Attention to place and the important role that places – as physical and social spaces – play in health, is a prominent theme in my research. Adopting a critical geographical perspective, I conceptualize place not as simple backdrops to life, but as dynamic spaces where social, cultural, historical and political features coalesce to make up the meaningful context of human life. Guided by the notion that ‘place matters’ i.e., that lives are situated and located, I seek to understand health and aging by anchoring knowledge “in place”.
Communities are my living labs and places of research. Using participatory approaches, I partner with community members asking: What do you need to know? What is the most pressing concern for your community? How can we work together to better understand this problem and affect change? My community labs have included neighbourhoods in, for example, Toronto (Gardner, 2011) and New York City (Gardner, 2012).
Working as a research scientist at Bridgepoint Healthcare, I added hospitals as an important place for health research. Participatory designs that prioritize the place-based (hospital) experience of patients and staff provide the in-depth, contextualized knowledge required to affect real change. Indeed, a major contribution of this work is its application including the development of new hospital procedures related to wheelchair cleaning (Gardner et al., 2014), the implementation of new clinical assessment tools related to balance (Sibley, Brooks, Gardner, et al., 2016), and the establishment of hospital design guidelines that have been adopted by architecture firms and the MOHLTC (Alvaro, Kostovski, Wilkinson, Gardner & Gallant, 2015a, 2015b, 2015c, 2014).
Arriving at Brock, I expanded my research gaze to include the campus-community as a place of research. The increasing prevalence of mental health problems among university students is a major public health concern and one that is shared by students, faculty, staff and administrators at Brock. In partnership with faculty and student groups on campus I have initiated a new program of research to investigate an ‘upstream’ health promotion approach to mental health problems. In The Mindfulness Experiment research, I am examining the integration of mindfulness practices in post-secondary education in order to identify best practices for implementation and the impact on the mental health of students and faculty (Gardner, & Grose, 2015; Gardner, Kerridge & Power, in review).
While still relatively new, I see The Mindfulness Experiment as a significant area of study moving forward. The work has been incredibly well-received by the Brock community, the data is showing a strong and positive impact on student well-being, and interest – both as a mental health promotion strategy and as an effective pedagogical tool – is spreading across the academic and research community. In addition to publishing in this area, I have been awarded a Chancellors Chair for Teaching Excellence Grant to examine how to support faculty interested in integrating mindfulness into their classrooms.