Professor Susan McGrath nominated as finalist for prestigious SSHRC Impact Award

Susan McGrath, C.M., a professor in the School of Social Work in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, has been selected by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) as one of three finalists for the prestigious SSHRC Impact Award. The Partnership Award recognizes a SSHRC-funded formal partnership, through its Director, for outstanding achievement in advancing research, research training or knowledge mobilization, or developing a new partnership approach to research and/or related activities. The award is granted to a SSHRC-funded partnership, operating through shared resources and leadership, that has influence within or outside of the social sciences and humanities research community.

McGrath’s innovative work in leading the Refugee Research Network (RRN) positions her as the ideal nominee. The Refugee Research Network is a tremendously successful model of research partnerships that works to improve the well-being of refugees and forced migrants. Originally titled A Canadian Refugee Research Network: Globalizing Knowledge, the Network was awarded a $2.1 million SSHRC Strategic Knowledge Clusters Grant in 2008.

“The Refugee Research Network is intended to establish a global network of academics and practitioners working on refugee issues to generate knowledge, to the benefit of people who are displaced,” says McGrath. “The idea is that we would work collaboratively, generating knowledge, but also that we would disseminate and share that knowledge. So it has a goal of creating and mobilizing knowledge, an active strategy.”

The RRN is composed of multiple networks and research clusters of experts in a variety of fields, who are charged with generating knowledge regarding refugee issues in their geographical regions. These groupings include policy actors, such as government agents who influence policies surrounding displaced peoples. Institutional partners, many based at universities, are spread across the Global North and South, staying in contact and sharing knowledge using various online platforms. The RRN meets annually in Toronto or in conjunction with the Conference of the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration. In 2014, the RRN met at the Conference held in Bogotá, Colombia and will gather for IASFM16 in Poznan Poland in July 2016.

“You need face-to-face communication, initially at least, in order to maintain online or virtual communication. That has been an important part of our learning on how you set up partnerships and how you maintain those relationships,” McGrath says.

As they share knowledge amongst the partners, the networks in turn exchange knowledge with refugees and forced migrants, most of whom are located in nations of the Global South. The RRN’s Facebook page has over 19,000 users including refugees and people who may become refugees. They post and gather information such as safe travel routes and are able to provide active feedback on the RRN’s reports.

“The Facebook page has been probably our biggest way of disseminating knowledge particularly to the field, to actual refugees, and students use it a lot in terms of sharing ideas of job opportunities, for instance,” says McGrath. “We mainly work in English, but our website is accessible in six languages, including Arabic, French, Spanish, Swahili and Somali.”

McGrath, Director of York University’s Centre for Refugee Studies from 2004-12, was awarded the Order of Canada in 2014 for her contributions to refugee rights’ research and policy, as well as for nurturing scholarly collaborations.

Her newest research collaborations have her working with computer scientists including researchers in her Faculty’s School of Information Technology. “My current project looks at how we can use Big Data to inform or anticipate the forced displacement of people, so humanitarian actors can better plan or respond to forced displacement,” she says. “As computer and social scientists, we’re enjoying working together. We have different cultures and different approaches, but we’re learning a lot with each other and I’m really impressed by the interest of our computer science colleagues in our work and also what they bring, their knowledge and ability to manage large amounts of data. We really need to be open to working across disciplines, across sectors, in order to generate the best knowledge so we can better serve society.”

The Partnership Award is awarded to a partnership that, through mutual co-operation and shared intellectual leadership and resources, has demonstrated impact and influence within and/or beyond the social sciences and humanities research community. The annual Impact Awards recognize the highest achievements from outstanding researchers, students and research partners in social sciences and humanities research, research training, knowledge mobilization and scholarship funded partially or completely by SSHRC.

The winners in each category — as well as the gold medal recipient — will be presented with their awards at a ceremony in Ottawa on Monday, Nov. 16, 2015.