Investments are tricky. What do we invest in that we need today versus what may pay off in the future? We all face this question in our personal lives. But it’s also a question that must be considered when balancing community services for people with SCI and other disabilities versus research. Indeed, it also needs to be considered when deciding how much to invest in research that will have an impact in the near term versus what may be a very long term prospect of a cure.
These investments are more than financial in nature—they also involve time, energy, expertise and emotion. There is only so much of each to go around, which is why we must make careful, well-considered decisions when allocating such investments. A balance between addressing the urgent needs of today with the potential, future results of research must be struck.
Unfortunately, I don’t believe we have the balance right. In recent years, investment in research has increased while investment in essential and vital community services has steadily decreased. Today, the amount invested in SCI research dwarves that of community services. Both research and community services are essential. However, investing in research is a calculated gamble, and any benefits that result from it won’t typically be realized in the short term. The benefits of community services, on the other hand, typically have an immediate and long lasting impact, keeping in mind that their direct economic benefits can be harder to quantify.
In the 21 years since I started my SCI research career, there have been important improvements, particularly in the areas of rehabilitation and assistive technologies. Some of these have had direct, positive impacts for people with SCI. Still, research has a long way to go to realise the types of functional and economic outcomes it promises. In contrast, the services provided by SCI BC and our BC SCI Community Services Network partners have an incredibly positive impact in the lives of people we serve, each and every day.
Part of the problem may be that those of us in the community sector aren’t that good at telling our success stories. These stories are as powerful as the sensational research headlines we often see. They’re just more complicated to tell. We’re trying to do better. For example, in the upcoming Winter 2014 issue of the Spin magazine, you can read about the incredible difference SCI BC and our partners have had in the lives of Brent Worrall and Dustin Paul. And next time you’re online, have a look at our new Impact YouTube playlist and let us know how we are doing.
Ultimately, research and community services will maximize their impacts when working together. SCI BC is proud to be working with ICORD, the Rick Hansen Institute, researchers connected to SCI Action Canada, and other researchers to improve the quality of both research and community services. To achieve this, there must be continued investment in research and community services. In fact, there needs to be more invested in both. However, even as a former SCI researcher, I think there must be a reset in the balance between what’s invested in research versus community service—more money must be directed to helping people with SCI and their families adjust, adapt and thrive throughout their lives. This is a wise and safe investment that will have a lasting benefit in years to come.
As a final note, your support is an investment in SCI BC and the impact we are making through our provincial services. We hope you can help tip the balance and allow SCI BC and its members to thrive.