Community Research and Engagement Lab (CoRE-Lab)
CoRE-Lab Logo

Our CoRE-Lab research program is located within the Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP) at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

We are an interdisciplinary and multisectoral, community-based program with more than 60 academic, community, government, and private-sector individual and organizational partners.


We employ a research approach that empowers communities to act on and mobilize the knowledge we co-create, to improve the systems that support children's health and well-being.


We develop our research together with communities in ways that are attuned with their unique needs, priorities, and lived experiences.

Partnership focussed

We prioritize the relationships we build with communities and are grateful to our many partners who are willing to share their time and perspectives with us.

We work with communities to co-create and mobilize community-based knowledge that can influence transformational change in the systems that support children's health and well-being.

Our Guiding Principles

In partnership with communities, academics, and government, we are involved in a wide range of research initiatives to:
Ensure meaningful representation and collaboration for maximum impact

We work to strengthen research excellence and ensure maximum research impact through meaningful representation and participation of community at all stages of the knowledge co-production process, and by facilitating and enhancing inter-sectoral collaborations.

Create knowledge grounded in grassroots community engagement

We strive to generate empirical knowledge that is: grounded in grassroots community engagement; reflective of the culture, politic and values operating within community; and, responsive to community needs, strengths, interests, and capacities.

Deepen collective understanding

Our research is designed to deepen our collective understanding of the wider systems and networks surrounding children's social-emotional well-being

Enhance community capacity

We prioritize enhancing community capacity to develop sustainable, and integrated approaches to supporting child social-emotional well-being by ensuring that knowledge generated by our research is used to inform policies and practices at the systems and social levels.

The CoRE-Lab Approach

HELP's founding director, Dr. Clyde Hertzman, inspired individuals, groups, and communities to both recognize the importance of early childhood development as a key social determinant of health and instigate collective action in response to population-level disparities.

HELP's ongoing commitment to fostering collective academic-community relationships that move knowledge-to-action towards healthy child development and healthier societies continues to be an important driver for CoRE-Lab's research approach.

Our research approach is community-based and community-driven.

Our research program recognizes that:

Systems are complex and constantly shifting, with multiple causes and interdependent drivers.
Complex systems

Effective program and policy interventions must be grounded in a research framework that seeks to understand the system(s) from the perspectives of the people who live in them.
Perspective of the people

A solid foundation of knowledge that can be mobilized for meaningful action must be based upon non-hierarchical, community-based research practices.
Community-based researech practices

Ethical and accountable research must centre issues of power, rights and responsibilities, and provide a space for all members of our partnerships to thrive.
Equity, Diversity and Inclusion


Knowledge to action

A hallmark of HELP's research approach is the mobilization of population-level data through its Child Development Monitoring System, which tracks the health and development of populations of children and youth in British Columbia. For over 20 years, the data gathered through this Monitoring System have pointed to inequities that exist between populations and communities in the province.

Using our systems science, community-based participatory research (CBPAR) approaches, CoRE-Lab works with individual communities to better understand their monitoring system data, how the wider system is operating in support of children and youth, and the causal mechanisms that may be driving population-level inequities in the system.

We work with our community partners to dig deeper into the patterns of vulnerability in their individual community contexts, and to identify the context-specific 'differences that make a difference' for children in their communities. Our work and knowledge co-creation help situate communities for action – to develop catered solutions that reflect individual community contexts, and to identify strategies for addressing drivers of inequities at various levels in the system.

Highlights from our community work

Co-production of community-based data helps us develop a better understanding of the systemic issues and complex, multi-level causes that are influencing the high rates of developmental vulnerability within local community contexts.

We conduct collaborative community systems mapping workshops that integrate concept, asset and social network mapping, group model building, and causal loop diagramming activities.

After developing these systems maps, we work with our community partners to co-identify community priorities, barriers, needs, assets and capacities to develop strategies for action.


