Post-doc: Population Data

Population Data BC is seeking a Postdoctoral Fellow or Research Associate for a two-year term, with possibility for extension, to take significant leadership in a timely applied research project that will engage with the public to reform governance of access to research resources. Developments in data, technology, researcher desires, and public expectations have outpaced the outdated data access arrangements currently in use, and this program of research aims to address this issue while enhancing the legitimacy of policies for accessing new and complex linked data through consultation with a deliberatively engaged public. Objectives of this project include understanding how a deliberatively engaged public assesses and advises regarding criteria for the use of data and biospecimens, and the design and proposal of a model of sustained public involvement in data access governance in collaboration with data stewards.

Operating primarily within the School of Population and Public Health in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia, Population Data BC is a multi-university, data and education resource facilitating secure research access to individual-level, de-identified longitudinal data on British Columbia's 4.6 million residents, linking data across various sectors such as health, education, early childhood development, workplace and the environment

Key objectives of Population Data BC are to:

  1. Make more data sets available for research
  2. Facilitate cross-linkages among the data sets in a privacy sensitive manner
  3. Provide strategic leadership to ensure streamlined researcher access to these data
  4. Provide educational and other opportunities to ensure full and best use of those data

The primary activities of the Postdoctoral Fellow or Research Associate include:

  • Provide overall project leadership for a public engagement research project as outlined in a funded CIHR grant
  • Work with the investigative team and project stakeholders on framing questions and other planning aspects of public engagement
  • Lead event planning and production of materials for public engagement
  • Analyse transcripts and other information gathered during the public engagement event
  • Prepare academic material and knowledge translation material based on these analyses
  • Assess ability of PopData to embed public engagement in its ongoing work

More details.​

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PhD Studentships: Disaster Resilience

Developing New Approaches to Community Resilience Assessment: Using technology, including web-based software, crowd-sourced data, & knowledge-based systems, as co-creative tools

Resilience across all sectors of society is imperative for global efforts to reduce the adverse effects of disasters and to build a society that is change-ready and seeking opportunities for future wellbeing. Building robust pathways toward resilience begins with assessment: gathering empirical evidence of what factors enhance resilience, under what contexts, and for which shocks; benchmarking a community's capacities, and monitoring resilience over time. The Resilience Trajectories work stream of New Zealand's Resilience to Nature's Challenges research programme is interested in exploring innovative, socially engaged, technology-based solutions to robust resilience assessment.

Applications are now invited for those wishing to pursue a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) by thesis addressing key challenges in the field of disaster resilience assessment, including:

  • How disaster resilience assessment can be made more accessible to communities; local, territorial, and regional authorities; and national decision makers, and
  • How technical tools, including web-based software, crowd sourced data, and/or knowledge-based systems, can be employed to make resilience assessment a robust and repeatable co-creative process.

The funding for this PhD Scholarship is part of the Resilience to Nature's Challenges research programme (RNC) – Kia manawaroa Ngā Ākina o Te Ao Tūroa –a priority research area under the National Science Challenge (NSC) umbrella. RNC is a New Zealand-wide research programme, launched in July 2015, with the aim of achieving, "transformative resilience, discovering and implementing new research-based solutions for our society, culture, infrastructure and governance to address factors that will enable New Zealand to thrive in the face of nature's challenges," (Jolly 2014).

Within the RNC research programme, Dr. John Vargo and Dr. Joanne Stevenson from Resilient Organisations Ltd. are co-leading the Resilience Trajectories work stream. This work stream aims to guide disaster resilience benchmarking and monitoring across a range of systems (e.g., rural and urban communities, horizontal infrastructure, regional economies), and will help RNC stakeholders identify barriers and opportunities to accelerate progress toward a resilient New Zealand.

The Resilience Trajectories work stream is looking to engage a PhD student to develop and lead the learning frontier of this project. The successful applicant will explore options for co-creative resilience assessment, develop appropriate tool(s) (e.g., web-based software for gathering, integrating, and visualizing resilience measures, or tools for crowdsourcing relevant data) in collaboration with the Resilience to Nature's Challenges researchers, and then prototype the tools 'in the field' with a case study community.

Scholarship Details

Location: University of Canterbury, Ilam, Christchurch, New ZealandScholarship. Stipend NZD$25,000 per annum stipend (+$7000 domestic tuition). Duration: 3 years. Starting Date: February 2017, or sooner if possible. Closing date for Applications: November 14, 2016 (please note applications will be reviewed upon submission).

More details.

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Essential Reference on Food Security

For those interested in, doing research on, or teaching about food security, Mark Gibson's "The Feeding of Nations: Redefining Food Security for the 21st Century" (2012) is an essential reference to have. The book is a hardcover 640-page academic work, and unfortunately not cheap. There are a couple of ways to access the ideas if the cost is a barrier, one is via Google Books, which offers some parts, and the other is on the archive of a discussion Mark lead on the FAO's Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition on the topic of food security. I was fortunate to find a used one.

