Engaged Research

Sustainable Rural Communities Initiative

The Sustainable Rural Communities Initiative (SRCI) was created to foster collaborative and productive relationships between Memorial University and diverse organizations and partners in rural communities. Based at Grenfell Campus, the SRCI seeks to coordinate research, learning, and engagement opportunities that advance the well-being and sustainability of rural communities in Newfoundland and Labrador, with a particular focus on western Newfoundland. 

More than half of the population of Newfoundland and Labrador lives in rural and small-town areas – with an even higher proportion in the western region. Memorial University was established with a special responsibility to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. In the western Newfoundland region in particular, Grenfell Campus seeks to be deeply embedded in rural communities by building on long-standing partnerships while increasing its engagement across diverse rural sectors. 

From these priorities, the SRCI aims to build a diverse network of expertise through research, teaching and learning, and engagement to pursue innovative, evidence-based initiatives that enhance sustainable community development and resilience in Newfoundland and Labrador’s rural regions. The goal of the SRCI is to share and enhance knowledge, expertise, and capacity for the mutual benefit of the university and rural communities by facilitating applied partnerships. 

Thus far, SRCI has identified the following objectives: 

  1. Facilitating relationships between researchers, civil society, government, community-based, and industry partners to realize socio-economic and environmental opportunities and address challenges in rural communities of western Newfoundland
  2. Securing and distributing funds for research and development initiatives in western Newfoundland in collaboration with rural community partners
  3. Promoting capacity building by supporting the establishment of innovative community-based education initiatives in the region
  4. Establishing experiential learning and engaged research opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students that address local development challenges by co-designing sustainable solutions and meaningful benefits with community partners


To date, with support from the Grenfell Offices of Engagement and Research and in partnership with the Leslie Harris Centre of Regional Policy and Development (The Harris Centre), the SRCI has convened a committee of faculty members to identify programs and supports needed to expand the capacity of Grenfell Campus to work in partnership with rural communities. The SRCI committee meets regularly to set the strategic direction of the initiative and guide work underway in four specific areas:

  1. Developing new academic programming focused on training scholars and professionals in rural community development (building on the success of the recently launched Certificate Program in Sustainable Rural Communities)
  2. Seeking funding support to create a proposed Centre for Sustainable Rural Communities
  3. Informing community engagement practices to effectively engage rural community partners 
  4. Facilitating collaborative research projects that draw from the expertise of university and community and respond to community needs, interests, and aspirations 


Strategic themes: SRCI seeks to develop programming and collaboration around key thematic areas that are most relevant to rural communities in the western Newfoundland region and elsewhere in NL, while effectively leveraging research expertise at Grenfell Campus, other Memorial units, and partners across Canada and internationally. While these strategic themes will evolve with changing circumstances, a number of themes have been identified thus far:

  • Rural entrepreneurship and innovation
  • Healthy communities (including both healthy aging and support for newcomers and young families)
  • Climate change and rural mitigation and adaptation strategies
  • Indigenous ways of knowing and being and decolonizing scholarship and community-university relationships 
  • Culture, arts, and creativity and their contributions to community sustainability and well-being 
  • Sustainable resource economies (agriculture, mining, fisheries, forestry)
  • Rural and agro-tourism 
  • Meeting essential rural needs (food, clean water, housing security and essential services -health, education, transportation, markets, wi-fi access)
  • Community protection and restoration of natural assets
  • Integrated asset mapping and sustainability assessment 


Contact: To learn more about the Sustainable Rural Communities Initiative, please contact Brennan Lowery at bclowery@mun.ca.


Thriving Regions

Building on the success of our Regional Workshops, The Harris Centre launched the Thriving Regions Partnership Process in 2017. This process provides funding and support to Memorial and Grenfell faculty, staff and students to build meaningful research partnerships that help promote thriving social and economic regions. Several workshops are held in each region over a multi-year period, and dedicated research funding is provided to complete research on priorities that have been identified by people in each region. 

The process has been funded by the provincial Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, and involves partnering with other Memorial units depending on the region, such as the Labrador Institute and Grenfell Campus. The process also includes the development of a local leadership team to help with planning and implementation.



During an initial workshop, research priorities for the region are set through a facilitated discussion with stakeholders, partners and interested citizens in the region from public, private, community and education sectors. These priorities are used to open a call for Expressions of Interest (EOIs) from the university community for an applied research fund. A fund evaluation committee, comprised of local and academic members, reviews the EOIs and decides on three projects to move forward. 

During a second workshop, the three chosen researchers travel to the region to meet with local people to gather feedback and develop partnerships to further refine their research. They then submit expanded research plans, which are reviewed by the fund evaluation committee. Once the projects are approved, the researchers receive their funding to move forward with their research, while continuing to engage with people in the region. 

In a third workshop, community members use the Community Check-In tool to identify needs, strengths and opportunities for developing stronger “civic infrastructure” – the structures and processes that help people and communities work more effectively together to address shared challenges, priorities and issues of concern – in their region. 

A final workshop is held after the research projects have been completed. Researchers share their results and participants discuss their next steps. The Harris Centre uses the Strategic Doing process to help form collaborations quickly and move them toward action, outcomes and solutions. 

For more information about the process and past and current projects visit The Harris Centre.