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By University of Ottawa

Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation, OVPRI

From left to right: Professors Smita Pakhalé, Aimée Craft and Anna Zumbansen
From left to right: Professors Smita Pakhalé, Aimée Craft and Anna Zumbansen
The Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation (OVPRI), is proud to present the very first Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) in Research Award to Professor Smita Pakhalé, for her exceptional contributions towards EDI at uOttawa and beyond, and for serving as a role model for her community.

As well, Professors Aimée Craft and Anna Zumbansen have received KMb Excellence Awards for 2022–2023, for innovative knowledge mobilization (KMb) activities with a high impact beyond the scholarly community.  

“I am very proud to be presenting our new EDI in Research Award to a researcher who contributes greatly to improving our world by devoting her work to the most vulnerable of our society and by enabling their lifelong health and wellness,” said Sylvain Charbonneau, vice-president, research and innovation, at the University of Ottawa. “Moreover, I am delighted to be giving the KMb Excellence Award to two professors whose research is truly innovative in breaking down barriers between the scholarly community and knowledge users.” 

 

Community connectedness 

Equity-focused health care is much overdue. Long-standing factors such as discrimination, housing and food insecurity, lack of education and income opportunities, and mental health issues have placed systemically disadvantaged populations at greater risk for chronic diseases. 

Professor Smita Pakhalé of the Faculty of Medicine’s Department of Medicine and scientist in the Clinical Epidemiology Program at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute aims to alleviate the health disparities these groups face.  

Pakhalé’s community-based participatory action research has been successful in using what is called the “Bridge model” (named for Ottawa’s Bridge Engagement Centre) to tackle barriers to care for those unhoused or at-risk of homelessness, Indigenous and racialized populations, and people who use drugs. 

“The Bridge model is a ‘whole person’ comprehensive, compassionate approach implementing personalized interventions enabling lifelong health and wellness of the most marginalized populations, leaving no one behind,” said Pakhalé. “At the Bridge, we aim to foster meaningful partnerships with community peer researchers. Students can also learn about the social determinants of health and their impacts on real people’s lives.” 

The Bridge team has earned the trust of vulnerable populations and meaningfully engaged with them. 

“Our research team, led by a racialized woman like me, prioritizes the inclusion of researchers and trainees from diverse experience and those with non-typical research careers,” said Pakhalé. “We emphasize the use of community connectedness and ensure equal involvement of all team members, celebrating their unique experience.” 

Bridge projects use various forms of knowledge mobilization, such as forums and interdisciplinary conferences, to recruit and engage community peer researchers. This approach reaches out to minorities who may not have been assigned occupational titles or formal employment and ensures diversity. It has allowed the team to build an innovative network of clinicians, community members, front-line workers, academicians, social advocates, politicians and businesses. 

 

Communicating traditions 

Sustainable water governance is central to responsible water stewardship for all Canadians, and to future resilience. A key challenge in Canada is the high degree of uncertainty from evolving legal frameworks based on Indigenous rights, which creates new approaches to consultation and co-governance. 

Committed to bridging Indigenous and Western legal traditions, Professor Craft of the Faculty of Law, Common Law Section, an internationally recognized expert on Indigenous-colonial relationships and water rights, aims to collaborate with Indigenous communities, governments and non-governmental organizations to rethink water governance strategies and enhance the role of Indigenous knowledge and perspectives in decision-making. To achieve this, Craft and her team have put in place the Decolonizing Water project

“At its core, Decolonizing Water is about decentring Western approaches and recentring Indigenous ways of thinking about water and our relationships to it,” says Craft. “It was necessary to approach knowledge mobilization in the same way. This was done by working with Indigenous partners and communities to find out what approaches to knowledge mobilization would be useful to them or would best communicate their traditions to individuals outside of their communities.” 

The work involved the creation of a knowledge dissemination working group. The research team is committed to co-research and innovated knowledge dissemination, exemplified by immersive, experiential learning in "water bush camps" and the Nibi water gathering method for organizing training and annual meetings. 

 

Breaking down barriers to social participation 

What happens when someone loses all or part of their language abilities? Speaking, reading, writing and understanding all become more complicated and language-based interaction becomes limited.  

A specialist in adult speech-language pathology, Professor Anna Zumbansen of the Faculty of Health Sciences and associate director of the Music and Health Research Institute, is carrying out work on treatment of aphasia in the weeks and years following a stroke.  

“Aphasia is a communication disorder caused by brain damage that disrupts the ability to use spoken and written language to understand and express oneself,” she says. “This disorder presents a major obstacle to the social participation and well-being of those affected.” 

Over 100,000 people in Canada have aphasia. While research in health care and in the humanities has provided results that allow us to better understand this condition and improve rehabilitation, these results rarely reach people with aphasia and, conversely, it’s difficult for the needs of these people to make it to scientists, she says.  

“For example, research on stroke victims largely excludes survivors with aphasia, while they make up a third of the post-stroke population.” 

Zumbansen believes that it’s possible to adapt communication so that it’s accessible to those with aphasia by devoting more time to it and offering diverse platforms for the same information. With the help of her team, she’s worked to implement a new accessible and inclusive knowledge mobilization process that facilitates exchanges between scientists and those affected by aphasia. This has included organizing events bringing together aphasia knowledge users — those directly affected by aphasia — which she’s offered for free to the Association québécoise des personnes aphasiques. 

 

In addition to the Excellence in Knowledge Mobilization Awards, five knowledge mobilization grants were awarded to the following University of Ottawa research centres and institutes: 

Learn more about uOttawa research centres and institutes