Health Research, Methods, Evidence & Impact - Graduate Program in Clinical Epidemiology

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Julia Abelson to lead group awarded funding by the Future of Canada project

Apr 15, 2021, 10:21 AM by Laura Ramsay

Julia Abelson is set to lead an interdisciplinary team of McMaster scholars, students and research groups that has been awarded catalyst funding by the Future of Canada project and McMaster University for their initiative, Strengthening health policy in Canada through leadership in public engagement.

The Public Engagement in Health Policy project will establish a platform for interdisciplinary scholarship, education and leadership to support critical examination of past and current approaches to engaging citizens and communities in Canadian health policy, with a view towards developing modernized approaches that meet current needs and realities.

The catalyst funds will be used to harness the deep expertise of McMaster’s interdisciplinary community of engagement scholars and practitioners who are well positioned to respond to calls for greater representation, inclusion, equity and justice in Canada’s changing health systems, and to promote health policymaking that is responsive, democratically legitimate and builds trust between citizens and governments.

The project includes three inter-related components: 

  • Research: Producing scholarship and accessible, policy-friendly outputs that reflect on the past, present and future of public engagement in the health sector.
  • Education: Developing a Participatory Democracy in Health course that prepares future leaders for roles in academia, government and NGOs, and
  • Leadership: Providing innovative leadership development opportunities for current and future public engagement scholars and practitioners.

Abelson, a professor in McMaster's Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact, says the pressures of the global pandemic have provided the ultimate stress test for efforts to balance science with social values to inform and support robust health policy decision-making. 

While Canada has a rich history of public engagement in the health sector, the current political, economic and social challenges facing Canadians and their health leaders call for critical reflection on this history, and adaptation to ensure that future public engagement approaches meet people where they are and provide relevant and timely input.

“As Canada looks to the future, public engagement efforts will need to be able to adapt to opportunities and constraints in a policy arena characterized by unpredictable time horizons, calls for new public investments in pharmacare and long-term care, mobilized patient, caregiver and citizen coalitions; and shifts to digital platforms,” Abelson said.

The Future of Canada Project was launched in 2020 with a $5 million gift to McMaster University from McMaster alumnus and Chancellor Emeritus L.R. Wilson and his foundation. The University is contributing an additional $1 million over the three-year pilot. The project will support and highlight projects that deepen our understanding of Canada’s past, present, and future on issues as diverse as Canada’s global relations, business and the economy, education, family and community life, health and healthcare, governance, the impacts of technology, and public policy. A Wilson Canada Project conference will be held to showcase work in progress.  

Abelson’s interdisciplinary team spans four McMaster faculties. Team members include Alpha Abebe and Chandrima Chakraborty (Humanities), Katherine Boothe, Adrienne Davidson and Cliff van der Linden (Social Sciences), Khalid Hassanein and Gillian Mulvale (Business), and Rebecca Ganann, Sandra Moll and Mike Wilson (Health Sciences).

To read a Brighter World article about the Future of Canada Project, click here.

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