Robert Vanwynsberghe


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Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Exploring the transformative potential of public sector innovation labs: assembling a cabinet of curiousities (2021)

There is a proliferation of Public Sector Innovation Labs (PSI labs) around the world, with estimates that more than 500 now exist. They are under-studied as a contemporary innovation construct, making them a potent area for study. The definition of a PSI lab is still contested, although they commonly describe their relationship with government, their topics of focus, and the techniques that they use. The goal or purpose of innovation pursued by these PSI labs is often not described, though most efforts tend to focus on finding efficiencies and improving services for users and tend to operate within dominant governance paradigms. In this dissertation I explore the potential for PSI labs to imagine and catalyze transformative and emergent version of innovation, working at the intersections of personal, organizational and systems scales.I use a critical qualitative research bricolage, pulling together methodologies that challenge Western ways of knowing, allow for multiple truths to coexist, and invite a researcher with an active role in the research questions. Participatory action research (PAR) and constructivist grounded theory (CGT) are the backbone research methodologies in this bricolage. Research is conducted with co-researchers from three different PSI lab action research sites in Canada, and through interviews with expert practitioners in Canada and Europe.This dissertation opens up a cabinet of curiousities, rather than proposing definitive conclusions. It is grounded in interdisciplinary theory and has an ambition to be useful and accessible for practitioners. One part of the cabinet offers up a framework to more strongly theorize the work of PSI labs. A second part describes systemic interventions to create stronger enabling conditions for transformative and emergent innovation. A third section focuses on building transformative innovation learning infrastructure and practices. A thread that connects each section considers ways that we might think about measuring and evaluating the impacts and outcomes of PSI labs. Together, this cabinet of curiousities offers researchers and practitioners a plurality of ways to think about a transformative and emergent approach to PSI, and also what PSI might need to become in this time of urgent and complex challenges facing the public sector.

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A pedagogy of water: restorying the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo (2018)

Water is life. For millennia, the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo has nourished many Indigenous peoples along its 1,255 mile length, from it's source in the San Juan Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico. The river is the lifeline, read as a map between the interrelated communities. Colonization turned the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo into an international border between the United States and Mexico, and in the last 40 years, our river/border has become heavily militarized. This project engages a practice of Indigenizing/decolonizing the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo as ancestral waters to various local Indigenous peoples, drawing from the collective memory of intergenerational indigenous fronterizxs (border residents) to examine the relationships between people of the Laredo/Nuevo Laredo community and the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo. To do this, I theorized a new theoretical framework called an Indigenous Fronterizx Cosmography, which braids Indigenous epistemologies, Xincanx ontologies, and borderland positionalities. This way, first-hand accounts are understood as intellectual traditions that revitalize, restore, and restory the holistic ancestral knowledges of the land and river. Next, I created a culturally-centric research methodology, named Fronterawork, drawing from Indigenous methodologies, oral history/testimonio sharing, and witnessing to document the lived experiences of 25 community elders and knowledge-keepers in/of/with/near/over/across the river's waters. Participants shared their knowledge of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo, as well as their perspectives of how the river has changed over their lifetimes. Their testimonios were examined holistically, and in-context as embodied and emplaced situated knowledges of the river. When considered in conversation with each other, themes and subthemes emerged, suggesting two major approaches to understanding: river-as-water (Water Thinking) and river-as-border (Border Thinking). In response, I created a Pedagogy of Water that builds on the collective memory of community elders in order to teach the next generations about our river. This pedagogy interrupts dominant forms of displacement and violence against the diverse Indigenous peoples of the river/border communities, while revitalizing the ancestral relationships between the Indigenous peoples and the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo. Our collective memory serves as foundation from which to revitalize and honor the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo as part of the sacred landscape of what is today called south Texas.

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(Post) Political Power and International Sport: Examining the International Olympic Committee's Journey to Permanent Observer Status at the United Nations (2016)

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the United Nations (UN) have had an ongoing relationship over the past 80 years that culminated in granting the IOC Permanent Observer status at the UN General Assembly in 2009. This is an honor usually reserved for quasi-states and inter-governmental organizations: very rarely do non-governmental organizations (NGO) obtain this position. This dissertation critically examined the links between the IOC and the UN in a bid to gain an understanding of how and why the IOC obtained this status at the UN. Four research questions guided this study: (i) How, and in what contexts, has the UN engaged with the IOC in the past; (ii) Why/how is the UN currently engaging with the IOC; (iii) How/Why did the IOC obtain Permanent Observer status at the UN General Assembly; and (iv) What are the potential implications of the partnership between the IOC and the UN? In my pursuit of these questions, I drew in particular from the work of Dorothy Smith and Michel Foucault to aid my underlying examination of how forms of knowledge are socially constructed in ways that privilege some groups over others. The work of these theorists supported my attempts to contribute especially to the emerging field of research focused on inequitable power relations within and around the Sport for Development and Peace (SDP) ‘movement’. My findings demonstrated that there were various factors at play that have influenced the relationship between these two organizations, including the neoliberalization of development, the global power of sport, and processes of legitimation for both the IOC and the UN.

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Event Leveraging and Health Promotion: The Case of the Tour of Flanders (2015)

This dissertation examines event leveraging for health promotion with the outcome of increasing physical activity participation. The case of the Tour of Flanders (Flemish: Ronde van Vlaanderen) is unique because it is a medium-sized, joint spectator and participatory sport event. Although the literature provides examples of social event leveraging for health promotion, one of the limitations of the existing social event leveraging framework is that it does not integrate any concepts and principles of the field of health promotion. Therefore, social ecological theory has been applied to further examine event leveraging through an understanding of systems and targets. In doing so, a socioeconomic event leveraging framework for health and physical activity has been developed and proposed. Qualitative interviews were conducted with former and current event organisers of the Tour of Flanders (i.e., Het Nieuwsblad and Flanders Classics), start and arrival host cities (i.e., Sint-Niklaas, Ninove, Bruges, and Oudenaarde), and municipalities that hosted the Village of the Tour (i.e., Zwalm, Torhout, and Rekkem). In addition to interviews, quantitative surveys were administered with participants from the 2013 edition of the Tour of Flanders Cyclo, before (N = 1,091) and after the event (N = 639). The findings confirmed the socioeconomic nature of event leveraging aimed at increasing bicycle tourism in the region, as both the properties of the event and the context of the host were recognised as leverageable resources. The use of Flanders’ cycling heritage was an excellent tactic to inspire host residents and international visitors to actively participate in new cycling initiatives. Social ecological theory promoted consultation between the event organiser and the host government to develop initiatives that complemented each other in terms of systems and targets. Environmental targets were employed by the regional government by developing new cycling infrastructure and organising participatory cycling events, whereas individual targets were employed by the municipal government by providing cycling education to children. The findings provided sound evidence for organising joint spectator and participatory sport events to promote physical activity participation, while at the same time leveraging these events by providing physical, structural, and social resources in the host community.

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The City and the Spectacle: Social Housing, Homelessness, and the 2010 Winter Olympic Games (2015)

This dissertation consists of a critical examination of the City of Vancouver’s urban policies during a significant era of urban governance: the lead up to the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. To do so, I will create two embedded case studies: one, featuring the creation of a social housing legacy to be left in the Athletes’ Village in Southeast False Creek, and the other on the enforcement of policies affecting or alleviating homelessness in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. How social housing and homelessness came to be incorporated into the event’s objectives, how the discussions and deliberations around these issues proceeded, and how the 2010 Winter Olympic Games impacted the City of Vancouver’s policy making process in the years leading up to the start of the 2010 Games will all be explored in the chapters to follow. The methodological approach I applied provides insights on how policies, operationalized under the guise of preparing to host a sport mega-event, were able to alter the political and social trajectory of the City of Vancouver. Guided by the overarching theoretical framework offered by critical urban theory, I relied on critical policy studies and critical discourse analysis. By carefully tracing the origins, nature, and intent of these policies as they unfolded in various iterations between 2000 and 2013, it was my ambition to contribute to a broader understanding of how sport mega-events influence urban policies and social outcomes. The 2010 Games, once marketed as a socially inclusive event, instead brought an intense wave of punitive urban measures that functioned to criminalize homelessness. Instead of filling the rooms once occupied by Olympians with those in need of housing, the number of social housing units made available shrunk gradually over time, eventually dwindling to but a handful of units actually constituting social housing. In critically disassembling the policies that bore direct influence on social housing and homelessness, my findings demonstrate the ways in which policy-making processes are altered, abandoned, or exacerbated as the mega-event drew near.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Education & ecology : a systemic study of ecological literacy projects (2023)

At a time when the planet faces significant pressure, better understanding the Earth’s systems and how our local actions are connected to large-scale processes is a collective task, to which education can contribute. Fostering people’s comprehension of ecological systems is an important avenue for education. In this context, much has been said about the need for ecological learning to happen in schools, but it is still not well embedded in educational systems and the literature in education pays too little attention to the role of ecological literacy. As a field of inquiry, ecological literacy and the projects it can lead to contain powerful ideas that can help change the whys and the hows of educational institutions. In this research, I critically explore, analyze, and share possibilities and opportunities for ecological literacy projects. The guiding questions are: (1) What are the key elements of ecological literacy projects in North America? (2) How do actors involved in ecological literacy projects define the notion?; and (3) How is this reflected in the projects? To answer, I examine 15 ecological literacy projects located across North America and look at the perspectives of one key stakeholder per project. My research is informed by a social constructivist epistemology, a systems theory theoretical framework, and an interpretive qualitative methodology. The findings show that ecological literacy projects result from unique social-ecological contexts and have areas of focus that oscillate between (1) experiential learning activities, (2) building capacity for educators, (3) creating systemic changes in schools, and (4) designing instructional material. Moreover, actors involved in ecological literacy projects define ecological literacy as a set of foundational values concerning the natural world, the nourishment of a sense of place, agency, alternative approaches to teaching and learning, and whole-system change. This definition of ecological literacy is reflected in the projects’ application of systemic concepts, focus on fostering connections, and place-based approach to learning.

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Examining climate change frames in education, policy, and science (2023)

Globally, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are two influential establishments that work on synthesizing scientific knowledge and fostering policy action on climate change, respectively. In parallel to these, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has become a key player in setting and driving the global agenda for how the education sector can respond to the climate crisis. This study examines how the three international organizations communicate their messages and appeal to their intended stakeholders through the adoption of frames. Frames establish specific lens through which problems, causes, solutions, and moral evaluations of phenomena are defined and made salient to the audience. Through a frame analysis of publications, reports, and documents released by UNESCO, the UNFCCC, and the IPCC, the study seeks to understand how communication about climate change is shaped by some of the most eminent organizations in climate change education, policy, and science at the global level. I spotlight UNESCO’s Climate Change Education initiative and its corresponding publications, as well as major accords and reports by the UNFCCC and IPCC respectively. The findings include a comprehensive comparison among the organizations and their overlaps and gaps in climate change frames. The study further advances discussions on the use of frame theory in informing and strengthening policymaking in the context of the climate crisis. I also propose a framework in which frames may serve as an effective tool for advancing policy agendas of climate change.

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Agencies of change: how Canadian charities are centring equity and justice in organizational culture (2022)

