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Social Innovation Researcher. In conversation with: Daniel Bear, Ph. D., Faculty of Social and Community Services

Written by Anju Kakkar

Daniel bear's image with information

We met with Daniel Bear, Professor, Bachelor of Criminal Justice program, Faculty of Social and Community Services, Humber College. Daniel Bear is a seasoned researcher and has demonstrated leadership in developing policy design and implementation, applied research, criminal justice policy, social policy research methods, qualitative & quantitative analysis, ethnography, and cannabis policy and harm reduction.

In 2020, four applied research projects led by professors in the Faculty of Social and Community Services received over $1.2 million in funding obtained through grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). In total, NSERC awarded Humber College $1.8 million to conduct and complete six research projects. The College and Community Social Innovation Fund (CCSIF) grants are intended to support college social innovation research projects in partnership with local community organizations. 

Daniel Bear is leading the research project/study on “Engaging and Educating Young-Adult Cannabis 2.0 Consumers”, as the Principal Investigator, in partnership with local community organizations–this project was awarded $343K. 

Follow along through our Q&A session with Professor Daniel Bear

Humber Research & Innovation (R&I): Could you provide us with a brief synopsis?

Daniel Bear (DB): The core objective is to engage and educate young-adult cannabis users (18-30), the age group most likely to consume cannabis, and the age group most likely to consume cannabis on a daily or near-daily basis. By targeting this age group, we hope to impact long-term cannabis consumption practices, thereby having the best potential for improving public health and wellbeing outcomes for decades to come.

R&I: Collaboration with local community organizations

DB: Our two main partners are:

  1. The Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA), and
  2. Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP).

R&I: What is the course of action adopted for this study?

DB: This is a three-phase project conducted over the course of three years. We are currently in phase two. We are conducting a mixed-methods approach to engage and educate young adult cannabis users. What is guiding our research is that there needs to be conversation accessible to young people to stop some of the harms they may encounter while exercising their right to consume, armed with factual information and knowledge.

In Phase One, we gathered the data necessary to understand what new public education materials needed to be developed by conducting an online survey and a series of focus groups across the country. A critical part of the project, during this phase, was to address that we did not know what consumers needed to know. We also addressed the question – ‘whom they want delivering that message. These were the foundational elements that we continued to build on to be able to curate and provide these users factual and effective information. In total, we ran ten focus groups, and we collected approximately 2,500 survey responses. One critical aspect that we identified in our research is that people trust academics and researchers’ investigative results.

I think it is important to acknowledge the limited impact that academics can have on a day-to-day basis, but it is imperative to bring good evidence to bear. All we can do is try and build a good resource base to promote knowledge sharing and get that into the hands of the people who need it as effectively as possible.

During Phase Two, we are working with Humber College advertising students, partner organizations, and cannabis consumers to develop new public education materials focused on effectively engaging consumers with harm reduction information about cannabis 2.0 products. We have already provided that initial run of our analysis to students in the Bachelor of Creative Advertising (BOCA) program. The fourth-year students are currently designing campaigns to launch the knowledge and new educational materials that will be accessible to the public, e.g., in the form of pamphlets.

In Phase Three, we will launch the new materials and evaluate their efficacy before updating them to respond to any shortcomings identified in our evaluation. The goal is to try and work with cannabis retail stores and other venues to get the information out there so people can have access to it. Our goal is to put this information and knowledge at the forefront, easily accessible to users, especially young adults. (The learnings, observations, and materials that we produce will be valuable beyond the 18 to 30 age range as well).

R&I: “Raison d’etre” for undertaking this project?

DB: The critical thing, particularly for the younger population who are making decisions about forming cannabis consumption practices, is for us as educators, academics, and researchers to be able to say, “Here is a language that is honest, and here is the best available information we have right now that gives you dependable knowledge to make decisions about your health and wellbeing.” This was the driving force behind the research study.

The destigmatizing conversation around cannabis is still a challenge. Through this research, we aim to educate and engage young adults in a healthy dialogue. We also wanted to ensure that we are mindful not to stigmatize their decisions or steer them towards one trajectory or another. Our team saw a gap. We are the right institution, at the right time in the right place, to try and do something about this.

If our cannabis education research project does a little bit to help people make better or more informed choices about how they are going to consume cannabis, then we can safely state that we have taken one more step forward in the right direction.

R&I: Involvement of Research Assistants

DB: We currently have six research assistants (RAs) working on the team. We had more RAs involved in the project, depending on the need. Two RAs, currently on the project, have decided to enroll in grad school – with a scholarship. They have already made some tremendous contributions to the project, and we are lucky to have such talent at Humber. Students at BOCA have significantly contributed as well. We are preparing two publications now, and the RAs are listed as authors. This academic credit will support them in grad school and in their careers.

