RESEARCH

My Research at a Glance

 

My primary program of research is located at the intersection of health, aging and place. As a social gerontologist and qualitative health researcher, my work explores aging from a critical perspective to challenge assumptions about aging and disability, re-imagine practices and policies in community and care settings, and develop new ways of knowing that prioritize the lived experience of older adults. Three areas of scholarship summarize my critical health research: community mobility, place, and methodological innovation.

Methodological Innovation

Introduction

What delineates much of my research is its methodological approach. Critical qualitative health researchers challenge themselves to critically examine current modes of knowledge production, engage creatively with research methodologies, and reflexively utilize diverse theoretical frameworks. Adopting this approach in my research has produced new methodological knowledge including the design of a flexible and creative research method and a unique cross-disciplinary approach to rehabilitation research.

A collaborative cross-disciplinary narrative approach – A strength of my research lies in my ability to integrate multiple perspectives by engaging researchers across disciplines, collaborating with a wide range of health professionals, and ensuring community participation. Using a narrative approach, data is produced in a storytelling format that opens-up a rich and empathetic dialogue from diverse and often disparate groups. Rather than simplification, analysis highlights the complexity and messiness of health-related issues to generate innovative ways forward in addressing these issues.

The moving interview – Drawing on phenomenology that prioritizes experiential and embodied knowledge, I have developed an innovative interview strategy – "the moving interview". This method addresses limitations of traditional interviewing and participant observation while explicitly acknowledging the role of the researcher in data production. Moving with study participants in their natural settings while observing and interviewing them as they negotiate their physical and social environment, the moving interview allows me to ‘capture’ the lived experience of study participants in place and in a way that emphasizes movement (Gardner, P. 2011 & 2014). The major contribution of the moving interview is the purposeful turning of the research gaze to include the researcher's own embodied experience. From this perspective, analysis and interpretation doesn’t seek to ‘hide’, but instead use the researcher's own multisensory experience. The moving interview strategy has generated interest from scholars and hospital-based researchers attending workshops I have delivered on this method. The flexibility and effectiveness of this method is demonstrated in its wide range of use; it is a key method of data collection in my work with Methologica to assess how hospital design impacts the wellbeing of patients and staff while also adaptable to use with undergraduate students for a course-based research project that examines the age-friendliness of neighbourhoods.

While a relatively new scholar, there is evidence to indicate I am emerging as a well-respected methodologist. I am a faculty fellow and was recently appointed as the continuing education coordinator with the Centre for Critical Qualitative Health Research (CQ) at the University of Toronto (http://www.ccqhr.utoronto.ca/). CQ is an internationally recognized hub for qualitative research design and methodological innovation. In addition, I teach methodology workshops that draw participants from hospitals and universities and am part of a team of critical qualitative health scholars invited to share our expertise to national and international audiences. Most recently I was invited as a keynote speaker to present an advanced seminar on critical qualitative health research at the international DIPEx (Database of Individual Patient Experience) Conference in Montreal, QC (October 2, 2017).  

Advanced Seminar on Critical Qualitative Health Inquiry, October 2-3, 2017, McGill University, Montreal QC

Health researchers from around the globe, including Canada, USA, UK, Australia, Japan, Israel, Germany, Norway, Brazil, and the Netherlands, gathered on October 2-3, 2017 at the McGill University Faculty Club to discuss insights and challenges related to critical qualitative health research. The day was structured to promote discussion, debate and exchange around ideas presented by two guest speakers: Joan Eakin, Professor Emerita at the University of Toronto Dalla Lana School of Public Health and Founding Director of the Centre for Critical Qualitative Health Research; and, Paula Gardner, Assistant Professor in Health Sciences at Brock University and Academic Fellow at the Centre for Critical Qualitative Health Research. Professor Eakin discussed critical qualitative research as a transgressive scientific practice and the implications for researchers as well as in the health field more generally. Professor Gardner shared her personal experiences and reflections as a critical qualitative health researcher in a hospital setting with lessons for all engaged in participatory approaches.

