Rural and small town places across central and northern BC confront a range of social and economic restructuring pressures. The dependance on single resource based industries, the uncertainty of employment within these industries, the loss of local employment in support industries, the leakage of commercial businesses and retail dollars, and resulting losses in local population. These pressures also include the restructuring of public and private sector investment in both services and facilities. In many cases, service closures also create associated losses in local employment and can limit opportunities for local diversification. In short, rural and small town places in UNBC's service region face challenges as they struggle with sustainability and viability.
At the same time, dynamic opportunities are being explored. These include the cruise ship arrivals in the northwest, destination resort developments near Valemount, dinosaur discoveries near Tumbler Ridge, oil and gas development in the Peace River region, a rejuvenation of mining activity, and a host of other examples.
In addition, community development in northern BC faces a dilemma. On the one hand, public policy is clearly saying that rural and small town places must generate 'bottom up' community and economic development activity. In work with many northern BC communities, we have found that they are already engaged in this bottom up development work. At the same time, however, public policy and market mechanisms have been removing many of the basic infrastructure and information supports which would make bottom up community development feasible. The Community Development Institute at UNBC can play a pivotal role in supporting research and providing information so that people in central and northern BC are able to make their own informed decisions about their community's future.
In accordance with UNBC's founding vision, and with our Mission "as a university in the north, for the north", this Institute can fill a crucial information gap and play a significant role in northern BC as people, places, and economies restructure in response to change. It also serves to support one of the three interdisciplinary themes in UNBC's Strategic Research Plan. Just as the "Sustainability of Communities" theme envisions a range of disciplinary involvement, so too does the Institute encourage a wide range of faculty involvement. The diversity of people and places in northern BC also means that the Institute is respectful of that diversity and UNBC's commitments to openness and equality (En cha huná).
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The mission of the Community Development Institute at UNBC is to support the research, information, and development needs of Northern BC's rural and small town communities as they adjust to change in the new economy.
The Institute is a resource centre to which communities and decision-makers can turn in their search for timely and relevant information. It is also be a conduit through which information from outside the region is shared with communities. In addition, the Institute is ideally positioned to coordinate broader regional research to understand and energize community development.
The Community Development Institute at UNBC is interested in the issues of community capacity and community development:
Under changing social and economic conditions, communities need the capacity to respond. Community capacity refers to the ability of residents to organize their assets and resources to achieve objectives they consider important. These objectives may be reactive, where people are faced with a challenge, or innovative, where new visions are established and pursued. Community capacity is built and maintained by the norms, traditions, regulations, and social relationships enabling otherwise disparate individuals to co-ordinate their actions for collective ends.
To enhance this capacity requires community development. In a general sense, community development concerns improvements to local social and cultural infrastructure. It is most often identified with increasing the skills, knowledge, and abilities of residents to access information and resources and to then use these tools to create strategies and partnerships which can take advantage of changing circumstances.
The Community Development Institute at UNBC focuses upon:
Balancing both applied and basic work so as to maintain academic credibility and to be of practical relevance to communities;
Building upon a strong "extension" tradition to connect research and training opportunities with community needs and to translate best practices and leading scholarship into applied tools for rural and small town places;
Creating community capacity through a close connection between the university curriculum, opportunities under continuing education and regional offerings, and connections with the northern colleges and with specialized centres for delivery of education and training programs.
In addition, the Community Development Institute at UNBC emphasizes the following:
Through opportunities in training and information sharing, the Institute will create community development capacity 1) among our undergraduate and graduate student population, 2) with in-service professionals, and 3) with community members. Capacity transfer to northern communities and residents is a central goal.
In a resource limited educational setting, we do not seek to replicate already functioning research and educational services nor to be in competition with existing programs and services offered by municipal, regional, provincial, or federal agencies. Instead, collaboration involves mutual working relationships so that each party (whether government or community group) benefits from interaction with the Institute. For example, various centers in BC and elsewhere (none of which have a specific rural/northern focus) have educational outreach programs but no means to coordinate, organize, or offer them in communities. The provincial government's Community Transition Branch and the federal government's Rural Secretariat have also expressed a desire for a working relationship, as they do not have the research capacity to investigate small town transition but can access data otherwise not accessible to university researchers. By combining their interests, the partners achieve a new product and create useful information for communities. Opportunities for collaboration also exist within UNBC, such as with the the Institute for Social Research and Evaluation.
In terms of complementarity, shared interests between UNBC research institutes provides a foundation for wider study of topics which will feed directly into the outreach activities of the Institute by creating information and products relevant to rural and small town communities. For example, the changing availability of health care services is a shared interest with the BC Rural and Remote Health Research Institute and the different approaches each takes will generate synergy. An important complementary relationship also exists with UNBCs Northern Land Use Institute. Refinement of the NLUI's mission on "land use" to integrate settlement and resource landscapes creates the need for a companion interest in the human side of community development issues.
Classroom/Community Service Learning
Opportunities are also made available by coordinating community needs with classroom teaching opportunities for UNBC faculty and students. This is increasingly important for universities, and UNBC is building upon its already strong faculty commitment and community interest.
The research agenda for the Community Development Institute at UNBC balances both applied and basic work so as to maintain academic credibility and to be of practical relevance to the communities of northern BC.
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The Community Development Institute at UNBC functions under the direction of an Institute Director. The Director is supported by administrative and research assistants. The Institute is also available to house short-term visiting scholars. Postdoctoral fellows would be welcomed but would need to be affiliated with an Academic Program.
The Institute plan envisions open access to participation. This can include participation by UNBC faculty members as well as others interested and qualified. Mechanisms for Institute membership are as follows:
- Informal collaboration on research projects.
- All tenure track UNBC faculty are eligible to apply for membership through the Internal Management Committee on the criteria that they are bringing assets to the Institute (such as research project funding).
- A broader category of Research Fellows would also be eligible to apply for membership through the Internal Management Committee on a renewable limited term basis on the criteria that they are bringing assets to the Institute (such as collaborative relationships with other organizations).
- Post-doctoral and Visiting Fellows would be eligible to apply for limited term memberships directly to the Director of the Institute and on the recommendation of an academic program head where they will be housed within the University.
All research institutes at UNBC are required to operate with an internally appointed management committee and an externally appointed advisory committee. Committee membership expectations are noted below:
Internal Management Committee:
- Vice-President (Research) - Chair Director of Regional Operations
- Canada Research Chair in Rural and Small Town Studies
- One faculty member appointed from CASHS
- One faculty member appointed from CSAM Institute Director (ex-officio)
External Advisory Committee:
- One representative from North-Central Municipal Association
- One representative from the Northern Chapter of the BC Chambers' of Commerce
- One representative from the BC Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services Community Transition Branch
- One representative from the federal Rural Secretariat's BC Team
- One First Nations representative
- One small business representative
- One voluntary sector representative
- One community college representative
- Institute Director (ex-officio)
Both the Internal Management Committee and the External Advisory Committee provide advice to the Institute Director on strategic planning and new program development opportunities. The management committee meets on a quarterly basis. The advisory committee meets annually. An annual report of the activities of the Institute, including an audit statement, is presented to the University Senate each year.
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