I often talk to my students about this idea, particularly social policy, that the way things are now and the trajectory that we are on is not inherent. It is the result of people pushing hard in several different ways, in a number of different spaces, and towards a number of different goals that keep us moving towards equality and away from injustice. These things are not guaranteed to us. It is important that we take advantage of these opportunities through applied research and that there is valuable material constantly being put forward.

R&I: The funding

DB: We gained the CCSIF grant from NSERC (National Sciences Education Research Council), which is fantastic. The idea that NSERC would fund a cannabis education project would not have been possible, say, five years ago. Through legalization, there is a realization of the capabilities of colleges to participate in social innovation applied research. Humber’s Office of Research and Innovation Office has been a significant factor in making this happen. We would not have been successful without Dr. Ginger Grant’s guiding force and encouragement right from the start.

Background and Expertise:

Daniel Bear acquired a Bachelors in Sociology from the University of California, US, in 2005; a Masters in Science in Social Policy (Research) from The London School of Economics and Political Science in 2009 (merit level awarded); he attained his Ph. D. in Social Policy also from The London School of Economics and Political Science in 2014 with a thesis focus on a year-long ethnography assessing the impact of simultaneous changes to drugs policy and performance management indicators on the drug enforcement practices of street-level police officers in a London borough.

He is a Professor in the Bachelor of Criminal Justice Program at Humber since 2015, teaching courses on Victimology, Criminology, Youth Issues, and Social Policy. Daniel brings vast academic experience and exposure to social policy development, and he continues to apply his life experiences in research and teaching. He is also the Chair of the Humber Harm Reduction Partnership (HHaRP). Daniel has had his papers published in several journals and publications, presented in several conferences, conducted workshops, and has contributed media content. Daniel has supported and mentored up to 30 undergraduate thesis students each year since 2015. He has also been instrumental in developing or re-development some courses at Humber College and earlier at Sheridan College.

On Research:

We probed Daniel to share his beginnings in research. We learned that a life-altering incident in the mid-90s led Daniel Bear down a course of trying to understand and develop a language and conversation around his observations of the use and administration of opiates. He soon learned the intertwined relationship of drug policy with the history of racism and issues of disproportionality, thus launching him into a career studying drug enforcement and social policy.

“Why research?” we enquired. Daniel Bear responded, “Through the course of my work and initial studies with terminally ill medical cannabis patients, and through observations from my work with ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), I realized the extent of the life and death element associated with drug use and that cemented it for me.” During his time in the United Kingdom, Daniel spent a year on the streets of London with police officers and observed first-hand how they enforced drug laws. “They were switching to a more community-based policing approach. They had reduced low-level cannabis offenses to just a warning, but at the same time, cannabis enforcement had shot up dramatically and disproportionally. Part of the reason why I take on research studies is trying to find a way to talk about the stigmatized topic of drugs and cannabis with a larger audience,” emphasized Daniel.

Daniel has been fortunate to build a background of research experience relatively broad in the academic world. He has done extensive work towards drug policy, held consultations with the Ministry of Justice in the United Kingdom, and spent time studying the interactions between incarcerated people and prison officers to reduce violence in prisons in London.

“The reason I like working in the arena of applied research, especially with polytechnics like Humber College, is the ability to impact positive change with research that is usable in the real world. ‘To heal the world’ – that is what drives me. If every person takes a positive step to make the world around them a little bit better, then the net effect across an entire society and the world is really a rather positive one, isn’t it?” – Daniel Bear

We thank Daniel for his valuable contributions and look forward to supporting him through his research project. This is what Daniel had to say about his involvement with the Humber Office of Research and Innovation (ORI):

“Having ORI’s support meant that we could take on a last-minute grant application that would have been otherwise impossible to complete. Once we won the grant, we had a team ready to guide us through the budgetary and policy procedures so that we could focus on our research. It takes a lot to produce good research; after four projects together, I know that I have always got a solid team to work with, and I can take on a new opportunity with confidence.”

We know you want to get to know Daniel a little better; here are five things you did not know about him, in his words:

  • When I’m not at work, I am taking care of a toddler. I do a fair amount of cycling on Lakeshore. I love being outdoors, and it’s a sort of meditation to be lost in nature for hours.
  • A favorite book or two: ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’ by John Kennedy Tole, and the most recent read ‘Canada’ by Mike Myers – I’ve been recommending this to everyone.
  • Favorite movie: ‘Inglorious Bastards’, a 2009 war and action film, is stunning film work.
  • A website I visit most often: Twitter, for sure. I get to connect with drug policy and social justice folks worldwide and have some great interactions and learn a lot.
  • Coffee or Tea: Definitely Coffee!

Wise words from our Social Innovation Researcher:

As an ethnographer, my job is to understand how people make sense of their own world. I’ve gotten to do that in a lot of different contexts now and it has helped me better see my own implicit biases and how I make sense of the world. That wasn’t the point of doing the research, but it’s been a great side benefit.” – Daniel Bear