CRRF Conference 2018

How I spent my first week on the job

By Georgette Nyankson

October 29, 2018

As a newly hired Rural Engagement Assistant at the Rural Policy Learning Commons (RPLC), I got the opportunity to spend my first week on the job at the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation (CRRF) Conference in Saskatoon. It was a great opportunity for me to network with scholars, researchers, and policy makers, which I believe will help me in my career. The CRRF Conference was co-hosted by CRRF and the University of Saskatchewan. The RPLC has been sponsoring CRRF conferences since 2014. It was a three-day conference from October 10th to 12th, 2018. The theme for the CRRF conference was “Health and Shared Prosperity.” It was a remarkable conference with about 144 attendees and free webinars online for participants who were not present.

Photo by Emmy Neuls

The conference was comprised of a number of different types of sessions, namely plenary sessions, concurrent sessions, poster sessions, board meetings, a New Researchers Forum, and a banquet dinner. Keynote speakers (click here for names of speakers) presented on five thematic areas: Community Navigators, Conversation Café: CRRF and the Future of Rural, Rural Mental Health, Water Governance, as well as Reconciliation and Rural Development. It was a great experience for me since my country of origin (Ghana) consists of a high proportion of rural areas, which face similar challenges as addressed by the speakers. In fact, the keynote speakers did great presentations by making good justifications with great statistics, facts, and good literature reviews with regard to their areas of research. I learned a lot from all the sessions in which I participated; however, I would like to elaborate on what I learnt from three plenary sessions (Rural Mental Health, Community Navigators, and Conservation Café) and one concurrent session (Rural Data and Digital Technologies).

Conservation Café: CRRF & the Future of Rural

This session made me understand the importance of rural engagement through conference initiatives. Bill Reimer pointed out that CRRF and its predecessor the Agricultural and Rural Restructuring Group (ARRG) have addressed some important rural and remote issues through their annual conferences, which attracted researchers, policy makers, and rural citizens. He informed us that over the years, CRRF and ARRG have held conference in 30 places from Prince George in the west to Twillingate in the east and Inuvik in the north. Bill notified participants that CRRF sponsored the Rural Economy Project, and there are 32 field sites with CRRF initiatives.

Bill concluded with lessons learnt over the years and stressed that rural communities must take initiative: local assets are critically necessary to build capacity in social organization and governance. Sarah Breen, CRRF president, highlighted that communities are led by people who are researchers. In this regard, CRRF is doing great by working with partners and has been able to accomplish more through partnership.

Rural Mental Health

The rural mental health presentation was very interesting and informative. The speakers reviewed some problems affecting mental health and came up with some recommendations. Karen Dyck presented on the “Mental Health Needs of Rural Canadians” and emphasized that mental health is the leading cause of disabilities. She also pointed out that men have higher rates of addiction, whereas women have higher rates of mood and anxiety disorders. She highlighted the barriers to accessing services in rural Canada, which include the following:

  • limited local resources
  • culture/language
  • provincial funding/ jurisdictional issues
  • lack of public transportation
  • costs
  • stigma/lack of anonymity
  • communication issues, and
  • self-reliance.

Duane Favel, mayor of Ile-a-la-Crosse in Saskatchewan, spoke about how mental health in the North creates stress and anxiety within families and communities as well as increases the burden on physicians and professionals. Some of the challenges elaborated on by Duane on “Mental Health in the North” were inadequate resources and specialized services, as well as lack of capacity and planning.

Photo by Georgette Nyankson (RPLC)

The speakers made relevant recommendations to address rural mental health, such as the following:

  • expansion of technology
  • training and recruiting psychologists and graduates to focus on rural care needs and rural practices
  • focusing on social determinants of health
  • provision of specialized programs in communities and schools
  • creation of an effective data collection system, and
  • community autonomy.

It is evident that developing countries like Ghana are experiencing worse situations in rural mental health, and the recommendation noted by the panelists can help developing countries to address mental health problems.

Community Navigators

The presenter (John McArthur of Pheasant Rump Nakota Nation) spoke about ways of engaging community members, specifically First Nations. He outlined how some First Nations are hiring Community Navigators, community members who will lead their community’s development plans forward. The speaker was of the view that comprehensive community planning involves gathering ideas and knowledge and getting things done right away. This work can be done by community navigators and First Nations since they are ready for change. John McArthur said that numerous steps have been taken that have led to community progress.

Photo by Georgette Nyankson (RPLC)

According to the speaker, community navigators focus on empowering communities through the knowledge of Elders by tapping into their foundational experience and treating them with traditional honour and respect. On the government side, community navigators promote council leadership by assessing the current reality, encouraging progressive decisions, and celebrating accomplishments. From the speaker’s point of view, that First Nation Community Navigator Program contributed to comprehensive community planning through community engagement; however, the speaker made an important point that the membership of community navigators needs to be strengthened and necessary resources need to be solicited.

Rural Data and Digital Technologies

I realized the importance of community-based research at this concurrent session. The presenters (Wayne Kelly and Mikaël Akimowicz) used community-based research to investigate the utilization of digital technologies in four rural communities in Manitoba. The presenters explained the outcomes, challenges, and lessons learnt from using digital technologies, as well as the use of community-based research.

Photo by Georgette Nyankson (RPLC)

Wayne emphasized that community-based research was used because it gives a better understanding of how rural communities use digital technologies and it helps to produce useful and unique research. Mikaël outlined some challenges faced in using the community-based research approach, including academic concerns, trying to manage different partners’ expectations, budget constraints, and less flexibility to manage budgets. According to the presenters, they learnt that relationships among the stakeholders are foundational to successful community-based research.

In a nut shell, this conference gave me in-depth knowledge about rural areas in different research areas, which will facilitate my master’s thesis on “Women and Agriculture.” I am looking forward to attending more CRRF conferences in the future.