Information for Research Volunteers

Research for the Front Lines (R4FL) provides pro bono research services in support of communities and movements fighting for environmental justice. We connect grassroots movements and communities on the front lines of the fight for social, environmental, and climate justice in Canada with researchers who have skills, time, and labor to offer. 

We ask that all research volunteers read this document before signing up to volunteer with us. Once you are familiar with our approach to research and feel committed to offering research in these ways, you can sign up here to become a Research for the Front Lines volunteer.

Once you have signed up, we will contact you and invite you to our next orientation session where you can learn more about our approach to research as allyship

Who we serve: R4FL supports grassroots movements and front-line communities who face disproportionate environmental harm, either because their lands and bodies are targeted by extractive industry, racism, or other forms of systemic discrimination, or because climate change—itself a result of colonial industry—affects them disproportionately. Front-line communities include Indigenous, racialized, and economically marginalized people. Other groups of people can bear disproportionate environmental burdens too, such as women, LGTBQAI+ people, migrants and refugees, and people from the global South. We support these communities, and their allied movements, in their fight for environmental and climate justice, ultimately aiming for a world where environmental harms are no longer foisted upon already-marginalized peoples, and where the lands and waters are stewarded by their original caretakers. We collaborate on research that ultimately challenges extractive, colonial capitalism and promotes just, flourishing alternatives. 

R4FL recognizes that research in Indigenous and racialized communities and in movements has often been harmful, colonial, and “extractive” in nature. The values, goals, knowledge systems, and methods of Western-centered research have often been at odds with those of Indigenous and racialized communities. Research has lacked accountability to the communities “under study” and has often inflicted direct physical, social, or spiritual harm through non-consensual or manipulative research practices, the reinforcement of racist stereotypes, or the theft of linguistic, artistic, or physical material. We seek to invert this paradigm by prioritizing front-line community voices and ways of knowing, and by following their lead in determining the research needs and methods for all our projects.

How we work: All R4FL research activities are community- or movement-driven, meaning that community members/grassroots organizers determine the research process from start to finish. We do not conduct research in or on communities/movements, but with communities/movements and in service to them. Though collaboration is key, ultimately the community or movement folks decide what types of project relationships, research designs, and methodologies will be used, and all content is approved by the front-line folk before any research findings are shared publicly. We strive to build honest, constructive partnerships to meet community/movement research needs and build lasting trust across movements and struggles.

R4FL research activities involve the use of both non-Western and Western “scientific” methodologies and research designs. We can engage with any kind of research method community/movement partners think will be useful. This could include methods as wide-ranging as literature reviews, oral history, data analysis, Traditional Ecological Knowledge workshops, biological sampling, and participatory environmental justice research. 

The types of research collaborations also vary widely. Some collaborations involve long-term cooperation between researchers and community/movement members to design and execute multi-stage, mixed-methods research projects. In other cases, R4FL receives clear-cut research requests from community/movement members, which are quickly carried out and sent back to the community in the form of a brief report. We can provide you opportunities to work on a wide range of projects, making matches based on your skills and time availability. 

R4FL commits to prioritizing the voices and concerns of front-line communities and movements and to rigorous, community/movement-driven research practices that reflect front-line community/movement values, goals, and ways of knowing. 

Key Commitments for Researchers. The following commitments and principles are essential for all R4FL volunteers.

  • Prioritize the voices of community members and grassroots organizers in all interactions. 
  • Respect the research protocols, timelines, relationships, and project directives as stipulated by community members and movement organizers. 
  • Be up-front and honest about your availability and research abilities. Don’t take on tasks you can’t complete. 
  • Follow through on tasks you commit to. Community-led research only works when there is trust and respect between all partners. Not following through on tasks can damage relationships and harm trust building. 
  • Ask questions. When collaborating with community/movement members or offering research services, ask them how to proceed, what their needs are, or what they already know about specific issues related to the project.
  • Don’t be the only expert. Recognize and respect the knowledge and expertise of community/movement members. If you have specialized knowledge in a research method or subject area, offer as many options and avenues as possible when collaborating so that community members can decide for themselves. 

What we offer volunteer researchers.
In exchange for their time and labour, we offer volunteer researchers the chance to:  

  • Contribute concretely to front-line struggles and communities facing environmental injustice. Solidarity through research!
  • Join a growing community of grassroots practitioners and researchers dedicated to environmental justice, radical social change, and community-led research.
  • Share knowledge and gain new skills in our trainings, skill-shares, and webinars with expert researchers.
  • Gain research experience, which you can then use in your career, in your activism, or on your resume or receive in the form of a letter of recommendation. 
  • In some cases, research can be part of your degree or ongoing research projects if it fits the needs of the community or movement we are working with.

Are you a student, researcher, or professor with skills and time to offer? Do you want to support the fight for climate and environmental justice in so-called Canada? If so, sign up here to join our community of researchers willing to donate their time, skills, and labour to front-line communities and grassroots movements.

Are you an experienced researcher willing to mentor less experienced researchers working with us, to ensure high quality, rigorous research is getting done? Then,  fill out this form to let us know what specific research methods you can offer mentorship on.