Category Archives: liz etmanski

Unity of New Westminster: Community Research Project embedded in social constructionism


Barb (red sweater), Aaron, Liz (purple sweater) and Nova with the Board of Unity of New Westminster.

After some discussion with the Unity of New Westminster Church, Barb Goode, Liz Etmanski and I received a small community research grant to explore and document their congregation, history and future directions.  The grant allowed us to give an honorarium, buy food for gatherings and hire a research manager who kept us organized.   The Taos Institute, which I partnered with in my PhD program, investigates things from a social constructionist lens:

Social constructionist dialogue – of cutting edge significance within the social sciences
and humanities – concerns the processes by which humans generate meaning together.

Our focus is on how social groups and the relational practices within those groups create and sustain beliefs in the real, the rational, and the good.

We recognize that as people create meaning together, so do they sow the seeds of action.

Meaning and action are entwined.

As we generate meaning together we create the future.

In research, this means that we involve those we are “researching” as partners in dialogic ways – they co-construct the questions, they participate in events that allow us a better understanding of the meaning we are continually making together, and of what we might do in the future, together.  It is also important that what we generate can be understood by the general population, and isn’t merely an academic exercise, but leads to actual change that includes the group of research participants.  Other interests of our group are in “inclusive research” (in which people with disabilities are involved partners) and graphic recording and visual facilitation.

unitypathwholeWe used PATH as a way to engage the board in planning for the future, after larger, generative community meetings that explored what mattered to the congregation.

This project began in April 2018, and ended in May 2019 with reports to the Unity of New Westminster Board of Directors, the congregation at their AGM, and to the Taos Institute, who received the report.  Further actions will include some more writing for Taos publications on the project.  To download and read the report, “The Role of the Unity of New Westminster Church in Post-Modern Community; Using social constructionist research for a “future forming” congregation,” click here: UnityResearchReportForDistribution

The research methods here build on those we’ve used in previous community-based research and we have already begun working with a couple of other groups on similar research projects in other areas of education and community services.

Please contact us if you are interested in similar research projects!  Aaron –


ARTbrain – a new project


Now that this has been formally announced, we can share some great news!  Our new ARTbrain project combines a few ideas that Liz Etmanski, Susan Powell and I have been talking about for a while.  We were grateful to receive some funding from the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture to explore these ideas over the next eight months.  Our proposal read,

Access to fine arts and humanities education has been almost impossible for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and this project will involve them in thinking critically about how art works, making art, works from art history and contemporary local artists, with the goal of becoming visually literate, critical thinkers more likely to be self-determining and engage in community leadership.

You can find out more about the British Columbia provincial government Community Resilience project here and about other projects that were funded, here.

We will be working with a small group of people with disabilities who will come together to learn about art, art history, leadership, critical thinking and how our brains work!  We are still in the process of deciding who will be in the group and how we will decide, and when the group will meet.  One of our main interests is in how arts accessibility works for people with intellectual/developmental disabilities and autism.   Interested?  Here’s a video about a painting you could check out while we get more organized – Caravaggio’s Narcissus.   

Check here for updates!

We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Province of British Columbia. BC_TAC_H_RGB_pos-1024x481



We continue to look for more funding and would be happy to chat if you’d like to be involved in that way 🙂

Email Aaron at


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A busy month…

I’ve been finishing up a big, distracting project that has required a lot of focus…  for some reason this meant that every time someone asked me to work at an event I just said yes 🙂 Hospitals engaging patients, self advocates strategic planning, MAPs and PATHs and training in California and with teachers in B.C..   It was good to use the other side of my brain, but it was particularly a gift to be around so many interesting people doing so many good things.   And always a gift to spend time with Liz Etmanski, who did some of the most charming of these drawings, and of course Shelley Nessman, my facilitation partner.   Next up – the Family Support Institute training weekend and then strategic planning in Kent, Washington with TLC.   For more information about having us at your events, you can contact me at or Shelley at

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