Political scientist Dr. Jack Lucas, PhD, who is a veteran in partnered research, says he was rejected for his first partnership grant application. “I remember when I showed up at the University of Calgary, there were seed grants for partnership activities and I was young and excited and ready to apply for anything. Looking back on it, what I had proposed clearly wasn’t in any way a partnership,” he says.
Lucas learned from his mistakes early on, tapping into resources on campus to help him with his future grants. It worked.
“Partnered research puts together people with different kinds of skills and shared research interests, coming together to do something that none could really successfully accomplish on their own,” says Lucas, a professor in the Faculty of Arts. “It really is great.”
After that rocky start, Lucas took off. As a political scientist, he is a frequent contributor to CBC and other media outlets. He studies Canadian municipal elections and is often called upon by media during the election cycle.
His research explores political representation in Canadian local governments and at Canadian political development. He also studies place-based politics in Canada, looking at things like the urban and rural divides in Canadian politics and the extent to which urban and rural Canadians have different policy attitudes or vote for different parties and how that has changed over time.
'So many advantages' to partnerships
Lucas has several research projects looking at different areas of Canadian politics and most of them are partnered research projects. One of his biggest projects is the Canadian Municipal Barometer — a national partnership funded through a SSHRC Partnership Development Grant, to generate high-quality data and rigorous analysis of Canadian municipal democracy and public policy. The partnership consists of several academic and community partners.
“There are so many advantages to partnered research. The community partners we've worked with have been especially helpful because at the stage of research design, they often have ideas for things that we should be looking at that we in our academic conversations may not have noticed yet,” says Lucas.
“They have a lot of first-hand knowledge, and they hear things directly from politicians. For instance, we might hear from our partners that online toxicity is a real issue for municipal politicians or that relationships between the federal government and the municipalities are really struggling.”
Canadian Municipal Barometer offers critical data
One part of the Canadian Municipal Barometer project is a survey of the mayors and councillors in the 450 biggest municipalities in Canada. While collecting publicly available information on Canadian municipalities and municipal politicians is valuable, the survey gives the research team an opportunity to understand how politicians perceive local politics and representation themselves, and try to understand in what ways they align with their constituents.
As a next step, the group is working to expand their partnership and survey the Canadian public alongside Canadian municipal politicians so that they can directly match the public and the politicians in compare how well (or not so well) they align with each other in their policy attitudes, priorities, and goals.
The Samara Centre for Democracy has been a community partner of the Canadian Municipal Barometer since 2020. The organization says partnered research projects draw on different types of research expertise and knowledge mobilization to ensure that the data and research collected can have a real impact on Canadian society.
“There is little data available to assess the democratic functioning of local governments across Canada,” says Beatrice Wayne, research manager at the Samara Centre for Democracy. “Considering the recent indicators of deep challenges facing municipal democracy, such as low voter turnout and high incumbency rates, collecting data on Canadians’ attitudes on municipal issues, municipal participation and voting behaviour is critical for the work we do at the Samara Centre.
“Data from this project enables meaningful research, analysis and reporting on the functioning of local democracy that would otherwise be very difficult for us to achieve.”
Exciting opportunities for students
Another benefit of partnered research is that it can lead to exciting opportunities for students.
“Students can have the opportunity to do internships and research assistantships in academic and community organizations that are really interesting, or helpful or good for their careers. It also gives them a chance to interact not just with me, but with political scientists across the country who are part of this partnership,” Lucas says.
“They get to know other professors across Canada and maybe think about going off to graduate school someplace or going to do a postdoc with someone they worked with.”
Lucas recalls his first opportunity to work on a research project as an undergraduate student: “My first research assistantship involved entering election results into a database at the University of Waterloo. And I got to quit my job at Blockbuster Video and go become a part-time research assistant at the University of Waterloo. I felt like a real researcher for the first time.”