The Guelph Lab works with the City of Guelph and community partners on research that supports effective local government. We’ve been involved in research projects on a wide range of topics – from a policy guide on the sharing economy to research on residents’ experiences at the local waste drop-off site.
Sometimes we’re actively involved in doing the research, and sometimes we broker the research to other places on the University of Guelph campus.
Different Ways to Work with the University
Projects can involve students, faculty members or staff, and sometimes all three. And projects come in different shapes and sizes - multi-year collaborative projects with faculty members, short research projects with graduate students, training workshops and programs, and projects linked to student learning through regular credit courses, internships and practicums. This doesn’t mean we can find a good fit for every project but we do have options.
So, what can you do if you’re interested in what other municipalities are doing? Or want to learn about best practices? Or explore different theories or models or definitions? Or want to evaluate a program you’re working on? Or any other question where you think research might be useful?
Community Engaged Research
We value research, and believe it plays a key role in any effort to address complex social and environmental challenges. We also recognize the importance of bringing together different kinds of knowledge (experts AND people with lived experience; theory AND practice).
In the world of universities this is called community engaged scholarship and the best examples generate benefits for the community and the university. By meeting a community need, students are able to build new skills and faculty can create new research knowledge with a focus on community problem-solving.
City - University Partnerships
In Guelph, the university and the city actually have a long history of working together in this way. City staff have worked with faculty and students to answer questions on everything from recreational resources, home retro-fit programs, older adult strategies and municipal budgeting processes, to clean water technologies, transit policy, digital services and community well-being. Supporting these kinds of partnerships is one reason the Guelph Lab was created.
The University’s "Atrium” is an open access database of books, articles, reports, image collections, theses, dissertations, presentations, videos, audio materials and more. Many of these (but not all) are the product of partnerships with the City and/or community. In fact, there are over 4,000 entries related to the “City of Guelph.” Of these there are, for instance, 127 related to water, 26 related to transit, and 63 related to urban planning.
Research on Employee Engagement
The City of Guelph had conducted an employee engagement survey in 2012 in which it didn’t perform well. Two years later, while some departments had made positive strides, others had been less successful, so the overall picture hadn’t actually changed all that much.
Through the Guelph Lab, the city was able to work with a graduate student to review existing research on questions like “what do we mean when we talk about engagement? What do we think improves or undermines engagement?” And many others.
Here are some of the highlights from what the student found:
Work places with high levels of trust don’t actually need to formally regulate employee’s behaviour as much
Receiving performance feedback is important but who provides it isn’t necessarily. It could come from a supervisor, but peers and other teams members, or even clients / service users (citizens) are equally effective
Accountability can be external and formal but it is also personal and internal - we can be held accountable for our work (by someone else or through formal policies) but we can also hold ourselves accountable
The results of this work were an important reference point for the city going forward, along with the experience of the people working on the issue and from the human resources department.