The following themes emerged in the sessions following each talk:

  • the tensions of bringing theoretically-informed qualitative research into positivist, health research settings;

  • the challenges of maintaining rigour and integrity as a critical qualitative researcher while also meeting health research’s structural demands, for instance funding and publication criteria;  

  • the personal (and therefore sensitive) reality of different epistemological standpoints, and the concomitant relational/interpersonal tensions these bring; and,  

  • the idea that “Everything is Data!” (Joan Eakin) and its associated ethical and methodological challenges. 

 

The links to a video recording of each presentation can be found here:

 

Acknowledgements

With thanks to our international scientific committee:  

Co-Chairs:            Susan Law – DIPEx Canada, Trillium Health Partners-Institute for Better Health, and University of Toronto

Mary Ellen Macdonald – Chair, MQHRG and Associate Professor, McGill Dentistry

Members:              Rachel Grob (USA); Lisa Hinton (UK); Sara Ryan (UK); Lorraine Smith (AU)

 

With thanks to the generous financial and in-kind contributions from DIPEx International (see: www.dipexinternational.org), Trillium Health Partners-Institute for Better Health, the McGill Qualitative Health Research Group, the Health Experiences Research Canada team, and the Quebec Network for Oral and Bone Health Research (Le Réseau de recherche en santé buccodentaire et osseuse (RSBO)).

THROUGH THEIR EYES PROJECT

"Experience is at the root of understanding."

- Paula Gardner

Through Their Eyes Project

Through Their Eyes is a hands-on community-based project dedicated to examining the age-friendliness of local St. Catharines communities in the Niagara Region. As an integral part of the Applied Health Sciences course “Developing Healthy Communities” at Brock University, students are assigned partners to conduct field research together over the duration of the term. In this project, student teams are partnered with older adults to examine the health of a particular neighbourhood using a healthy community model called “Age-friendly Cities” that examines age friendliness across 8 domains: public spaces; transportation; information and communication; housing; respect and social inclusion; social participation; civic participation and employment; health and social services. The overall goal of the project is to provide students with valuable practical experience while utilizing in-class learning about developing healthy communities.

Students are the primary data collectors for the project, assuming responsibility for conducting and reporting on the interviews with their senior counterparts. The students used “go along” interviews (a qualitative method that combines in-depth interviewing with participant observation) to work collaboratively as an “intergenerational team” to assess the age-friendliness of each neighbourhood. Thanks to the generous assistance and support from a number of participants at various senior residences, the students were able to compile an incredible amount of useful data for the Developing Healthy Communities class and affiliated project partners. The Brock University Research Ethics Board also played a key role in the structuring of the community-based project and provided ethical clearance approving its safety for all participants.

METHOLOGICA

Methologica captures the impact of design on human behaviour and how people use certain spaces.

Methologica

Methologica is an applied research and evaluation consulting firm specializing in assessing how the design of the built environment impacts human behaviour, social interaction and well-being. Working with architects, hospitals and the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care (MOHLTC), Methologica has been influential in the research and development of new design guidelines that re-imagine hospitals as places of wellness instead of places of illness.

Contribution: I have been working with Methologica as a Research Associate since its inception in 2014. My primary responsibility is to provide qualitative research expertise including the conceptualization, implementation and training of qualitative methodologies and techniques. 

Projects to date:  Bridgepoint Active Healthcare, Toronto, ON; West Park Healthcare Centre, Toronto, ON; Providence Care Hospital, Kingston, ON; Niagara Health, St. Catharines Hospital, St. Catharines, ON (current).

Reports to date:

  1. Alvaro, C., Kostovski, D., Wilkinson, A., Gardner, P., & Gallant, S. (2015). A planning guide for post occupancy evaluation: The ABCs of POEs. Prepared for the Health Capital Investment Branch, Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, Toronto, Canada.

  2. Alvaro, C., Kostovski, D., Wilkinson, A. & Gardner, P. (2015). Design and Evaluation: The Path to Better Outcomes, The Final Report on the Bridgepoint Active Healthcare Pre and Post Occupancy Evaluation. Bridgepoint Active Healthcare. http://www.bridgepointhealth.ca/en/what-we-do/Hospital-design-and-health-outcomes.asp

  3. Alvaro, C., Kostovski, D., Wilkinson, A. & Gardner, P. (2014). Design and Evaluation: The Path to Better Outcomes. A Preliminary Report on the Bridgepoint Active Healthcare Pre- and Post Occupancy Evaluation. Bridgepoint Active Healthcare.