Assistant professor, Mount Royal University

Lead researcher on the Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo project, Katharine has advanced work on Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience's (WISIR) developing social innovation theory based on historical case studies.

Katharine-McGowanResearch interests 

Katharine McGowan is a post-doctoral fellow with Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo (SPWB), a joint Faculty of Arts and Environment project that partners the University of Waterloo with representatives from the community, business and government of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Alberta.  SPWB aims to improve quality of life in Fort McMurray and the wider Wood Buffalo, and Katharine brings her interest in social innovation and resilience to this dynamic cross-sector initiative as a researcher interested in how social change partnerships work and as an active participant in community conversations and collaborations.  Katharine’s study of social innovation and resilience comes out of her interest in Canadian/Indigenous history, looking at how major landscape-level shocks such as the First World War disrupt relationships and expectations, and shifted Indigenous-government systems towards a new paradigm.  Katharine brings her passionate interest in history to complex questions and social innovation in research projects, teaching and community work.

Current projects

Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo (SPWB)

I am part of a team that includes the Faculties of Arts and Environment here at the University of Waterloo, the Suncor Energy Foundation, the United Way of Wood Buffalo and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.  This project seeks to improve the quality of life in Wood Buffalo, a large municipality in Northern Alberta, which includes the city of Fort McMurray and the oil sands development projects.  The 2006 Getting to Maybe by Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman and Michael Quinn Patton inspired the Suncor Energy Foundation to reach out to the University of Waterloo as a possible partner in their effort to build the resilient capacity of the social profit sector and the community more broadly.  This work has involved workshops, community conversations and collaboration/support for several initiatives including the Heart of Wood Buffalo awards and the creation of FuseSocial, a capacity building organization for the social profit sector. 

My work on this project falls into two main categories.  Firstly, I have use social innovation related tools and theories in the design and facilitation of several workshops on issues ranging from multiculturalism, collective impact for youth, resilience, and staff recruitment and retention. 

Secondly, as we enter the final year of the project (until April 2015), I am researching the project as a possible model for social change processes, corporate social responsibility initiatives and cross-sector partnerships.  As part of this latter work, we are convening a national conversation of top researchers looking at resilience and sustainability in communities affected by resource development for the fall of 2014.  This will be a collaborative workshop to compare and build on the learnings of individual projects hopefully towards a national research strategy on resilience and boomtowns.

Selected writings 

McGowan, K. with Frances Westley, Evan Fraser, Philip Loring, Kathleen Weathers, Flor Avelino, Rinku Roy Chowdhry, Jan Sedzimir, Michele-Lee Moore) “The Research Journey: Travels across the idiomatic and axiomatic towards a better understanding of complexity” Ecology & Society (Accepted for Publication)

McGowan, K and F. Westley. 2013. “Design Thinking, Wicked Problems, Messy Plans” in Projective Ecologies, eds. Chris Reed & Nina-Marie Lister. Harvard University Press, pp. 290-311.

WestleyF. and KMcGowan. 2013. At the root of change: The history of social innovation.  Presented at Nesta Social Frontiers, November, UK. This paper introduces a new theory surrounding the process of social innovation using historical case studies.

McGowan, K. 2012. “‘A Question of Caste and Colour’: The displacement of James Bay Native soldiers’ wives during the First World War, Soldiers’ Family support and the maintenance of Prewar Canadian Society,” Native Studies Review 21.1 (December 2012): 103-124.

Curriculum vitae

Katharine McGowan's academic C.V. (PDF)

Katharine McGowan's non-academic C.V. (PDF)

University of Waterloo

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