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Knowledge you can act on

by CIFAR
Jun 16 / 16
Knowledge You Can Act On


Ending poverty was at the top of Lucenia Ortiz’s mind when she attended a CIFAR event about the power of groups and social connections to improve well-being in communities.


Ortiz is a planner in community services with the city of Edmonton. She left the event that day with new ideas, which she has since incorporated into a strategy called EndPoverty Edmonton.  

Ortiz’s new understanding of social identity – how people define themselves based on the groups they belong to – helped her team develop a recommendation to shift attitudes about poverty in Edmonton, starting in neighbourhoods. “Changing the conversation was really about building a movement, which is really in itself a collective undertaking. Building a movement is about being able to build group identity on a wider scale,” Ortiz says.  

The event that changed her thinking was called “Social Identity: the creative power of groups to improve community well-being.” It was part of CIFAR’s Change Makers dialogue series. The event was just one example of how CIFAR connects experts in our research networks with social innovators, business leaders, policy-makers and practitioners who care about healthier, stronger communities in Canada and around the world.  

This innovative platform for knowledge sharing is called IdeasExchange. The idea behind it is that the world’s supreme challenges will only be solved when leaders across sectors are given the chance to talk to each other, exchange ideas and move forward together.  

CIFAR launched IdeasExchange in 2014 with leadership support from its Major Platform Partner the RBC Foundation, which works with CIFAR to advance research in economic growth, human development, strong societies and child development.  

IdeasExchange develops tailored meetings, forums, talks and other events that help decision-makers understand and solve problems. It aims to build bridges between people who are doing cutting-edge research and practitioners who are dealing with issues on the ground. And the insights flow both ways: researchers gain valuable perspective from professionals on the ground who are working to end poverty, improve health and solve other challenges.  

For instance, a recent Change Makers event called “Researching with Communities” was designed to help communities become partners in the research process, enabling them to help conduct the research and also benefit from its results. CIFAR Senior Fellow Philip Oreopoulos (University of Toronto) attended the event. While there, he discussed with community leaders the idea of developing a collaborative website – a site where organizations can post ideas for research projects and academics can search for research opportunities that match their interests.  

“There is a missing market here, and I have been pursuing the idea,” he says. “I think it could be very fruitful.”  

Future Change Makers events will focus on exploring issues relevant to broader society, such as how to create more inclusive societies in light of rising inequalities; and how our understanding of early life experiences and individual vulnerability can help us to develop better interventions for at-risk children in school environments. Since CIFAR launched the IdeasExchange platform, it has connected 1,340 people with its research. Surveys show that a large majority of those who attend the events find them useful and start using the ideas immediately.  

The IdeasExchange platform includes an online component as well, with a website that has been redesigned to serve as a knowledge hub. Visitors can follow CIFAR’s progress and access CIFAR knowledge through a number of avenues, including papers and articles, timelines of key developments and links to videos by CIFAR researchers. Searches can be made by keyword, subject of interest, program or individual researcher, and the site continually makes new recommendations according to areas of interest.