The City of Toronto, Toronto’s Post-Secondary Institutions (PSIs), the Government of Ontario and the Government of Canada are partnering to rapidly connect the expertise in PSIs to the City’s research needs.

This new model allows the City to put forward research priorities to Toronto’s PSIs, who source multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional teams of faculty and student experts to help the City address important and urgent research needs. Funding is leveraged from provincial and federal research funding partners.

In partnership with eCampusOntario, the City has designed this system with all of Toronto’s PSIs: Centennial College, George Brown College, Humber College, OCAD University, Ryerson University, Seneca College, University of Toronto, and York University.

This partnership is a component of the CivicLabTO program to create a more systemic approach to collaboration between the City and Toronto’s eight universities and colleges. In 2019, the City Manager established an Academic Partnership table to promote strategic collaboration opportunities. In 2020, City Council adopted the Advancing a New Culture of Innovation and Partnership report which recommended the implementation of the CivicLabTO program to create a more systematic approach to collaboration between the City and its eight universities and colleges.

A current pilot of this partnership model focuses on eight research projects (described below) that support the City’s COVID-19 recovery. This partnership model will create an ongoing pathway for the City of Toronto and Toronto PSIs to collaborate on research priorities.

Project: The association between socio-demographic characteristics and COVID-19 incidence and severity

This project explores the socio-demographic characteristics of people with reported COVID-19 infection in Toronto that cannot be learned from data collected via routine case and contact investigations.

Individual-level, disaggregated data will be collected on race and ethnicity, income, newcomer status, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, employment, and other characteristics from a sample of COVID-19 cases.

This data can help pinpoint where inequities exist and to what extent, promoting a pandemic response and recovery that supports groups who may benefit from additional, focussed resources. It also can inform more effective health promotion and messaging about infection control, and a more equitable system of health and social services in general.

City division: Toronto Public Health

Partner: Ryerson University

Project: Supply disruption risk for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) procurement

Disruptions to the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) poses a serious risk. Ryerson University, the Schulich School of Business at York University, and the City partnered to enhance the City’s decision-making processes regarding PPE purchasing, consumption, and conservation, and to improve future decision-making with insights into best practices for forecasting, purchasing and internal demand management.

This project has been completed. It culminated in a report that found the City did well in PPE management during the sudden onset of COVID-19 and the subsequent disruption of PPE supply globally. The report offered insightful recommendations and enhancements to existing policies and procedures to even more effectively protect City employees and the public they serve.

City division: Office of Emergency Management

Partners: Ryerson University, York University

Project: Low cost decontamination process for disposable N95 masks

Conserving personal protective equipment (PPE) is a challenge for any organization.  The City of Toronto has developed an innovative solution to disinfect its important N95 masks to keep workers safe and healthy.  At the same time, Ryerson University’s FRAMES Lab has agreed to partner with the City to offer breathability and humidity testing in disinfected masks, in real time, so we can be sure workers are comfortable and effective in their PPE.

The project will embed Ryerson FRAMES Lab engineering researchers with City of Toronto staff to work side-by-side on disinfecting and testing N95 masks and potentially other pieces of PPE.

City divisions: Office of Emergency Management, Toronto Paramedic Services

Partners: Ryerson University

Project: Digital Access: Who is underserved and why?

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the City has taken steps to help ensure low-income communities can access the internet. Access to quality internet is crucial for residents to participate in online schooling and to access public health and other essential government services.

A better understanding of the digital divide is necessary to identify where resources are needed the most, and to help create longer-term solutions. This research project aims to use surveys and data analysis to help the City better understand which communities and demographics are underserved by digital infrastructure, and the reasons why they are underserved. Research analysis will include recommendations such as policy changes or investments that will improve digital access.

City divisions: Technology Services Division

Partners: Humber College, Ryerson University, Seneca College, University of Toronto, York University

Project: Toronto Ambient Air Quality Impacts from COVID

Air pollution and climate change are inextricably linked. This project will identify sources of air pollution within Toronto that may result from changes in transportation patterns, energy use, employment and industrial operations before, during, and after the pandemic. This information will aid in the analysis of ongoing work being undertaken under TransformTO, the City’s Climate Change Action Plan, specifically as it pertains co-benefit analysis of air quality and resulting health impacts when undertaking greenhouse gas mitigation action.

City division: Environment and Energy Division

Partners: Ryerson University, University of Toronto

Project: Telework Study: GHG Emission Impacts & Employee Performance

COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of teleworking practices in both the private and public sector across different industries. Many organizations will continue to implement teleworking post-pandemic and will be looking for guidance as teleworking represents a major potential cost reduction for employers and potential environmental benefits for cities.

This study will evaluate the GHG emission impacts of people working from home instead of at a commercial office/workplace. A major barrier to adopting teleworking practices in organizations is the lack of empirical data regarding employee performance. As such, employee performance while teleworking will also be evaluated as part of this study to increase the likelihood of achieving environmental benefits identified from teleworking.

The findings from the study will be communicated with recommended action to employers and other key stakeholders involved in teleworking to support effective teleworking practices and to ensure the persistence of environmental benefits such as GHG emission reduction in the long term.

City division: Environment and Energy Division

Partner: Ryerson University

On average, 15.9 per cent of working-age adults in Ontario do not file taxes and a third of social assistance recipients in Ontario do not file taxes. Seniors also face struggles with tax filing especially when transitioning from Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) to CPP/OAS/GIS.

By not filing their income taxes, vulnerable residents are not accessing lucrative income tax benefits and are also not able to access means-tested housing and child care fee subsidies as examples. As a result, this impedes economic and social objectives and creates challenges for a recovery from COVID-19 and achieving the City of Toronto’s Poverty Reduction Strategy.

Jurisdictional scans, surveys, key informant interviews, and data analysis is being undertaken to better understand the gaps, barriers and challenges facing low-income Torontonians in filing taxes, and approaches that are working to improve tax filing in other jurisdictions. A findings report that includes recommendations to improve income tax filing rates in Toronto will be developed.

City divisions: Toronto Employment Social Services & Senior Services and Long Term Care

Partners: Seneca College, Prosper Canada