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2020: The Year in Research

A look back at the major initiatives, the funding and awards garnered, and how a community mobilized to respond to and combat COVID-19.

In recent years, we have taken a moment each December to highlight some of the research that has captured our attention over the previous 12 months.

2020 was not a normal year. It challenged us, tested us, and saw our research community pivot in creative and unexpected ways to respond to the global crisis. Through all of this, research prominence remained a key driver for Queen’s and our researchers continued to make national and international headlines for their discoveries and award-winning scholarship.

Join us as we review some of the highlights of 2020.

[Photo of Hailey Poole dispensing hand sanitizer]
A team of Queen’s researchers from the Departments of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering along with GreenCentre Canada partnered with Kingston Health Sciences Centre and Tri-Art Manufacturing (Kingston) to develop hand sanitizer, producing up to 300 litres of product per week to help meet the needs of Kingston hospitals.

COVID-19 Response: Mobilizing as a Community to Confront COVID-19

In the early days of the pandemic, Queen’s researchers across disciplines were active in offering commentary and fact-based analysis on COVID-19-related issues – from understanding if DNA is key to whether you get COVID and helping to diagnose unusual symptoms related to COVID stress to suggesting 5-min workouts you can do at home. Many of these analyses were carried on national and international news platforms, demonstrating the critical contribution that researchers and academics can make to informing the conversation.

When news of PPE and ventilator shortages and test wait times hit international media, research and student groups across campus leveraged their skills to come up with innovative solutions. Here are a few examples:

  • A team of researchers from the Departments of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, along with GreenCentre Canada, partnered with Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) and Tri-Art Manufacturing (Kingston) to make 300 litres of hand sanitizer per week to help meet the needs of Kingston hospitals
  • Researchers from Queen’s University and KHSC partnered with Public Health Ontario Laboratories and Hamilton Health Sciences Center to develop an in-house COVID test that can provide results in 24 hours
  • Faculty and students at the Human Mobility Research Centre and Ingenuity Labs joined forces with KHSC health professionals to take on the Code Life Ventilator Challenge, a global call to design a low-cost and easy-to-manufacture ventilator that can be created and deployed anywhere around the world
  • Queen’s Noble Laureate, Dr. Arthur B. McDonald, led the Canadian arm of the Mechanical Ventilator Milano project, which aimed to create an easy-to-build ventilator that can help treat COVID-19 patients. In May, the Government of Canada announced an agreement with Vexos to produce 10,000 Mechanical Ventilator Milano (MVM) units and in September the ventilators received Health Canada approval
(Photo by Matthew Manor / Kingston Health Sciences Centre)
Queen’s University and Kingston Health Sciences Centres (KHSC) partnered with Public Health Ontario Laboratories and Hamilton Health Sciences Center to develop an in-house test for COVID-19 that can be completed in large volumes and provide results in 24 hours. (Photo by Matthew Manor / Kingston Health Sciences Centre)

The Vice-Principal (Research) Portfolio also quickly mobilized to offer Rapid Response funding, which was awarded to advance 20 research projects supporting medical and social coronavirus-related solutions. Queen’s researchers also partnered with industry to transform pandemic decision-making and healthcare through two Digital Technology Supercluster projects, Looking Glass and Project ACTT, focused on predictive modelling and cancer testing and treatment. The projects received over $4 million in funding from the Government of Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster’s COVID-19 program.

Funding Future Research

Queen’s continued to attract leading researchers and competitive funding and awards through a number of national and international programs.

[Rendering of the MVM Ventilator]
A team of Canadian physicists, led by Queen’s Nobel Laureate Art McDonald, is part of an international effort to design the MVM Ventilator. With support from Canadian philanthropists and Queen's alumni the project was able to progress, leading to an order of 10,000 units from the Government of Canada.

