Researchers and youth work together to study and build resilience

October 3, 2017
Cindy MacDougall

When it comes to recovering from disaster and building resilience, the ResiliencebyDesign Research Innovation Lab shows that young people should be at the centre of research and action.

The RbD Lab, established in 2015 by Professor Robin Cox under the School of Humanitarian Studies, involves a team of faculty, post-doctoral associates and graduate students. It brings together interdisciplinary researchers and youth to explore community resilience, disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and social innovation.

Youth-adult partnerships that foster creativity and build skills are at the core of the lab’s work, says Professor Robin Cox, director of ResiliencebyDesign. 

“We work from the principle that research is inherently relationship-based,” says Cox. “Forging relationships is not only the foundation for good research, it’s part of its transformative power.”

The lab’s model sees youth participating at various levels: engaging in workshops and surveys, brainstorming practical tools to use in disaster recovery and resilience, and using creative action research methods.

Cox says involving youth in this research is essential as disaster risks increase due to climate change.

“Decisions are being made that impact their lives now and in the future,” she says. “Youth should be meaningfully engaged in those decisions and processes.”

Cox says the team considers the work done with youth to be as essential as the research outcomes.

“We constantly integrate what looks like more traditional research activities with what definitely don’t look like traditional research activities,” says Cox. “The creative process can produce insights and be transformative of itself.”

The RbD Lab is involved in a range of projects showcasing creativity. One is the Youth Voices Rising: Recovery and Resilience in Wood Buffalo project. Funded by the Canadian Red Cross after the 2016 northern Alberta wildfires, the two-year project aims to boost youth voices in the recovery process and decision-making, as well as strengthen resilience.

Researcher Dr. Tamara Plush works with youth across the Wood Buffalo region. Youth create media that reflects the strengths of their communities and how to make them better, then share their creations with community leaders and on social media.

“Young people may be reluctant to share their views in a formal setting,” says Plush. “Visual storytelling not only serves as a catalyst for understanding and amplifying youth concerns, but the narratives can evoke powerful emotional reactions which may be the spark needed for action.”

ResiliencebyDesign also gives youth opportunities to learn practical skills. Two of the lab’s projects even offer the option of earning a skills certificate from Royal Roads’ Continuing Studies department.  

In the Alberta Resilient Communities project funded through Alberta Innovates: Health Solutions, Cox and the RbD team work with co-investigators from two other universities to study the resiliency of children and youth affected by the 2013 floods in High River and Calgary.

The RbD created a social innovation skills certificate program for youth, teaching skills in research, community engagement and digital storytelling. The youth created prototypes for resilience initiatives and pitched them to local stakeholders.

“One of the youth’s prototypes was to create a Raspberry Pi computer, a small self-made unit that can be included in emergency kits,” Cox says. “You can create a local network with these for communications during a disaster.”

In another project, ResiliencebyDesign offers a modified certificate to Inuit youth to support the five-year Resilient Youth in Stressed Environments project.

RYSE, a partnership led by Dalhousie University’s Resilience Research Centre and an international team of partners, recently received $2 million from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

The research focuses on understanding and contributing to the resilience and well-being of youth in communities involved in oil and gas production, those affected by climate change, and the intersection of both. Teams will partner with youth and adults in two Canadian communities (Drayton Valley, Alberta and Cambridge Bay, Nunavut) and one in South Africa.

Youth in Cambridge Bay participated in a leadership and innovation skills certificate through the research.

“We want to make a difference in the lives of young people as we learn from them and their communities,” says Cox. “This certificate is part of that commitment and our goal of doing research that builds capacity and contributes to communities directly.”

The energy and youthful outlook at the RbD Lab holds a special place in academia, Cox says.

“The level of teamwork and collaboration feels like an important contribution to the field,” she says. “We’re not only doing exciting research, we’re contributing to the capacity of young community leaders and young researchers coming to Royal Roads. It’s a nexus.”

This profile was developed with the assistance of the Research Support Fund and will be included in the forthcoming 2018 Research in Action publication featuring Royal Roads University faculty and student research.