Application Number: 4
INITIATIVE: What is the title of your initiative?
Collaborative Commons: Thunder Bay Region Co-Working Centre and Food Systems Innovation Hub
RATIONALE: Why was this initiative developed? Briefly describe your vision for this initiative: what changes would you like to see in your community, in the college/university, and for the student experience?
Over the past 15 years, many social justice and environmental sustainability efforts in the Thunder Bay region have been led by Lakehead University, community groups, non-profit organizations and municipalities. As these initiatives matured, collaboration has become more possible and even essential to developing and co-creating innovative opportunities for community resiliency and sustainability in Northwestern Ontario. Concerns about increasing rates of hunger, loss of traditional food skills, and limited access to healthy, culturally appropriate food (which is especially acute in northern regions) have become a catalyst for collaboration. In order to address the challenges of food insecurity and build green communities and resilient local economies and urban environments, we must continue to establish a broad based, interconnected network of civil society, business and government stakeholders. The proposed Collaborative Commons project brings together two major academic institutions, numerous community leaders and municipal partners to galvanize the impact of our growing network and establish the foundations for collaborative research, impact and developmental evaluation and policy change that promises to enhance the civic commons. The project will enhance the capacity for the partners to take action on social and environmental issues by repurposing a two-story building in the downtown core of Thunder Bay as a co-working centre and food systems innovation hub. The space will be used to improve community-based research and civic engagement by co-locating faculty, students and community groups as well as providing meeting and workshop spaces for multi-sector collaborations that enhance our civic intelligence around food systems research, programming and policy. The building will also include spaces for public use, offices that co-locate local organizations and entrepreneurs, an industrial kitchen and a café. The Collaborative Commons will facilitate integration across the region and become a hub for community-university engagement (e.g., research, teaching and action). As universities look to the community for relevant and meaningful learning opportunities for students, this space will bring together high quality research, social innovation, civic action and economic development with a goal of building a more socially just and ecologically sustainable City of Thunder Bay and region. The Collaborative Commons will bring together the interests of partners to innovate on a range of issues including: Indigenous food sovereignty, scaling up community-based projects, new farmer training and financing, urban agriculture, food tourism, institutional food procurement, as well as initiatives aimed at fostering local food entrepreneurship, infrastructure of the middle, and food access in the north. Bringing together such a diverse range of partners representing a multitude of sectors, resources, and mandates will enhance the collective impact of existing networks. The project will contribute to building a stronger civic commons and will provide an anchor for post-secondary institutions to engage in longer-term and more impactful collaborations with community organizations, businesses, local governments and agencies.
GOVERNANCE AND PARTNERSHIPS: Who will oversee and manage the initiative? How does it connect with other local, regional, or national projects or networks?
The project will be managed by Charles Levkoe, a postdoctoral fellow at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Centre for Food Sustainable Food Systems, in partnership with faculty and students at Lakehead University. Levkoe has over 15 years experience working in the non-profit sector and is deeply involved in community-based research that focuses on network building and community food security in Canada. Roots to Harvest will be the main collaborator. Its mission is to provide transformative educational and employment opportunities for youth and cultivate healthy communities by engaging the community in local agriculture. Lakehead University’s Canadian Research Chair in Food Systems Studies will also play a lead role in this project (to be hired in Summer 2016). This initiative will build on the successful work of the Thunder Bay Food Charter, which has become a platform to bring diverse food systems interests together. The Charter was adopted by Thunder Bay City Council in 2008 and later by 33 surrounding municipalities, organizations and businesses. It is rooted in a commitment to community food security, which integrates economic, social justice, health, cultural, and environmental considerations. At a regional Food Summit in 2012, community leaders identified the need to develop a strategic action plan to realize the Charter’s vision of creating a healthy and sustainable food system. This led to the establishment of the Thunder Bay and Area Food Strategy in 2013, which has been formally endorsed by the City of Thunder Bay and six councils in the Census Metropolitan Area. It has a coordinator that takes on pilot projects affecting policy change and has support from city departments, agencies and rural municipalities. Roots to Harvest works closely with the Food Strategy, leading work in schools, urban agriculture, and procurement. The Collaborative Commons project will enhance the Food Strategy’s objectives and goals.
OVERVIEW OF ACTIVITIES: Briefly describe the activities of the initiative: when did it start, what organizations and departments are participating? Give a few examples of what participants will be doing.
There is a strong and established network of academics, not-for profit organizations, businesses and public sector partners in Thunder Bay. Network members have identified the Collaborative Commons project as an important step toward enhancing the civic commons by bringing together the knowledge, skills, and other resources partners have to offer. This project seeks to develop a collaborative vision, as well as a comprehensive and well-developed plan to purchase and operate a co-working space and food systems innovation hub in the Thunder Bay region. As part of this project we will hire a coordinator that will bring the partners together to negotiate the final details of the Collaborative Commons vision. They will also engage the broader community to provide input for the design and use of the repurposed building space. Faculty and students will support the research by conducting a needs assessment, an environmental scan of similar projects and exploring best practices in the design and implementation of co-working spaces and innovation hubs. The coordinator will also design and implement a community support campaign and fundraising plan, work with a consultant from the Centre for Social Innovation and with a local architect/developer to develop a specific design plan for the space. The project will produce a major report outlining best practices and key recommendations for moving forward, which will be shared with the partners and their networks. Our aim is to purchase the building and begin renovations shortly after the report is completed.
STRATEGIC LEARNING: What will success look like both in the short-term and the long-term? How are you assessing results? What will you do with this information, and with whom are you sharing lessons?
