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Queen’s researchers work to make Resilient Kingston, helping economic and social recovery post COVID-19

A group of researchers from Queen’s University worked with the City of Kingston, discovering resilience in community members and proposing more ways to reach better social and economic recovery post-pandemic. The project is a part of the 2020-21 Ph.D. Community Initiative (PhD-CI), which is facilitated by Queen’s University School of Graduate Studies. 

The team of five researchers from Queen’s University’s Ph.D. Community Initiative’s Resilient Kingston. Clockwise from bottom left: Jane Johnston, Skylar Kovacs, Nancy Fynn-Sackey, Philip Simpson, and Emma Bozek (submitted photos). Photo of Kingston City Hall by Joselito Ochotorena.

The research team consists of: 

  • Emma Bozek, Ph.D. Student, Faculty of Education
  • Nancy Fynn-Sackey, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Health Sciences
  • Jane Johnston, Mentor, School of Nursing (Retired)
  • Skylar Kovacs, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of English Language and Literature
  • Philip Simpson, Ph.D. Student, School of Kinesiology and Health Studies

The research participants shared the experiences which helped the team assess the successes of transparency and effective leadership of KFL&A Public Health and Dr. Kieran Moore’s response to the pandemic. It also came to light how local businesses could “make it work” while adhering to Public Health guidelines and the availability of public outdoor spaces and programming within the City. 

“Our project sought to foster connectivity among Kingstonians, to examine the topics of community confidence and involvement during the pandemic, and to encourage citizen engagement by providing open lines of communication between Queen’s University, community members, and the City of Kingston,” said Kovacs.

The project involved four focus group interviews with 17 Kingston residents who identified with at least one of the following four categories: student; experienced job loss during the pandemic; maintained employment during the pandemic; senior or retired. These focus groups, each of which included between three and six participants, offered an opportunity for Kingston residents to build valuable connections, share their stories, and support each other through the challenges they had faced. They also shared views on how under-supported communities are in more severe conditions due to closure or limitation of social services. 

Furthermore, participants also shared ideas on how local businesses can be promoted by providing more support in delivery services and adaptation to innovative business methods, such as delivery, curbside pickup, and online shopping. 

Kovacs also explained how participants shared their gratitude for essential workers, the KFL&A Public Health Unit, and other community members, mainly when these individuals worked in harmony to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. “However, our participants were also aware of the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on different members of the Kingston community,” she said. “In our report, we suggest that resilient members of resilient communities tend to develop a heightened awareness of those individuals who are not included in or taken care of by a particular social body.”

The research team was quick to thank those who allowed the project to take place, particularly those members of the community that participated in the focus groups. 

“We are immensely grateful to everyone that participated in these interviews, and we learned a great deal about resilience in the process. These focus groups also allowed us as a team to reflect on our own experiences during the pandemic, and the successes and challenges we’ve faced individually,” said Fynn-Sackey 

Bozek shared her thoughts about the project’s significance that provided people with an opportunity to come together and share their stories. 

“We learned that, at the core, we are all struggling with similar challenges, and this revelation has been comforting in itself. After over a year of being home alone, consumed by the fear that meeting new people could bring on sickness, our team feels proud that we were able to help people build the connections that they had been longing for,” she said.

Bozek also elaborated on the research findings and explained that the community perceived the City’s response to and management of the pandemic quite positively. Some participants expressed that they felt especially grateful to be in Kingston during the pandemic outbreak due to the strong leadership and coordination they had seen across the city. Members of the community also sought to increase their efforts to support local businesses. 

“One of our main goals was to facilitate experience sharing among Kingston community members who didn’t previously know each other. We wanted to highlight that people aren’t alone in these trying times and [others are] weathering the storm alongside them. We achieved this goal by bringing together strangers in our focus groups and asking the right questions to evoke personal experiences. So, in our view, one of Resilient Kingston’s main goals has already been accomplished,” said Simpson

The team presented the report’s findings to the Kingston Economic Recovery Team (KERT), who will further decide on how to utilize the information in further assistance for recovery initiatives to come. 


Dr. Heather Merla and Dr. Chris DeLuca at the Queen’s School of Graduate Studies (SGS) helmed the PhD-Community Initiative (PhD-CI), which partners interdisciplinary groups of Ph.D. students with local organizations to address a challenge experienced by the community partner. This year, all teams worked with the City of Kingston and the Mayor’s Kingston Economic Recovery Team (KERT) to address social and economic resiliency in the City about COVID-19. If readers want to read the full report, they can email Philip Simpson at [email protected] to receive a copy.

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