My undergraduate educational background—Anthropology and Creative Writing— afforded me the freedom to explore communication styles beyond the conventional academic paper. During that time, frustrated with the oft dense writing style of many of my course readings, I began to explore the concept of writing about academic concepts for a broader audience. I am now a Master’s student at the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning and interested in social planning for equitable and just cities, which to me also means considering what it means to communicate equitably.
I have worked as a research assistant on the Supporting Transparent and Open Research and Exchange (STOREE) project since October of 2019. The project is broad and has afforded me the opportunity to examine many facets of knowledge and information activities that are relevant to the field of planning, such digital poverty and the roles that knowledge professionals play in supporting equity-seeking groups (Shaxson et al. 2012). I learned that I am particularly interested in place-based approaches to knowledge sharing.
To be place-based is to utilize “knowledge manifested in the local community” using “this as a spring board to introduce concepts in multiple content areas through hands-on, real-world experiences” (Harada N.d., p.8). In other words, place-based approaches emphasize the context of a given community, seek to provide services and programming that match the needs and wants of the community, and build community capacity relative to those needs and wants. From my perspective, a central aspect of place-based approaches that may be missed in planning programs is the value of communicating effectively with the members of the broader community with which you work.
During the summer of 2020, while continuing to work on STOREE, I completed a social planning internship at the Vancouver Foundation’s Neighbourhood Small Grants (NSG). NSG provides small grants of $50-500 to community members across British Columbia. My role was to evaluate the efficacy of the 2019 granting year of NSG relative to six key principles, one of which is: “where we live matters,” which emphasizes “maintaining a local, place-based approach” or, more broadly, consideration to specific contexts. Thinking about communities in this way allows for targeted approaches to meet specific needs. This is a common approach in planning.
At the same time, place-based and contextualized approaches to knowledge mobilization are just as essential for planners, especially social planners, who want to work effectively with and for communities. Knowing how to communicate information to and from various stakeholders is an asset to planners who run community engagement sessions, work in community programs, and create content—like infographics—for various stakeholders. This was a thought process I was able put into action at NSG through the creation of plain-language infographics. I think really, the question is, who are you really working for if you’re not communicating effectively with the communities you purport to work for?
Good knowledge mobilization practices in planning is an ethical issue. The opportunity to work on the STOREE project and engage with interviews from professionals working on place-based knowledge mobilization efforts was an opportunity to see what it means to think about communities and their contexts and how to effectively share ideas between them and other audiences. And further, to remind myself to value the knowledge of communities and how that knowledge can be translated for others, rather than seeing communities as vessels to be filled with knowledge. This understanding is inherent to the definition of place-based models. I appreciate that STOREE has allowed me to engage with knowledge as it relates to place and community, and further my career path in planning.
Ciara Farmer is a second year Master’s student at UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning and an intern at the Vancouver Foundation’s Neighbourhood Small Grants. Her research interests include grassroots community development, community-led programing, knowledge democratization, and equitable food systems. She is a Research Assistant for Dr. Heather O’Brien and Kristina McDavid on the Knowledge Exchange Project.