Hundreds of grants for new projects and research infrastructure were secured through CHIR, SSHRC, NSERC and CFI, Canada’s national funding agencies. Seven multidisciplinary Queen’s research projects received $1.7 million in support from the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) 2019 Exploration competition, a program that fosters discovery and innovation by encouraging Canadian researchers to explore, take risks, and work with partners across disciplines and borders. Additionally, The Canadian Cancer Trials Group, SNOLAB, and Canada’s National Design Network, all of which are Queen’s-affiliated research facilities, saw a funding increase of over $60 million through the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s Major Sciences Initiatives fund. The Institute for Sustainable Finance received a boost of $5 million from Canada’s big banks to support ISF’s mission of aligning mainstream financial markets with Canada’s transition to a lower carbon economy.

The university welcomed and appointed seven new and two renewed Canada Research Chairs (CRC) in two rounds (September and December 2020) of CRC competition announced this year. One of the country’s highest research honours, Queen’s is now home to over 50 Canada Research Chairs. Queen’s also welcomed seven promising new researchers through the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholars and Banting Post-Doctoral Fellowship programs.

Recognizing Research Leadership

2020 saw Queen’s researchers win some of Canada’s top awards and honours for research excellence and the university continues to rank second in Canada for awards per faculty member (2021 Maclean’s University Rankings).

[Photo of Leach’s storm petrel chick by Sabina Wilhelm]
Queen's researchers, from graduate students to Canada Research Chairs, continue to make an impact on our understanding of the world. (Photo by Sabina Wilhelm

Queen’s had a successful year earning fellowships within Canada’s national academies. Nancy van Deusen and Cathleen Crudden were elected to the Fellowship in the Royal Society of Canada, while Amy Latimer-Cheung and Awet Weldemichael were named members of the organization’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists. Health research leaders Janet Dancey, Marcia Finlayson, and Graeme Smith were inducted into the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, and Michael Cunningham and Jean Hutchinson were elected to the Canadian Academy of Engineering.

While our researchers were recognized with dozens of honours throughout the year, below are a few highlights: David Lyon secured Canada’s Molson Prize for pioneering the field of surveillance studies. Education researcher Lynda Colgan received the NSERC Science Promo Prize for her efforts in promoting science to the general public. Heather Castleden was awarded a Fulbright Visiting Research Chair at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa to engage with Native Hawaiians about their leadership in renewable energy projects. A lauded steward of the environment, John Smol received Canada’s Massey Medal for his lifetime of work in studying environmental stressors. The first Indigenous midwife in Canada to earn a doctoral degree, health researcher Karen Lawford was named one of this year’s 12 outstanding Indigenous leaders and received the Indspire Award for Health.

Internally, researchers were honoured with the university’s Prizes for Excellence in Research (Yan-Fei-Liu, Michael Cunningham, and Gabor Fichtinger) and the Distinguished University Professor (Audrey Kobayashi, David Bakhurst, Julian Barling, Glenville Jones, John Smol, Kathleen Lahey) title.

Major Initiatives

The Discover Research@Queen’s campaign was launched to build engagement with the Research@Queen’s website and encouraged 1000s of key external stakeholders to learn more about the research happening at the University. Our community continued to mobilize their research through fact-based analysis on The Conversation Canada’s news platform. In 2020, 79 Queen’s researchers published 85 articles that garnered over 1.9 million views.

[Illustration of the scales of justice by Gary Neill]
Queen's University researchers Samuel Dahan and Xiaodan Zhu are using AI to level the legal playing field for Canadians, including those affected by COVID-19 unemployment.

This year marked the fifth anniversary of the Art of Research photo contest with over 100 faculty, staff, students, and alumni submitting engaging and thought-provoking research images. Ten category and special prizes were awarded.

The WE-Can (Women Entrepreneurs Canada) program through Queen’s Partnership and Innovation (QPI) celebrated one year of supporting women entrepreneurs in Kingston and the surrounding area, through programs such as Compass North and LEAD.  The QPI team also marked one year at its new downtown Kingston location, the Seaway Coworking building, which allows easy access for the community and partners.

To support researchers thinking outside of the box to solve some of humanity’s most complex problems, the Vice-Principal (Research) portfolio launched the Wicked Ideas competition to fund high risk, high reward projects with interdisciplinary teams that are not easily supported through traditional funding opportunities. Twelve projects received funding in round one and researchers can now apply for round two.


