Heather was hired as a contractor in October 2016 to support PAN’s Evaluation and Community Based Research Programs, thanks to funding from the CBR Collaborative Centre and REACH. Collaborating with PAN staff and the Peer Evaluators on the Positive Leadership Development Institute’s impact evaluation will be a major component of Heather’s work over the coming months. Heather recently completed a PhD in sociology at the University of British Columbia and has been a board member at Positive Women’s Network since 2012. In her spare time, she enjoys doing yoga, taking long walks on the seawall, catching up with friends over good food, playing with her sister’s tiny dog named Luna, and talking about current events and politics.
What first piqued your interest in HIV research and evaluation?
I am closely connected with someone personally affected by HIV and spent several weeks with them in the emergency room and on 10C at St. Paul’s Hospital before it was closed as a result of incredible advances in HIV/AIDS research that reduced the need for this inpatient ward. During my time at St. Paul’s, I watched doctors, nurses, and leaders in the fight against HIV deliver outstanding care with compassion. This experience – while painful, tremendously scary, and hopeful, all the same time – inspired my interest in the HIV/AIDS movement. While I am in awe of the biomedical research related to preventing and treating HIV, my interests as a sociologist are related to stigma and the ways in which social determinants of health intersect and continue to affect quality of life for our friends, family members, neighbours, and colleagues living with HIV/AIDS. In 2012, I was gifted with the opportunity to join the Board of Directors at Positive Women’s Network. Volunteering at PWN has taught me so much about the workings of the HIV/AIDS movement in Canada, what’s happening in British Columbia, and the tremendous capacities and strengths of the staff members at community based organizations and people living with HIV/AIDS.
What role do you think HIV/AIDS research and evaluation plays in the “real world”?
A very important one! As mentioned above, biomedical research has led to the closure of Ward 10C and people are living long and fulfilling lives thanks to medications that make viral loads undetectable. These facts are symbolic of the progress that has been made in the fight against HIV/AIDS. That said, there are still major advances to be made: misinformation around HIV is pervasive, laws around disclosure leave women and other individuals vulnerable, and the intersections related to poverty, race, gender, and HIV/AIDS are pressing social justice issues. Rigorous, evidence-based interventions and thorough evaluations can help us find ways to challenge these social and economic inequities.
How do you engage the community in your work?
I am trained as a social scientist and I respect that there are a lot of ways for social scientists to do research about social and cultural issues. For me, my work is most meaningful when it is driven by the community, for the community, and this principle has guided all of my research and evaluation projects since I started my PhD in 2010. With the PLDI Impact Evaluation, I am so privileged to work with gifted Peer Evaluators and a talented staff team at PAN. Learning about their experiences as community members, advocates, and members of PAN has been incredible and I look forward to where this journey together will take us! The GIPA/MIPA principles set a standard for conducting ethical and engaged research and evaluation, and I strongly believe that these should be implemented when working with all communities. Community members know what knowledge they need; researchers and evaluators should be driven primarily by community-identified priorities and accountable to the communities in which they work.
If you had unlimited funds, which area(s) of research or evaluation would you invest in?
So much of the research we have is siloed and only examines one, two, or three aspects of a complex issue. As a qualitative community based researcher, I see tremendous value in holistically-oriented research projects that take a bigger-picture approach to understanding the ways in which class, race, gender, sexual orientation, and other identity statuses are intimately tied to people’s health and well-being in the world. We are often so focused on understanding one piece of the puzzle or solving one component of a pressing issue that we don’t typically have the luxury of zooming out to understand and orchestrate a collaborative effort to challenge these structural issues. So that’s what I would fund with my unlimited research dollars! Big, partnership-based research projects to solve big, juicy challenges!
If you were able to choose, what is the natural talent you’d like to be gifted with and why?
The ability to travel boundlessly through time and space. There are so many amazing places in the world – one person could never hope to see them all! This ability would give me the chance to do all the traveling I’ve ever wanted, and to meet people from different historical periods. I’d also have the chance to peek into the future!