Network map

Social network analysis (SNA) involves mapping social relational structures through the use of networks and graph theory. A social network map illustrates the relationship structure among a set of individuals, organizations, or things within the network by mapping the ties, edges, or links that connect them. At CoRE-Lab we use social network analysis and mapping to better understand the strength of the social networks operating within different communities with respect to the provision of social-emotional supports and services. Mapping the contours of a communities social network (or social capital) allows us to work with our community partners to identify ways to build stronger networks of support and services.


Aided by the graphic recording talents of our partners at Fuselight Creative, we work with community to co-develop visual representations of the pathways that families with children with social-emotional support and service needs navigate the complex pathways to service access operating within different community settings. Mapping these journeys serves as a powerful tool to understand the experiences of families. By mapping the family journey, service and support organizations in communities are better able to identify areas for improvement, optimize processes, and create a more seamless and integrated systems of supports and services.

Journey Map


Causal loop diagram

Causal Loop Diagrams (CLDs) are a group model building approach used within systems science to develop visual representations of dynamic relationships between factors affecting system behaviors. We use CLDs to help our community partners to visualize the direction and polarity of relationships between key variables operating within systems associated with children's social and emotional development. By utilizing CLDs, our community partners gain valuable insights into the complexities of systems-level determinants, which in turn allows them to improve decision-making processes to address issues and improve the system of social-emotional supports and services operating within their community.


A community-based systems dynamics approach for understanding determinants of children's social and emotional well-being

We report on our application of a community-based systems dynamics modelling approach to identify key factors affecting children's social and emotional well-being (SEW). Using a group model building process with 31 stakeholders in 2 communities in British Columbia, Canada, we constructed two causal loop diagrams composed of 250 variables, 534 connections and 63 feedback loops. Feedback loops, systems complexity, and prominent systems level variables illustrate the interconnectedness of multilevel determinants influencing children's SEW. The community-based models highlighted areas for place-based intervention planning that require collective community action and intersectoral commitment toward common objectives for practice and policy on SEW.

Read the article »

Understanding the Influence of Community-Level Determinants on Children's Social and EmotionalWell-Being: A Systems Science and Participatory Approach

Healthy social and emotional development and longer-term outcomes for children are shaped by factors across the multiple levels (micro, meso, exo, macro) of a child's environment. By employing a novel systems science and participatory approach, we were able to co-produce a series of causal loop diagrams that detail the complex relationships between variables operating at the community or neighborhood environment level (e.g., features of the built environment such as: housing type, access, availability, and location; parks and greenspace, facilities such as community services, and other service infrastructure such as transit), and highlight the individual and collective impacts these relationships can have on the subsystem surrounding a child's social and emotional well-being. Our approach provides a unique lens of knowledge through which communities can identify key leverage points for action and (re)design of community spaces, practices, and policy.

Read the article »

Our Team

CoRE-Lab, led by Dr. Brenda Poon, consists of a growing, interdisciplinary network of researchers, staff, trainees, and community partners that spans diverse sectors and fields of interest. We have had the great privilege of working with communities across British Columbia and continue to be inspired by their collective commitment to creating safe, supportive, and connected communities.

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Dr. Brenda Poon, PhD

Principal Investigator

Brenda is an Assistant Professor (Partner) with the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia (UBC), long-time faculty member with the Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP), and head of the Research Department at the Wavefront Centre for Communication Accessibility. Brenda completed her master's degree at the University of Alberta and PhD from UBC focused on supports for children with special needs and their families. She then completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Population and Public Health focused on design, delivery, and evaluation of coordinated and integrated models for population-level child health interventions. The creation of CoRE-Lab stemmed from Brenda's longstanding research interests in understanding ways that community contexts and social, structural and systemic factors contribute to differential service access and use, particularly for marginalized groups, and better or worse developmental outcomes. Brenda is grateful to work together with such a dedicated and passionate network of community partners on community-based research and knowledge exchange that aim to promote equity in children's and family's navigation to services and healthier communities for children to live and grow.