Congratulations to the Queen’s research community for their resilience and successes this year. We look forward to seeing what new research and opportunities 2021 will bring. To learn more about research at the university, visit the Research@Queen’s website, and for information about research promotion, contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives.

[Art of Photo by Hayden Wainwright]
2020 Art of Research Photo Contest Winner: Hayden Wainwright (MSc Biology), Nature's van Gogh (Category: Out in the Field)

Internal funding for global impact

The Wicked Ideas research competition is now open for applications with notice of intent due Jan. 6.

The Vice-Principal (Research) is offering close to $2 million in funding for Queen’s researchers who are thinking outside of the box to solve some of humanity’s most complex problems.

[Wicked Ideas Graphic]

The Wicked Ideas Competition is open for its second year as an initiative to fund high risk, high reward projects with interdisciplinary teams that are not easily supported through traditional funding opportunities. The goal is to provide Queen’s researchers with the initial support to collaborate and apply their expertise towards wicked problems, issues so complex and dependent on so many factors that it is hard to grasp what exactly the problem is or how to tackle it. This year the initiative supported innovative approaches to cleantech, Lyme disease, and microplastics.

The Competition

This year’s competition will have two application streams. A minimum of 10 teams will be funded through the Interdisciplinary Stream where team members will be from multiple disciplines. The Discipline Specific Stream will fund a maximum of five teams where members can be from within a given discipline. The competition is open to all Queen’s faculty members, and teams can also leverage the expertise of students, post-doctoral fellows, and community members, to name a few, as members. Up to 15 teams successful in the first phase of the competition will be awarded $75,000.

To compete for the second phase of funding, teams will be invited to pitch their projects to an adjudication panel made up of researchers, community members, industry, and other partners. Up to five successful teams from this round will receive an additional $150,000. Projects can concentrate on local, national, or global challenges and should focus on novel approaches (high risk) and disruptive or transformative thinking (high reward). Participating teams will also be asked about their potential knowledge mobilization outcomes and how this research could impact the community or lead to further partnerships for implementation and collaboration.

"The first Wicked Ideas competition supported exciting projects that are addressing complex issues in creative and innovative ways with the potential to lead to additional funding through the government’s New Frontiers in Research program," says Kimberly Woodhouse, Vice-Principal (Research). "I very much look forward to the response of the research community to this year’s opportunity."

Notice of Intent

Notice of Intent applications are due Jan. 6, 2021. For more information on the initiative and how to submit your project, see the Vice-Principal (Research) Office.

Three Queen’s community members appointed to Order of Canada

Two Queen’s University graduate students and an alumnus have been appointed to the Order of Canada.

Governor General Julie Payette announced 114 appointments to the Order of Canada on Friday, Nov. 27, including Michele Leering, a lawyer and the executive director of the Community Advocacy & Legal Centre who is currently pursuing a PhD in the Faculty of Law, and Tessa Virtue, an Olympic gold medal-winning figure skater and student at Smith School of Business.

Michele Leering
Michele Leering

Leering is being recognized for “her dedication to helping underprivileged and marginalized populations gain access to legal services and the justice system.”

“Being nominated for this award is an honour because it recognizes the value of the community-based justice work being carried out by the staff of Ontario’s community legal clinics and our efforts to ensure equal access to justice, human rights, legal literacy, and the ‘legal health’ of people living on a low income,” Leering says.

Her PhD thesis documents the imperatives for legal education reform, specifically the contribution of reflective practice as a professional learning theory of benefit to legal educators, law students, and legal practitioners. Her research compares approaches in Canadian and Australian law schools in traditional law and experiential learning courses.

Virtue is one of the most-decorated Canadian skaters of all-time and is being appointed for “her unparalleled excellence in ice dancing and for inspiring the next generation of Canadian figure skaters.” Along with her ice dance partner Scott Moir, who is also being appointed, she captured the gold medal at the 2010 and 2018 Winter Olympics, as well as the silver medal in 2014. The duo are also three-time world champions (2010, 2012, 2017).

