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The Community Research Hub: A Case Study in Social Economy

Last Updated on February 7th, 2013

Project Title: The Community Research Hub: A Case Study in Social Economy

Final Report: This project did not result in a final report but led to the creation of Front Step Research Co-op, which is a social enterprise operating as a self-sustaining co-operative business venture.


The focus of this social economy project is on determining the viability and structure of community-based social enterprise, specifically; it is a study of the initial stages of an enterprise that provides services to meet demand for research on and in the inner city. It examines the steps needed to create a sustainable social enterprise. The project is also contributing to understanding of the social economy by describing employment conditions and social relations of a non-profit that is integrated with the neighbourhood economy.

Karl Polanyi (1983) has identified four economic patterns: free market, redistribution, reciprocity and domestic administration. The social economy encompasses these four patterns and any sustainable social enterprise must identify and take into consideration local livelihoods that are expressed in these four patterns.

The Spence Neighbourhood Association (SNA) has confirmed that residents in the inner city have developed valuable research skills working as interviewers and project staff for, among others, faculty at the University of Winnipeg (Capacity Inventory Project, 2006), and in positions in the private sector. The Community Research Hub (CRH) is taking on contracts and employing residents in quality community-based research. Community workers and researchers have found that funds earmarked for community development often flow to people and organizations outside of the target community, defying the principles of CED that many of these funding sources would prefer to promote.

The research will determine whether basic community research skills can be supplied as a sustainable enterprise, eventually providing services beyond the boundaries of the inner-city. CRH workers will provide a range of services from surveying and focus group facilitation to translation, transcription and courier services, drawing on local knowledge including awareness of the social dynamics of the multiethnic city core. Workers and residents, based on their awareness of the social and economic relations that define the social economy, are constructing the research hub. The approach is action research, combining on-going community consultation, market survey, development of training modules, interviews with CRH workers and employers, and study group learning and discussion.


Some of the outcomes to date include:

  • A survey of almost one hundred people in the research industry to determine research needs
  • Three services selected: door-to-door, on-site interviewing ; focus groups ; community consultations
  • Developed and distributed a brochure for the summer research season
  • Development of a business plan
  • Completed 6 training modules, training 5 people in each of 12 sessions.
  • Core group has already had some paid work on a variety of contracts
  • Developing policies and procedures as work progresses and more contracts come in
  • Participated in Congress 2007 at the University of Saskatchewan
  • Brocke Legge conducted a literature review on social enterprises and co-ops, assisted with the business plan, assisted with focus groups, and presented a paper at the student workshop connected with Congress 2007.

The Community Research Hub is establishing a three-part integrated learning structure that will facilitate an exchange of knowledge among workers and people in the community and between the community and the university researcher. The three parts are:

  1. Learning Circles: Informal gatherings to allow for sharing of ideas, consisting of two-hour meetings up to six times per year.
  2. Workshops: More formal presentations on predefined topics for purposes of business, professional, and personal development. Presentations would be approximately 2 hours and would take place four times per year.
  3. Training: Classroom training in research theory and practice, train-the-trainer sessions and opportunities for apprenticing. Sessions would be two and a half hours, twelve times per year.

In 2011, the Community Research Hub became FrontStep Research Co-op, which is a social enterprise operating as a self-sustaining co-operative business venture. FrontStep Research Co-op began as the Community Research Hub (CRH), a social enterprise offering data collection services to other community-based organizations and researchers. CRH started as a sponsored project of the Spence Neighbourhood Association in 2006 with a mandate to train and employ low-income, inner-city people to develop its methods and fulfill research contracts. The move to an independent co-operative business model warranted a rebranding that reflected our grass-roots approach.

Since its inception, FrontStep Research Co-op has promoted a collaborative environment where diversity is respected and key decisions are made by consensus. FrontStep provides training on an annual basis to its members and interested community members.

Project Poster: Poster (pdf)

Dissemination Activities:



Admin Notes:

Project Number: CL1-11-MB


Community Partners: