A participatory food costing project - working with Inuvialuit peer researchers
To address locally identified concerns about retail food pricing, we initiated a participatory food costing project in the five remote Inuvialuit communities (with data collected by Jullian and other local researchers in Inuvik, the sixth community of the region); data was collected each season for a 14-month period between late 2014 and early 2016. Grounded in principles of participatory action research, participatory food costing includes the involvement of those directly affected by issues of food access and food insecurity in research design and collection of food price data (Williams et al. 2012). This comprises hiring, training and supporting peer researchers in communities to engage in research, knowledge translation and other capacity development activities. The participatory methodology was favoured given the potential to enhance research skills of community members and, over the long term, foster capacity for communities to initiate and implement their own food security research. Ethical approval for this research was granted by the University of Ottawa, and a Research License was obtained from the Aurora Research Institute.
Who were the peer researchers?
One Inuvialuit community member was recruited from each of the five remote communities. Two peer researchers were unable to complete the project due to competing demands for time (e.g. family, education, employment); in each case, an alternate peer researcher was identified. Peer researcher recruitment was led by Jullian at the IRC. Headquartered in Inuvik, the regional administrative center, Jullian regularly travelled to the five remote communities, and was able to provide support and oversee research activities both in-person and remotely. Jullian initially contacted each individual by telephone to discuss the food costing project, gauge their interest in participating and establish work agreements. Peer researchers were recruited on contracts and paid for completing food costing activities. This hiring model was key to project feasibility as the selected individuals were already contractually employed by the IRC in a nutrition-related role in their respective communities, thus facilitating logistics and labour relationships (i.e. contracts, timely payment and other financial logistics). Nevertheless, it is important to note that this targeted recruitment process may have excluded some of the more marginalised individuals affected by food insecurity in the community, such as those with no formal wage-based employment experience.
Peer researchers required a functional level of food literacy (e.g. ability to read food labels, understand measurement units) and basic mathematics (e.g. ability to compare food costs).
All the peer researchers had pre-existing training and experience as casual contract-based nutrition workers in their home communities. In their role as community nutrition workers, they were involved in leading regular community cooking circles and food demonstrations to promote healthy eating using affordable country and market foods - activities funded through federal support and administered through the IRC. Although sex and gender were not considered in the recruitment and hiring process, all peer researchers involved in this project were women. Women play important food-related roles in remote Inuit communities, from harvesting, gathering and purchasing, to food preparation and sharing. They are also key caregivers for children, elderly relatives and other extended family members. They are often the primary food shopper in their household and have a keen sense of key aspects of the food system and impacts on community health. Peer researchers were never asked to disclose their experiences of food access. Nevertheless, they often informally shared challenges that they and other community members faced in accessing food in their community. Furthermore, as formal emergency food support programmes (e.g. food banks and soup kitchens) are limited in remote Arctic communities where strong networks of food sharing have traditionally supported community food access, the nutrition education activities they led, which also provisioned food, were likely attended by individuals most in need (Kenny et al. 2018a). Their existing positions meant that they were already connected and aware of services and programmes that supported improved dietary quality and food security in the region. At the same time, involvement in the food costing research project likely enhanced their other community roles and responsibilities.
What training did the peer researchers participate in?
Training was conducted by Tiff-Annie and Jullian in face-to-face community visits at the onset of the project. Peer researchers participated in training sessions (lasting 2-3 days) involving presentations, discussion and hands-on data collection experience. Training materials were co-developed by Tiff-Annie and Jullian and were intended to provide peer researchers with the necessary background, resources and confidence to undertake future data collection independently, and adapt the research methodology to accommodate local issues.
Training involved discussing the goals and expectations of the project, and familiarising peer researchers with the core concepts underscoring the research project, including definitions, principles and tools for appraising food security and the affordability of healthy diets (e.g. 24-hour dietary recall, standardised food basket approaches). Training materials and vocabulary were intended to be adapted to local contexts and levels of education and knowledge. The peer researchers were encouraged to ask questions and engage in open discussion during the training session. These discussions emphasised unique dimensions of the local contexts and underscored the limitations of conventional
Indigenous food security in Canada 151 conceptualisations and approaches to food costing in remote Inuit communi' ties. Peer researchers also participated in an in-depth review and discussion of regional dietary, food security and health results from the Inuit Health Survey, which was designed to provide comprehensive baseline data about Inuit health and living conditions in support of Inuit-specific policies (Saudny et al. 2012). Peer researchers also received training in a participatory food costing methodology, which was adapted and refined iteratively with their input (described below) from standardised training material developed for general/southern community contexts (Williams et al. 2012).
Related to their function as community nutrition workers, the peer researchers continued to participate in various individual and group capacity building and training activities (e.g. food safety certification) led by Jullian. This included periodic (annual or semi-annual) regional group network meetings, lasting approximately three days. These gatherings, held in the regional administrative centre (Inuvik), were also attended by Tiff-Annie and provided a platform to present and discuss project updates/results and solicit feedback on data interpretation with the peer researchers.
How were peer researchers involved in the project?
In addition to independently leading data collection during the study and participating in the interpretation of study results, the peer researchers were involved in the study design from the outset. The peer researchers played a particularly important role in developing the adapted food costing methodology and survey tool from standardised training materials prepared for southern community contexts (Williams et al. 2012). Their involvement was wide-reaching and ensured incorporation of the local socio-economic context of the food system into the methodology, thus helping overcome some of the limitations of conventional assessment measures predicated upon Western economic frameworks (Harder and Wenzel 2012). Through a series of teleconference calls to discuss iterations of the survey instrument, peer researchers provided important input and feedback on the scope of the study and the methods. Their feedback favoured, for instance, the inclusion of items that were actually eaten in the communities and reflected changes in food availability and community dietary habits since the most recent relevant data was collected 10 years previously. Furthermore, as costs can vary between seasons due to local environmental and circumstantial factors - such as the availability of winter roads and barge shipments - the peer researchers dictated the timing of costing activities in their respective communities. As no standardised approach exists for assessing the cost of country food, they also identified the need to include key harvesting equipment (e.g. shotgun shells, heating fuel, gasoline) in the food costing list (Kenny et al. 2018b). The survey instrument was only finalised once they agreed that it was comprehensive and reflective of purchase and consumption patterns of individuals and households at the community scale.