The Learning Collaborative: An approach to emancipatory research in disability studies

  • Mary Ann McColl Queen's University, Centre for Health Services & Policy Research
  • William Adair Executive Director, Canadian Paraplegic Association Ontario
  • Sue Davey The Osborne Group
  • Nick Kates McMaster University
Keywords: Collaborative, emancipatory research, disability studies, consumer, community, evidence, methodology


The debate persists in disability studies about the best ways to learn more about the experience and consequences of disability.  Various research approaches have held sway over the years, but a favoured approach at present appears to be emancipatory research.   Due to numerous critiques and caveats, emancipatory research has been referred to as an "impossible dream".   In this paper we offer a way of satisfying the ideological principles of emancipatory research that upholds the highest standards of evidence and policy relevance.  It is derived from continuing quality improvement in health care, and is referred to as the Learning Collaborative.  We offer an example of the Learning Collaborative approach as it was used in Ontario Canada to improve accessibility in primary care settings.  The Learning Collaborative approach is evaluated against criteria for collaboration in disability studies, and found to embrace many of the principles of emancipatory research, specifically:  a focus on barrier removal, consumer-researcher collaborations at every stage, and a focus on the priorities of the disability community.  In addition, it adds a level of scientific rigour through the use of evidence-based policy analysis and scoping methodology.

Author Biographies

Mary Ann McColl, Queen's University, Centre for Health Services & Policy Research

Academic Lead, Canadian Disability Policy Alliance

Associate Director, Centre for Health Services & Policy Research

Professor, Rehab Therapy / Community Health & Epidemiology

Queen's University
William Adair, Executive Director, Canadian Paraplegic Association Ontario

William Adair is Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Paraplegic Association Ontario.  Prior to joining CPA Ontario, Bill was Director of the National Patient Services Program with the Canadian Cancer Society. He also served as Director of the International Year for Disabled Persons, the Executive Director of a national task force which designed a system to coordinate cancer control efforts throughout Canada, and the Founding Executive Director of Wellspring.

Sue Davey, The Osborne Group

Susan Davey is a Principal with The Osborne Group and former Senior Manager of Community Health in the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care in Ontario. She worked with the Canadian Paraplegic Association Ontario to develop materials and promote uptake among Family Health Teams on the project.

Nick Kates, McMaster University

Nick Kates is Professor and Acting Chair of the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster University with a cross appointment in the Department of Family Medicine and is an honorary member of the College of Family Physicians of Canada. He  is a senior advisor to Health Quality Ontario and the quality improvement advisor for the Hamilton Family Health Team. For 5 years he was the Ontario lead for quality improvement in primary care.