Tessa Virtue
Tessa Virtue

“Feeling all wrapped up in emotion … Upon learning about being invested into the Order of Canada, I couldn’t help but think that as a kid, I would have never known to dream so big. I am humbled by this honour,” Virtue posted to her Twitter account.

At Queen’s she is pursuing an Executive MBA through Game Plan, which includes a partnership between the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Smith School of Business. Through this strategic partnership Team Canada athletes are able to further their education and build their business skills after years of competitive sport. 

Also appointed to the Order of Canada is alumnus Anthony Olmsted Hendrie (Arts’60), a lawyer from Ottawa who has spent 60 years volunteering and donating to many charities and non-profits. At Queen’s, he established the Anthony O. Hendrie Bursary to support students from the Georgian Triangle area of Southern Ontario.

The Order of Canada was established in 1967. Queen’s alumnus and Member of Parliament John Matheson (Arts’40, LLD’80) was a driving force in its development. He said the Tricolour Society at Queen’s served as a model for the Order of Canada.

Canada’s leading financial institutions commit $5M to Institute for Sustainable Finance

The Institute for Sustainable Finance (ISF) today announced that Canada’s big five banks, TD Bank Group, Scotiabank, CIBC, BMO and RBC, have committed $5 million to support ISF’s mission of aligning mainstream financial markets with Canada’s transition to a lower carbon economy. 

ISF is the first-ever collaborative hub in Canada that brings together academia, the private sector, and government with the singular focus of increasing Canada’s sustainable finance capacity. Sustainable finance is the integration of environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations into business and investment decisions.

ISF recently released a landmark research report that outlines the investment requirements and opportunities to achieve Canada’s 2030 climate targets. The Capital Mobilization Plan for a Canadian Low Carbon Economy provides a concrete, data-driven capital blueprint for the country’s low carbon transition.

This major bank funding will support ISF’s efforts in education, professional training, research and collaboration, as well as outreach to advance Canada’s leadership in sustainable finance.   

“We are very excited to have Canada’s leading financial institutions supporting ISF and our initiatives. Their funding will be critically important as we accelerate our efforts to produce robust resources and insights about sustainable finance, particularly in the Canadian context,” says ISF executive director, Sean Cleary, BMO Professor of Finance and founding director of the Master of Finance program at Smith School of Business, Queen’s University.  

As founding contributors, the banks’ support is as follows: TD - $1.25M; Scotiabank - $1.25M; CIBC - $1.25M; and BMO - $1M — all with commitments over five years. RBC has made an initial $250K commitment over one year.

As part of its mandate, the ISF established the Canadian Sustainable Finance Network (CSFN), an independent formal research and educational network for academia, industry and government to bring together talented university faculty members and relevant members from industry, government and civil society. 

“The CSFN’s research will close the knowledge gap around the competitive advantages of a lower carbon economy, including helping Canadians understand the cost of inaction and the investment opportunities that will finance our transition,” says Ryan Riordan, ISF director of research and associate professor at Smith School of Business.

Since its inception the CSFN has grown to include 65 members from over 20 universities across Canada, and also hosts a monthly webinar series, open to the public, on topics related to sustainable finance.

The Institute for Sustainable Finance is based at Smith School of Business, Queen’s University and is supported by the Ivey Foundation, the McCall MacBain Foundation, the Chisholm Thomson Family Foundation, the McConnell Foundation, and now TD Bank Group, Scotiabank, CIBC, BMO and RBC. 

To learn more about the Institute for Sustainable Finance, visit isfcanada.org.

The full release can be read here.

Promoting Research@Queen’s

Looking back on some of the most compelling stories of the Discover Research@Queen’s promotional campaign.

In February, the university launched an institutional campaign, Discover Research@Queen’s, to showcase the impactful research happening at Queen’s and to build engagement with the new Research@Queen’s website.

