working paper released in May 2021 and policy brief #53 released in November 2021, our attention turns to one-on-one interviews conducted with stakeholders of Canada’s Global Innovation Clusters (formerly known as Innovation Superclusters). This is the third phase of a more extensive four-pronged study to investigate opportunities and challenges associated with building competitive production systems in Ontario’s agri-food sector, focusing on the barriers and drivers associated particularly in the development and adoption of automation and robotics technology.

The interviews provide insights into the challenges faced by researchers, technology developers and intermediaries in developing, scaling and commercializing automation and robotics technologies and their perceptions of barriers and drivers of adoption faced by their end-users, such as farmers.

You can find a recording of the research presentation on our Podcasts & Presentations page.

This is an Ontario Agri-food Research Initiative (OAFRI) project. OAFRI projects are funded through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a five-year, $3-billion investment by Canada’s federal, provincial, and territorial governments to strengthen and grow Canada’s agriculture and agri-food sector.


The NCO kicked off a great day of celebrating Brock research on October 6 at the Brock-Canada Games Academic Showcase with its special report LEVERAGING RESEARCH FOR LEGACY How a stakeholder can leverage a major sport event to create lasting legacy for its own community and beyond: The case study of Brock University’s Canada Games Research Grants program. The report, written by Dr. Carol Phillips, Jake Quinton, and Dr. Julie Stevens frames the $200,000 grants program as a legacy-builder for both the university and Niagara. Some 34 faculty, six staff and 82 students across all Faculties participated on 30 projects, and 32 community partners also got involved.


The NCO has just released its full policy brief, Improving Safe and Affordable Housing for Women in Niagara, Before and After COVID-19, written by Dr. Joanne Heritz, Dr. Kathy Moscou, and Dr. Charles Conteh. This policy brief is the culmination of a year’s work, funded through SSHRC and in partnership with the YWCA Niagara Region, in which the research team listened to women’s stories of homelessness in order to inform policy change.

The full brief follows our public event, held at Pond Inlet on Wednesday, June 22 where we released a fact sheet, Unhoused in Niagara, giving a snapshot of our findings. More than 50 politicians, community service workers, and academics gathered to hear that presentation by Dr. Heritz, Dr. Moscou, and research assistants Tara Dekker and Katie Keays. Special thanks goes to our amazing panel: Jenny Shickluna (Mgr. Housing Programs, Niagara Region), Wendy Sturgeon (Exec. Dir. Niagara Chapter- Native Women Inc.), and Christina Thomas (community support worker and a member of the project’s Housing Advisory Council).

You can find a recording of the June 22 presentation on our Podcasts & Presentations page.

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.

Our Director

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

You can reach him at cconteh@brocku.ca