The ultimate metric of the project’s success will be the development of the Collaborative Commons. In the short-term (i.e. 18 months) success will be measured on a number of fronts. First, success is dependent on hiring a coordinator to manage the initiative and support students in the research and environmental scan. Second, it is essential that all partners have meaningful input into the vision and mission of the Collaborative Commons and that an accompanying Theory of Change is developed. A developmental evaluation will also be used to assess impact and continue to be responsive to the emergent and dynamic realities. Third, an advisory committee of key stakeholders and experts (e.g. an accountant, lawyer, designer, etc.) will be established to guide and support the development and evaluation of the project. In the longer-term, success will be marked by opening the Collaborative Commons along with the support of a strong network that includes links between the university, government, private sector and community partners. Ongoing project assessment and evaluation will be conducted using the Theory of Change and a developmental evaluation. Using these tools we will develop and share insights about the research process and the creation and evolution of the collaborative relationships. We will disseminate and share the lessons we learn through our project partners, the Thunder Bay Food Strategy, and the Nourishing Communities research and action network (see description below).
Would you consider your initiative to be a social enterprise?
Does the proposed initiative have potential to be applied elsewhere in Canada? If yes, please explain.
We will learn from and work with organizations that provide models for collaborative working spaces such as the Centre for Social Innovation (Toronto and New York), 10 Carden (Guelph) and Station 20 (Regina). That said, the Thunder Bay area has a unique reality that requires a different approach. The model we establish could be widely shared in other remote regions of Canada and the US. Working with existing models, we aim to develop resources that can be shared with other networks.
1. APPROACH: Which departments are involved in this initiative? How will they work with community organizations, social enterprise, local government and within post-secondary institutions (i.e. with professors, administration and students)?
The Centre for Sustainable Food Systems is based at Wilfrid Laurier University with an aim to address the interconnected environmental, social and economic challenges facing the global food system. The Centre brings together community-based and academic researchers from across Canada and from a diverse array of disciplines and departments. Researchers at the Centre work closely with faculty and students at Lakehead University (located primarily in the Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences). The two universities have developed a partnership over the past decade through the Nourishing Communities network, which also involves a wide range of post secondary institutions and community organizations from across Canada. In 2015, Nourishing Communities was awarded a Partnership Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for a project called Food: Locally Embedded, Globally Engaged (FLEdGE). Overall, FLEdGE links two of the most pressing issues of our time – sustainability and food. It supports co-creating knowledge about sustainable regional food systems and explores the current and potential role of community food initiatives across Canada and globally. FLEdGE builds on over a decade of experience doing collaborative and community-engaged research and will bring that experience to this project working with a new group of community partners. The Collaborative Commons project will become a part of this community-engaged research and action network to learn from, and share experiences with faculty, students, community leaders and government representatives across the country. This will include students working directly with community organizations that will help identify research needs, direct research, share priorities, provide feedback about research results and negotiate future directions.
2. INFLUENCING POST-SECONDARY INSTITUTIONS: Will research or teaching within the post secondary institution you are a part of or working with be changed as a result of this initiative? How will the administration staff, faculty, and students be involved and recognized for their accomplishments within the college/ university?
The Collaboration Commons will play a major role in the short- and long-term research and teaching at Lakehead University and will become a hub for community-engaged research focused on food systems. Lakehead University’s new Canadian Research Chair in Food Systems Studies (beginning Summer 2016) will work with the network and be based in the co-working centre to facilitate collaboration between academic and community partners. The building will be the home for the proposed Lakehead Centre for Food Systems Studies as an anchor tenant in the new building. Students and faculty will use the space as a location to conduct data analysis and to facilitate ongoing partnerships with the community, local businesses and municipalities. The Collaborative Commons will also be a hub for the proposed Graduate Certificate in Food Systems Studies at Lakehead University and to facilitate service learning placements and opportunities.
IMPACT: What will you be able to accomplish now that you could not before the collaboration? In what way will your organization work differently as a result of this initiative?
Since the organization was founded in 2007, Roots to Harvest has developed a strong community presence and has established itself as a lead organization in the city, pioneering many successful projects such as a summer youth employment program, developing value added urban fruit products, and incubating small scale producer seed saving. The organization has significant experience in youth employment, agricultural training and in bringing diverse groups and demographics together for change. Increasingly, this work transects with many other existing efforts within the City and region. In order to respond to the broad factors affecting community health and well-being, there is a need for an innovative and collaborative approach. Roots to Harvest has an opportunity to become a leader in the Thunder Bay region by enhancing programs, better leveraging resources and skills, and deepening impact. Co-locating with other organizations will be an extremely valuable opportunity for the work of Roots to Harvest and for the evolution of the organization. The Collaborative Commons will create a much needed opportunity for regular communications and connections between a range of stakeholders working to improve the local food system. The space will provide a means to foster a larger support network, alternative avenues for civic engagement and meaningful impact in different aspects of the food system. Additionally, working alongside and in partnership with students and faculty from the university will bring a depth and context to the work and position it more accurately within food systems thinking. The Collaborative Commons is much needed within the Thunder Bay region and Roots to Harvest is willing and able to play a leadership role. Funding from RECODE & Cities for People Innovation Awards will provide the necessary support for assembling the research, creating an inclusive and meaningful process, developing a clear vision and laying the groundwork (e.g. environmental scan, business plan). This project promises to fully take advantage of the current momentum and ensure that the foundation for collaboration is solid and representative of the community priorities.
Dr Charles Levkoe
Phone Number: 647-633-7447
Mrs Erin Beagle
Phone Number: 807-285-0189
Dr Charles Levkoe
Dr Alison Blay-Palmer
Other relevant information/comments
Thunder Bay and Area Food Strategy Kendal Donahue, Food Strategy Coordinator, Thunder Bay and Area firstname.lastname@example.org (807) 624-2143