  • [Photo of compacted plastics]
    Diving into microplastics: Addressing our "wicked" waste problem: Microplastics – They are in the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we consume, and we are still learning about what this means for our health, the health of our environment, and our future. How do we tackle this “wicked” problem? Queen’s researcher Myra Hird believes the answer is in our own consumption habits.
  • [Photo of a woman touching her forehead]
    Strange physical symptoms? Blame the chronic stress of life during the COVID-19 pandemic: Itchy skin? More aches and pains? Unusual rash? Headaches? Pimples? If you've been experiencing unusual physical symptoms recently, Queen's researcher Kate Harkness explains it may be due to living with chronic stress for The Conversation Canada.
  • [Photo of Samuel Dahan and Xiaodan Zhu by Bernard Clark]
    Championing AI for social justice: Queen's University researchers Samuel Dahan and Xiaodan Zhu are using AI to level the legal playing field for Canadians, including those affected by COVID-19 unemployment.
  • [Art of Research Photo by Grace Adeniyi-Ogunyankin of a market in Adelabu]
    Capturing the Art of Research: Celebrating the 2020 prize recipients: The Queen’s Art of Research photo contest celebrates its fifth year, with the selection of ten stunning winning images.
  • [Illustration of a bar graph and tree by Gary Neill]
    Fixing financial fairy tales – The rise of sustainable finance in Canada: The Institute for Sustainable Finance based at Queen's Smith School of Business is dedicated to exploring how the many different ways in which we spend money might be adapted to reflect the principles of sustainability.

However, much like the rest of the world, the campaign had to take stock and respond to the urgent concerns of the pandemic. As a consequence, the campaign was paused between March and May. During this period many Queen’s researchers pivoted their efforts to focus on pandemic relief and research, sharing their expertise and advice with the public as the crisis unfolded. In April, the campaign was reimagined to reflect these activities culminating in a new virtual events series with Advancement, Conversations Confronting COVID-19, where Queen’s researchers and alumni were able to discuss their research, provide comment, and take questions. These Conversations have reached more than 1,000 people and featured topics such as innovation and aging during the pandemic.

“The original goal of the campaign was to help our audiences discover the critical and impactful research happening at Queen’s,” says Michael Fraser, Vice-Principal (University Relations). “While COVID-19 forced us to rethink our approach to a degree, the success of these efforts illustrate how eager our audiences are to understand how the work being done by Queen’s researchers can make a difference.”

Overall, the campaign has doubled traffic to the Research@Queen’s website and helped drive significant awareness of the research happening at Queen’s. As we wrap up the campaign, the last phase features some of the most well-received stories featured over the last 10 months.

Discover Research@Queen’s Stories and Features

Diving into microplastics: Addressing our "wicked" waste problem: Microplastics – They are in the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we consume, and we are still learning about what this means for our health, the health of our environment, and our future. How do we tackle this “wicked” problem? Queen’s researcher Myra Hird believes the answer is in our own consumption habits.

Strange physical symptoms? Blame the chronic stress of life during the COVID-19 pandemic: Itchy skin? More aches and pains? Unusual rash? Headaches? Pimples? If you've been experiencing unusual physical symptoms recently, Queen's researcher Kate Harkness explains it may be due to living with chronic stress for The Conversation Canada.

Championing AI for social justice: Queen's University researchers Samuel Dahan and Xiaodan Zhu are using AI to level the legal playing field for Canadians, including those affected by COVID-19 unemployment.

Capturing the Art of Research: Celebrating the 2020 prize recipients: The Queen’s Art of Research photo contest celebrates its fifth year, with the selection of 10 stunning winning images.

Fixing financial fairy tales – The rise of sustainable finance in Canada: The Institute for Sustainable Finance, based at Queen's Smith School of Business, is dedicated to exploring how the many different ways in which we spend money might be adapted to reflect the principles of sustainability.

For more information, visit the Research@Queen’s website or contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives.

Finding her authentic self

Smith School of Business staff member Erin LeBlanc’s book provides valuable insights for those making a similar gender transition journey and their allies.

Erin LeBlanc's book 'Stranger in the Mirror: The Search for Me' provides an emotional survival guide for those living with gender dysphoria.