In many parts, the book is a high level review, such as its overview of nutrition and malnutrition, and is not ground breaking. But, as a reference book for important considerations related to food security, this is one of the few places that attempts to bring it all together. However, in other parts, it is quite detailed, such as the history of food security related concepts. Unique to the book, I believe, is the inclusion of a wide range of topics, often covered in topic-specific books, including linkages to: agriculture, forestry and fisheries, science and technology, socio-cultural aspects, natural resources, health and nutrition, governance and politics, etc. The author also offers thoughts on redefining food security for the future.

There is a downside to an author who has been thinking and writing about a topic over such a long period of time – the references and content can be recycled and get dated. For example, some sections are largely cited from works published in the early 2000s (2000-2004 period), and it is clear that some parts were first written some time ago, even if published in 2012 (e.g.: "it was once again recently reaffirmed at the International Scientific Symposium on Measurement and Assessment of Food Deprivation in 2002", page 16). I suppose "recently" could be a relative term. Nonetheless, a recommended reference work on food security – particularly for those seeking a key resource on the topic, or those looking for relatively condensed and readable content for undergraduate students.


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Enemies of Innovation

Dr. Calestous Juma's new book, "Innovation and its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies" (2016), explains that this is a book Dr. Juma has wanted to write since his early engagement with innovation. That includes his founding of the African Centre for Technology Studies in 1988, being a former Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and co-chair of the African Union's High-level Panel on Science, Technology and Innovation and his current role of Director of the Science, Technology and Globalization Project at Harvard. He is an avid Twitter user, for anyone interested to follow his work.

For some readers, this book is bound to be cause for (critical) self-reflection. For example, Juma opens with the introduction of mobile phones – technology that has potential health risks, yet has been universally adopted and enabled additional innovations in a range of sectors, from banking and health to education and communication. He contrasts that with biotechnology and transgenetic crops, which also has potential health risks, but "has been marked by controversy that resulted in international treaties negotiated to regulate trade" (p. 2). Juma explains that the book "argues that technological controversies often arise from tensions between the need to innovate and the pressure to maintain continuity, social order and stability" (p. 5). The book is about technology and innovation, but also the socio-cultural and economic structures that enable or deter innovation, and why these exist.

The book covers a range of different technological innovations (farm mechanization, printing press, coffee, margarine, electricity, refrigeration, recorded sound, transgenetic crops, and genetically engineered salmon). The focus is not for or against, or weighing costs and benefits, of technologies, rather it is the broader context within which these innovations exist that Juma focuses upon: "Many of these debates over new technologies are framed in the context of risks to moral values, human health, and environmental safety. But behind these genuine concerns often lie deeper, but unacknowledged, socioeconomic considerations. This book demonstrates the extent to which these factors shape and influence technological controversies, which specific emphasis on the role of social institutions' (p. 6).

Juma concludes each chapter with lessons learned about each innovation, ranging from policy to regulation and politics and economics. As such, it may have appeal to a range of audiences. Consider this reflection: "Margarine represents one of the best examples of incumbent industries using legislative instruments to curtail or extinguish new technologies" (p. 117). Or, "the case of refrigeration shows that, contrary to popular belief, regulation can serve as a stimulus for innovation. In this case, many of the advances that made it possible for consumers to access safe and mechanical refrigeration resulted from regulation and new standards" (p. 198). The historical cases are less contested, as the debates have long since ended. I found the last two examples Juma presents (transgenetic crops and genetically engineered salmon) particularly interesting as they are yet to be settled. While the presentation of the issues and Juma's broader work situates his own positionality, these two chapters explore multiple sides of the on-going debates (not only the pro/con positions, but also the challenges faced by regulatory bodies and economic impacts related to export markets). On these on-going debates, Juma concludes that as "the world leader in biotechnology research, innovation and commercialization, the United States could set an example in the regulation of biotechnology innovations to ensure that society derives the highest possible benefit from these technologies in the safest possible way" (p. 277-278).

One component of the argument that Juma do not entertain in much detail is that of choice, and here an interesting analogy could also have been drawn to transgenetic crops. For those opposed to GM food crops, one of the key issues is choice, and thus advocacy for labeling to have the option to purchase GM or not. Embedded within this debate is that GM crops cannot be contained entirely, and spread (and therefore entire bans are advocated). While there are important considerations to be addressed regarding these concerns, it is interesting that mobile phone technology was not given as a parallel: one can choose not to purchase a mobile phone, but it is almost impossible to avoid exposure to electromagnetic radiation because of societal choices (the level differs, as it would with labeling options that allow for a small percentage of GM to be present in non-GM items).

The book concludes with notes on leaders and leadership: "The next frontier of leadership will focus largely on how society is prepared to respond not only to global grand challenges but also to new social problems generated by technological advancement and engineering applications. Leaders will need to be more adaptive, flexible, and open to continuous learning. They will be called upon increasingly to take decisions in the face of uncertainty and amid controversy" (p. 285-286).


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Logan Cochrane

logan.cochrane@gmail.com

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