Canada’s charitable sector exists to address a wide range of pressing societal challenges and systemic inequities. Amidst growing calls for racial justice, many such organizations are exploring how they can do their part to ensure their work is aligned with their vision for a more equitable society. Yet, systems of inequity and oppression permeate these organizations too—from how they run their programs, to how they hire, to how decisions are made. Thus, in their efforts to intervene in these larger systems, they must also intervene internally, at the level of organizational culture.This study sought to understand the factors that enable Canadian charities to centre anti-racist and anti-oppressive values in their organizational cultures and the role that learning plays in this process. By bringing the fields of critical pedagogy and transformative learning together with theories of organizational culture change, this research posits a conceptual framework of critical transformative organizational learning that could support charities in their efforts to align their visions for equity and justice with their internal cultures. Two small Canadian charities were chosen as case studies because their efforts towards anti-oppressive culture seemed exemplary. Research methods included a survey, document analysis, and interviews with staff and leaders.The study’s findings identified four key factors that enabled culture change in the two cases. Some were more active, like each organization’s pre-existing culture and changes in staff/leadership. Others, like the influence of the evolving cultural zeitgeist or specific triggering events, were beyond these organizations’ control. The study then revealed how learning at the individual and organizational levels proved central to anti-oppressive organizational culture change efforts. Individually, this included formative learning experiences outside of work that participants then applied to their professional practice. Organizational learning involved collectively strategizing around desired changes; reflecting critically on organizational activities and processes; intervening at the structural level to make knowledge more accessible; and relying on collegial relationships to support staff in the more vulnerable and personal sides of this learning journey. This study concludes by recommending how charities might apply critical transformative organizational learning to their own anti-oppressive organizational culture change efforts.

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Moving Force: Case study of a sustainability tour as a potential vehicle to enhance application of learning (2016)

Despite concentrated efforts by sustainability practitioners and educators around the world, very little progress has been made in terms of creating more sustainable communities. Many of those same practitioners and educators are now calling for a paradigm shift – a new story that will move us away from the view of the world as a machine to one in which the world is seen as a network, a holistic system of interconnections and relationships. Experiential educational methods are acknowledged as the most effective means for teaching and learning “systems” thinking, a key sustainability competency. This is an exploratory case study of one such method – an annual sustainability tour course within a larger certificate program for sustainable community development in a continuing education unit at a major BC academic institution.The purpose of this research was to gain a better understanding of the perceived influence that an educative experience in the form of a sustainability tour had on participant learning, the features of the tour format that contributed to participant learning, and factors that participants believe enhanced or inhibited application of what they learned. In keeping with a long tradition in adult education research of employing multiple lenses in order to assess program effects, a multi-disciplinary theoretical framework was developed that included theories from systems thinking, sustainability, adult education, program planning and evaluation, application of learning, the sociology of tourism, and cognitive science. Qualitative research methods were employed; both course participants and facilitators from the wider certificate program were interviewed, and a number of course-related documents were analyzed. Findings indicate that the tour format has unique features that produce a “tour effect” that may not only enhance learning, but contribute to deeper embodied learning, and thereby increase the likelihood for applying learning. The tour itself was found to be a flexible, multi-vocal mobile storytelling vehicle, one that can play a critical role in moving us into a new story.

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Mandating action: high school students' perceptions of a physical activity policy (2010)

This research evaluated the impact of a provincial school-based health requirement on the student recipient. It will start with an outline of the (somewhat) recent trend to incorporate public health policies within a school environment in Canada and specific to British Columbia. Particular attention will focus upon the political context and the announcement of several provincial school health policies after the 2010 Winter Olympic/Paralympic bid. Recent school policies in the province of British Columbia include the mandate to eliminate certain cafeteria food (September 2005) and to prohibit tobacco use on school properties (September 2007). This thesis however will focus upon Daily Physical Activity (September 2008) – the requirement that all children in the province (K-12) must participate in moderate to vigorous physical activities (150 minute period per week). The intention of the research was to compare and contrast the official stories (told within provincial documentation) to that of the unofficial stories from a particular student population. Data collection was dependent upon (i) a critical review of relevant provincial documentation as well as (ii) the semi-structured interview process with a senior student population (n=14) at Terry Fox Secondary School (Coquitlam, School District 71). The combination of these two qualitative methodologies revealed (i) the student definition and approach to participation in physical activities; (ii) use of online technologies to monitor participation; (iii) the differentiation between participation in physical education, sport and physical activities; (iv) the continual emphasis on appearance to define health; and (v) the need to discuss alternative possibilities to tackle health in school. Data from each theme will be discussed with respect to the need to better articulate the relationship between the latest school-based health policies and the historical inclusion of a physical and health education curriculum within an academic domain. It will use the advice from a student audience to emphasize the basic purpose of existent curricula to educate (as oppose to mandate) people to lead a healthier life.

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