The journey of transgender people is often not an easy one, but through her new book, Erin LeBlanc provides an emotional survival guide for those living with gender dysphoria. Their families and friends, supporters and allies, and the LGBTQ+ community will also be able to find valuable insights in the memoir 

Stranger in the Mirror: The Search for Me takes the reader through LeBlanc’s own transition journey. 

“These are difficult times for the LBGTQ+ community and specifically the transgender community in countries around the world,” says LeBlanc, who works in the Smith School of Business at Queen’s. “While we are fortunate to benefit from a more accepting environment in Canada, there are still many who experience difficulties impacting their quality of life and health. I think we need a good news story. That is not to say that my story is to be celebrated, but rather to demonstrate that you can be who you were born to be, to be your authentic self, and you will be okay.” 

The new book gives information for those that are transitioning and those who wish to be supporters and allies. It also provides an educational foundation for the general public on what it means to suffer from gender dysphoria or be transgender. LeBlanc’s story can help readers understand that transitioning is not a lifestyle choice. 

“I was the beneficiary of the hard work and sacrifices of those in the community that went before me,” explains LeBlanc. “I wish I had more information when I was trying to figure out who I am, so I wanted to create that type of resource for others, to provide solace and guidance if I could, for others to learn from my mistakes and make the journey easier, if even just in the smallest way.” 

Working in a very public place like Queen’s presented its own challenges but also offered unique opportunities. LeBlanc says she was terrified to come out at work and wanted to understand the protections she had. Her first stop was the Human Rights Office, where she met with Jean Pfleiderer, Associate Director, Human Rights Advisory Services.  

“She immediately set me at ease with how welcoming and supportive she was and informative of how policies and laws were in place to provide protection,” says LeBlanc. “The response in initial conversations regarding my intent to come out was exemplary and leadership in the Smith School of Business was compassionate, supportive. They listened to my struggle and my wishes and truly created a team to work with me to move forward. Without exception, faculty, staff, and students were extremely welcoming and truly happy that I was now able to be who I really am.” 

With the book now available to the general public, LeBlanc says she hopes people reading it can take some solace in learning of her journey. 

“All I want to do is live my life, do my job, and contribute to the community. And that shouldn’t be too much to ask. Being your authentic self, who you were born to be, is an amazing thing.” 

To learn more about Stranger in the Mirror: The Search for Me visit her website or watch her Facebook live video. A portion of the money raised from the sale of the book will go towards supporting TransFamily Kingston

Free Virtual Event: Financing Canada’s climate-smart economy

The Institute for Sustainable Finance launched the Capital Mobilization Plan for a Canadian Low Carbon Economy on Tuesday, Sept. 29, featuring landmark research to provide a concrete, data-driven capital blueprint for Canada’s low carbon transition. The plan highlights that cooperation between the public sector, private sector, and financial system is critical to securing investments needed to meet Canada’s 2030 climate targets.

“What gets financed, gets built,” says Ryan Riordan, co-author of the report and associate professor at the Smith School of Business. “This is the heart of the financial sector’s role in helping Canada achieve a more competitive, climate-smart economy.”

Responding to a foundational recommendation from Canada’s Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance, the report represents the first critical effort to close the knowledge gap around the scale of Canada’s low carbon investment opportunity.

“Public and private investors need a solid grasp of that investment horizon. That’s the starting place: a sound and rigorous analysis that shows how and where capital needs to flow,” says Dr. Riordan, who will be participating in a special online discussion on the topic on Wednesday, Sept. 30 from 12-1 p.m.

Hosted by Canadian Club Toronto, in partnership with the Institute for Sustainable Finance, the event will be moderated by Shawn McCarthy, former global energy reporter for The Globe & Mail.Along with Dr. Riordan the expert panel features: Martha Hall Findlay, Chief Sustainability Officer, Suncor Energy Inc.; Craig Stewart, Vice President, Federal Affairs, Insurance Bureau of Canada; Carlyle Coutinho, President, Enwave North America. The Institute for Sustainable Finance will present key findings from its report as well.

Sponsored by Queen's University, the event is free to all attendees. Visit the Canadian Club of Toronto website to register.