Through her previous research evaluating early years' service supports in communities across BC, Brenda was moved by stories of parents and service providers regarding the barriers that families were encountering while trying to connect their children with services. Without a diagnosis for a child's developmental concern, access to relevant services was often delayed. This led Brenda to pursue research that could contribute to the understanding of families' access, navigation, and use of services in BC communities. She is also interested in pursuing research that informs mental health promotion, prevention, and support initiatives in the early years, with a particular emphasis on how to build bridges between service systems as children transition from childhood to adolescence.

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Alison Bruderer, PhD

Community Research Liaison & Partnership Coordinator

Alison earned a PhD in Psychology from UBC (2014) where she studied language and cognitive development in infants. Alison has spent the last several years teaching psychology courses at North Island College and leading community-based early years research in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. She is passionate about collaborative, community-driven projects that aim to improve the well-being of the children and families in our local communities.

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Chris Atchison

Research Administrator

Chris has worked, published and taught extensively in the area of mixed methods research within the social and health sciences. Much of his work has focussed on developing innovative methods for the study of a wide variety of social justice issues in an effort to help provide a space for the voices of marginalized, disenfranchised and stigmatized groups to be heard. He has contributed to projects in areas ranging from policy and regulation in illicit commercial industries, classification systems for female federal offenders, digital learning, youth labour regulation, social welfare, Indigenous identity and achievement, health care provision, and mental illness.

News & Events

Exciting News: SSHRC Community Partnership Development Grant

We are thrilled to announce that our CoRE-LAb - Community partnership has been awarded a Social Science Humanities Research Council Partnership Development Grant for our project "Connecting the Disconnected: Building Capacity and Partnerships in Communities to Promote Equitable and Accessible Early Years Social-Emotional Supports for Families"!

Dr. Poon will be joined by co-investigators Jessie-Lee D. McIsaac from Mount Saint Vincent University, Patricia A. Johnston from the University of Calgary, and Rodney E. Knight from the Université de Montréal and our community partners Cherry Wong, Liza Bautista, Mimi Rennie, and Prabhnoor K. Deol from South Vancouver Neighbourhood House, Hélène Dufour from Island Health, Maya Graves-Bacchus from United Way, and Orion M. Warje from the Fraser Health Authority.

Organizational partners in this initiative include the Foundation for a Path Forward, Fraser Health Authority, Human Early Learning Partnership, Island Health, South Vancouver Family Place, South Vancouver Neighbourhood House, United Way, Vancouver School Board, Westcoast Family Centres, and Women Transforming Cities.

The project aims to address the increasing rates of early childhood developmental vulnerability in BC by creating integrated and equitable systems of support for families. Using a community-based participatory action research approach, the team will work with our three BC partner communities to develop and implement a framework for evidence-informed practices that promote social-emotional well-being in early years. This initiative will foster collaboration between academic and community partners, enhancing the capacity to support children's well-being, particularly for families facing marginalization. We look forward to the positive impact this project will have on our communities.

Fall 2024 - Cross-Community Knowledge Sharing Event

To celebrate the completion of 3 years of exciting and important community based participatory action research activities supported by funding from the Vancouver Foundation, we are currently planning a cross-community knowledge sharing event.

Partner with Us

Partnership Opportunities

Strong partnerships are at the heart of what we do. Moving forward we are continuing to cultivate strong, collaborative working relationships and to grow our network of community partners across British Columbia. We are also actively working to ensure that our community-based research activities reflect our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusivity.

We strive to expand our partner networks to be even more inclusive of diversity and experience, ensuring appropriate representation and active inclusion from service users (e.g., parents/caregivers and children), service providers and under-represented community groups, such as individuals from diverse gender, racial, ethnic, cultural and economic backgrounds.

If you would like to learn more about our research program or would like to partner with us, please contact us!

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Contact Us

If you would like to learn more about the CoRE-LAB or would like to work with us in your community.

Office Hours

Monday - Friday

9:00AM - 05:00PM

Call Us

P. +1 604 822 1278

F. +1 604 822 0640

Email Us


Community Research and Engagement Lab

The University of British Columbia

440 - 2206 East Mall

Vancouver, British Columbia

V6T 1Z3 Canada