PSW Info

Immediate and longer term impacts: How engagement shapes outcomes

A research project uses multiple engagement and communications strategies to produce impacts on practice and policy and, in doing so, empowers research participants. This case illustrates impacts that happen during the research process, building a foundation for broader impact.


Keeping Community Based Personal Support Workers (PSWs) Safe in a Changing World of Work

Research Lead

Margaret Denton

Professor Emeritus, Gilbrea Centre for Studies in Aging

Isik Zeytinoglu

Professor, DeGroote School of Business

Case Contributor

Isik Zeytinoglu (Principal Investigator)

Professor, DeGroote School of Business

Catherine Brookman (Co-Investigator)

Vice President, Geriatric Medical Services Inc.

Abdullah BaMasoud

formerly with Service Employees International Union (SEIU), currently at Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care


Susan VanderBent, Home Care Ontario

Deborah Simon, Ontario Community Support Association

Henrietta Van hulle, Public Services Health and Safety Association

Patricia Boucher, Advanced Gerontological Education, St. Peter’s Hospital

Brigid Buckingham, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare

Janitha Joseph, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Local Union 3358-01

Margaret McAlister, Home Care Ontario

Wendy Robertson, St. Clair West Services for Seniors

Ronda Dickie, PSW Representative, PSNO

Stefanie Nucci, PSW Representative, OPSWA

Research funded by

Ontario Ministry of Labour


PSW participants felt validated by participating in the research

Union, employer organization and employee association participants gained research experience and access to independent inquiry with potential to inform their policy efforts

Relationships were established and strengthened across stakeholder groups

Knowledge Exchange Strategy

Stakeholder engagement; communication planning; interpersonal interaction; knowledge brokering


Empower PSW participants and all stakeholders through knowledge generation and exchange

Influence labour and health policy to protect the health and safety of personal support workers


  • Engaged employers, unions, employee associations and the health and safety association, in problem-solving
  • Developed multi-media approaches that respond to demographic communication preferences
  • Included research findings in policy briefs
  • Convened meetings involving diverse stakeholder groups

Keys to making it work

  • Build in time to evaluate and revise the KE strategies as the project evolves
  • Develop partnerships across stakeholder groups
  • Anticipate that KE is resource intensive, and include items such as graphic design and audio-visual production/support into the budget

Led by Dr. Isik Zeytinoglu, De Groote School of Business, and Co-led by Dr. Margaret Denton, Gilbrea Centre for Studies in Aging, the goal of “Keeping Community Based Personal Support Workers (PSWs) Safe in a Changing World of Work” was “to provide information that will lead to the prevention of injury and occupational health problems in PSWs providing home and community care in Ontario.” To gather information on PSW health, the research team created and launched an online survey called PSWs Have A Say.

The primary targets for the survey—PSWs and their employers—were also considered to be the users or beneficiaries of the research. Other knowledge user groups included unions and policy makers in the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and the Ministry of Labour. While it is too early to know what effects the research will have on policy, or on decisions made by employers and PSWs, the project’s participant recruitment and engagement strategy have prepared the ground for broader change, and are themselves impactful.

Creative, targeted engagement strategies

As the survey name—PSWs Have a Say—suggests, the study was intended to amplify the voices of PSWs. The team realized that to improve participation rates, and to hear the voices of PSWs, they needed to develop more targeted engagement tools, and to involve employers, unions, employee associations and the health and safety association more closely in the process.

We created tools we hadn’t thought of up front. We moved timelines to enable a key stakeholder to continue to participate.

The resulting strategy included using different, visually rich channels and media. They hired a graphic designer to design email blasts and ads. They placed ads on employer organization, union, employee associations, and health and safety association websites. They used a one-minute video as the primary means of engaging PSWs.

Importantly, the engagement strategy targeted both PSWs and their employers, unions, employee associations and the health and safety association, often bringing them into the project as liaisons to PSWs. For example, the project team gave employers a health and safety training tool to accompany the survey. The training was of benefit to the employer, and it also made it easy to request that trainees fill out a survey before or as part of the training.

Impact in process

The process of engaging PSWs as participants in the research was an important part of knowledge exchange. The survey questions themselves could prompt an awareness of an issue, or a gap in knowledge or the survey might contribute to a feeling of validation. For Brookman, receiving 2400 survey responses is itself “testimonial” that indicates how important it is for PSWs to have a means of sharing their insights. PSWs said that they “felt valued" by participating in the survey. These feelings of validation can themselves be considered important effects or impact of research.

Bringing the knowledge back to those who participated in its creation is an important part of the process, and the team has used it as an opportunity for further engagement and to gather further input. As Zeytinoglu explains, receiving a summary of results makes people feel that what they have experienced "is a common issue." This understanding may then make it possible for employers and unions to work together towards change. The research team has undertaken a number of stakeholder presentations to both PSWs and employer organizations, and the health and safety association, regarding their findings and each time they use the opportunity to gather additional insight to inform final recommendations by posing the question “What do you think we should do about it?”

Individuals felt informed, empowered... When given the summary information it’s an indication [to them] that whatever they were saying that they experienced, others are experiencing as well, so it’s a common issue in the workplace.

Abdullah BaMasoud, representing the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) at the time identifies other in-process benefits to participating in the research project, including an improved capacity for research and improved relationships with other stakeholders.

Collaborating with these researchers from McMaster…it provided learning opportunities for the union, from showing how research is done, to how to do survey design. [Also], we, the union, sat at the same table as other stakeholders who might have different priorities or concerns or opinions than the union, such as private homecare providers or government, ministry, and other people; they all sat at the same table. So collaborating to ensure the success of the project was in itself a success and helped build relationships and understanding of where other stakeholders are coming from.

Pathways to Policy

Dr. Isik Zeytinoglu’s research has informed employment policy at both provincial and federal levels, but this kind of impact takes time. Zeytinoglu recalls that research she published in 1986 took 20 years to affect legislation. Keeping PSWs safe strategically included partners and collaborators who open pathways to policy makers. In addition to employer groups of Home Care Ontario and Ontario Community Support Association, partners also included Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Public Services Health and Safety Association, Personal Support Network of Ontario (PSNO), and Ontario Personal Support Workers Association (OPSWA) and Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). For such organizations, the benefit of partnering with an academic researcher lies in enhanced credibility.

The research is neutral, and backed up what the PSWs and unions are saying about PSW’s health and safety issues. That’s what is important about what Isik provided…to us or other organizations: Neutral information and objective research.

The union was both a direct knowledge user, benefiting from the research, and a knowledge broker, translating and conveying research findings to relevant ministries.

The knowledge we acquired would be embedded into briefing notes that we take to government and are used to advocate for legislation changes such as with the Ministry of health and Long Term Care, Ministry of Labour…This research will find its way into … the consultation we provide to government and hopefully will find its way to policy changes, and be used effectively.