Digital technologies will help build resilient communities after the coronavirus pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in increased adoption of communication and network technologies. (Shutterstock)

Amid the horrific public health and economic fallout from a fast-moving pandemic, a more positive phenomenon is playing out: COVID-19 has provided opportunities to businesses, universities and communities to become hothouses of innovation.

Around the world, digital technologies are driving high-impact interventions. Community and public health leaders are handling time-sensitive tasks and meeting pressing needs with technologies that are affordable and inclusive, and don’t require much technical knowledge.

Our research reveals the outsized impact of inexpensive, readily available digital technologies. In the midst of a maelstrom, these technologies — among them social media, mobile apps, analytics and cloud computing — help communities cope with the pandemic and learn crucial lessons.

To gauge how this potential is playing out, our research team looked at how communities incorporate readily available digital technologies in their responses to disasters.

Community potential

As a starting point, we used a model of crisis management developed in 1988 by organizational theorist Ian Mitroff. The model has five phases:

  • signal detection to identify warning signs
  • probing and prevention to actively search and reduce risk factors
  • damage containment to limit its spread
  • recovery to normal operations
  • learning to glean actionable insights to apply to the next incident

Although this model was developed for organizations dealing with crises, it is applicable to communities under duress and has been used to analyze organizational responses to the current pandemic.

Our research showed that readily available digital technologies can be deployed effectively during each phase of a crisis.

Phase 1: Signal detection

Being able to identify potential threats from rivers of data is no easy task. Readily available digital technologies such as social media and mobile apps are useful for signal detection. They offer connectivity any time and anywhere, and allow for rapid sharing and transmission of information.

New Zealand, for example, has been exploring an early warning system for landslides based on both internet-of-things sensors and digital transmission through social media channels such as Twitter.

Phase 2: Prevention and preparation

Readily available digital technologies such as cloud computing and analytics enable remote and decentralized activities to support training and simulations that heighten community preparedness. The federal government, for example, has developed the COVID Alert app for mobile devices that will tell users whether they have been near someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 during the previous two weeks.

Phase 3: Containment

Although crises cannot always be averted, they can be contained. Big data analytics can isolate hot spots and “superspreaders,” limiting exposure of larger populations to the virus. Taiwan implemented active surveillance and screening systems to quickly react to COVID-19 cases and implement measures to control its spread.

A Taiwanese postal worker holding a thermometer.
A woman checks temperatures at the entrance to a post office in Taipei, Taiwan amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Shutterstock)

Phase 4: Recovery

Social capital, personal and community networks and shared post-crisis communication are essential factors for the recovery process. Readily available digital technologies can help a community get back on its feet by enabling people to share experiences and resource information.

For example, residents of Fort McMurray, Alta., have experienced the pandemic, flooding and the threat of wildfires. As part of the response, the provincial government offers northern Alberta residents virtual addiction treatment support via Zoom videoconferencing.

During recovery, it is also important to foster equity to avoid a privileged set of community members receiving preferential services. To address this need, anti-hoarding apps for personal protective equipment and apps that promote volunteerism can prove useful.

Phase 5: Learning

It is usually difficult for communities to gather knowledge on recovery and renewal from multiple sources. Readily available digital technologies can be used to provide local and remote computing power, enable information retrieval and analysis and disseminate emergent knowledge. The global learning platform launched by UNICEF and Microsoft helps youth affected by COVID-19.

A sixth phase

Our research suggests a sixth phase of crisis management: community resilience, which is the sustained ability of communities to withstand, adapt to and recover from adversity. Communities must develop the capacity to absorb the impact of pandemics and other disasters.

When face-to-face interactions are limited — like in a pandemic — readily available digital technologies can enable community participation through social media groups, virtual meeting software and cloud- and mobile-driven engagement and decision-making platforms.

Technologies that provide transparent information services such as analytics-based dashboards and real-time updates can create a sense of equity and caring. Apps and portals can connect vulnerable populations to critical care, resources and infrastructure services.

