Research hub to offer practical knowledge to Ontario’s social economy

A revaluation and stocktaking of Southern Ontario’s social economy, and the use of practical applications to assist organizations to better communicate with stakeholders and build networks, is the goal of a research alliance housed at the Social Economy Centre at the University of Toronto.

“It’s applied research,” says Laurie Mook, a U of T doctoral candidate and principle researcher in the project. “We’re going to work together to provide knowledge that is useful to the sector as a whole.”

The project – The Community-University Research Alliance for Southern Ontario’s Social Economy - is a partnership of Imagine Canada (a national advocacy group for charitable organizations), The Ontario Co-operative Association and the Centre.

Through tools like workshops, manuals, and on-line software to track volunteer contributions, researchers from 11 Southern Ontario universities, external scholars, and graduate students want to assist in creating a greater synergy amongst organizations in the social economy sector, which includes market-based co-operatives, community economic development corporations, and other social enterprises from nonprofits in public service to the many nonprofit mutual associations.

“We want to change the paradigm about thinking about non-profit organizations,” says Mook, who will be working alongside Dr. Jack Quarter, considered one of the Canadian pioneers on social economy research. “We have found for example that there are no systems of keeping track of the contributions of volunteers.”

The project is divided into five research clusters, with 28 overall sub-projects:mapping the size and scope of the social economy in this region;
understanding the impact of the social economy; improving the capacity of social economy organizations (SEOs) to demonstrate the value of their activities; developing public policy; and extending theory.

Sub-project focus ranges widely and comprehensively, from “Exploring the Synthesis Between Urban Food Security and Rural Food Producers Through Such Social-Economy Projects as Catering, Community Gardens, Collective Kitchens” to “Exploring the Impact of Organizational Ownership Structures on the Decision Making Process of Boards of Directors.”

Mook points out that in preliminary workshops with organizations like Frontier College, a literacy advocacy organization, connections between staff and volunteers have deepened. A greater sense of congruency and transparency has grown between staff in different departments, she adds.

“The work is very exciting – just to see the passion that people in this sector have,” says Mook.