Applied research has a long history at George Brown College, running an average of 100 projects a year and sustaining 24 labs and facilities across three campuses.
But in March 2020, when campus facilities closed to help limit the spread of COVID-19, the office of Research and Innovation was quick to react. Many individual projects underwent a radical facelift as they pivoted to embrace the new normal.
Representing diverse identities and communities
When the lockdowns started, John Caffery’s project was thrown for a loop.
His project, Hall of Justice, relies on community-based participation to nominate 2SLGBTQ+ activists for inclusion in a cross-campus poster series. “We need to see our identities reflected in the spaces we frequent,” John says, explaining the heart of the project.
A professor in the Community Worker program, his project had seen many iterations—first, as a Master’s thesis, through to a pilot program with the Toronto District School Board. In previous rounds, the voting was done in a single afternoon, as students and community members gathered in a room. Each participant received 15 stickers to cast their vote on possible nominees, also suggested by participants—what John calls a “dotmocracy.”
This community-based approach, he says, is crucial to ensuring that the axis of diversity was preserved—ensuring that people of different backgrounds, abilities, and identities were represented. “So much of this work historically has been done by being in a room together, surrounded by community,” says John. Now that seemed impossible.
Building a community online
After a few weeks to reassess, the project team reimagined their entire approach. IGNITE funding had allowed John to hire two Graphic design students and three Community Worker students, and it was that intersection of skills and experience that allowed the project to transform into a welcoming virtual space.
The team created an interactive Hall of Justice showcase using a platform called Padlet, which unlocked crucial functionality: the ability to vote, register consent and add user content. The ‘dotmocracy’ had evolved into an open dialogue.
“That was a real breakthrough for us,” John says, “and a really innovative way to use technology to recreate that one-room experience.” Using technology takes more time, but encouraged the team to be more thoughtful and deliberate in reaching students.
Rolled out during Pride Month 2020, John thinks the project in its new form has the potential to reach even more people. “This exercise is really an opportunity to connect with our community, to learn about our collective histories, and create new resources that will be shared across the colleges.”
Image credit: Graham Powell Photography
This article is part of a series highlighting research led by faculty at George Brown. Stay tuned for more news highlighting research and innovation at the college.