For example, the government of Karnataka, India, partnered with local vendors and hyper-local food delivery services for home delivery of groceries and other essential materials for households quarantined because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Readily available digital technologies help remote communities develop a sense of belonging, sharing and self-efficacy while incrementally building shared knowledge over multiple crises.

Moving forward

The 2003 SARS epidemic taught us valuable lessons about the use of technology during a pandemic. At the time, readily available digital technologies were largely overlooked, because bigger and more expensive solutions were the focus.

In responding to the present circumstances, it is time we explore the benefit of common technologies. The federal government’s recent announcement of funding to support the use of digital solutions in community responses to COVID-19 is a promising step.

Investing in resilient infrastructure is also important, since communities depend on public digital infrastructure for access to the internet and other telecommunication networks. This infrastructure must be affordable, sustainable and inclusive.

But we should not lose sight of the need to support communities in developing their own resiliency — to help them envision their own solutions using readily available digital technologies.The Conversation

___________________________________________________________

Yolande E. Chan, Associate Dean (Research & PhD/MSc Programs) and E. Marie Shantz Professor of Information Technology Management, Smith School of Business at Queen's University; Arman Sadreddin, Assistant Professor, Business Technology Management, Concordia University, and Suchit Ahuja, Assistant Professor, Business Technology Management, Concordia University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Principal's Advisory Committee – Dean, Smith School of Business

On behalf of Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane, Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Mark Green announces the membership of the committee that will advise him on the deanship and the present state and prospects of the Smith School of Business.

COMMITTEE MEMBERS

  • Shamel Addas, Associate Professor and Distinguished Faculty Fellow of Digital Technology
  • Chris Al-Jazzar, President, Student Executive Council, MBA Class of '21
  • Shawn S. Cooper, Managing Director, CEO and Board Advisory Partners, Russell Reynolds Associates, member of the Smith Advisory Board
  • Ann Deer, Indigenous Recruitment and Support Coordinator
  • Abdul-Aziz Garuba, Director, Cost Transformation, RBC Capital Markets, MBA alumni, member of University Council
  • Mark Green (Chair), Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic)
  • Jeanette Hepburn, Executive Director, Development and Alumni Engagement, Smith
  • Kanonhsyonne Janice Hill, Associate Vice-Principal (Indigenous Initiatives and Reconciliation)
  • Tracy Jenkin, Associate Professor and Distinguished Faculty Fellow of Digital Technology, Management Analytics, Vector Institute Faculty Affiliate
  • Sebastian Monsalve, President, Smith Commerce Society
  • Laura Rees, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behaviour
  • Stephanie Simpson, Associate Vice-Principal (Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion)
  • Lori Stewart (Secretary), Executive Director, Office of the Provost and Vice Principal (Academic)
  • Ann Tierney, Vice-Provost and Dean of Student Affairs
  • Maryann Turcke, Executive Advisor of the National Football League, Chair of the Smith Advisory Board
  • Mark Walters, Dean, Faculty of Law
  • Michael Welker, Professor and Distinguished Professor of Accounting
  • Shahram Yousefi, Associate Dean, Corporate Relations and Professor, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science

Principal Deane extends his thanks to the members of this committee for their willingness to serve, and to Interim Dean of Smith Brenda Brouwer for her ongoing leadership at Smith.

 

Board of Trustees vice-chair to talk on brand and reputation in the post-pandemic world

Smith Business Insight and Queen’s Executive Education are offering a free 60-minute webinar on Wednesday, Sept. 23 starting at 1 pm, featuring Dan Tisch, CEO of Argyle, one of Canada’s largest communications firms. 

A Queen’s alumnus (EMBA'96, Artsci'88) and vice-chair of the Queen’s Board of Trustees, Tisch is widely known as a leader in the Canadian and global communications community. His presentation will look at how some farsighted organizations have leaned in and utilized this turbulent time as an opportunity to demonstrate values and have best positioned themselves for post-pandemic recovery. What have these organizations done right? And what can you learn from them?

Following the presentation, there will be a Q&A with Tisch.

Visit the Smith Business Insight website to register.

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