Research Overview


The Invictus Research Project emerged out of Northside Rising’s commitment to using data to help inform and shape its work. At the suggestion of Dr. Ed Michalik, the initiative became interested in the role that hope and agency play with respect to community efforts to address opportunities and challenges on the Northside.

Conceived as a community-based research initiative, the primary purpose of Invictus was to enable Northsiders to explore the state of hope and agency on the Northside and consider ways to strengthen these important dimensions of community life.

The specific research objectives of Invictus were to:

  1. Better understand the significance of hope and agency for building a vibrant, healthy community.
  2. Explore the factors influencing the state of hope and agency in the Northside context.
  3. Establish baseline data on the state of hope and agency to help in tracking the progress of efforts to strengthen these qualities on the Northside.

As the project evolved, ‘trust’ emerged as a third key theme of interest and was incorporated into the overall focus of the research.

In addition, the project aimed to enhance the community’s capacity to undertake research relevant to its needs and opportunities.  To this end, it sought to build collaboration among university and non-university researchers, community organizations, first voice participants, government and community partners.  It also sought to provide training and experience to community researchers interested in contributing to the work of Northside Rising.


Invictus was led by a small core team of researchers:

  • Dr. Ed Michalik, Invictus Project Lead – Led overall research design, implementation and data analysis
  • Samantha Lowes, Research Coordinator – Contributed to the design and conduct of all major facets of the research.
  • Lilla Roy, Quantitative Data Analyst – Supported the quantitative analysis of the community survey.
  • Dr. Margaret Dechman, Senior Research Collaborator – Led the development of the community survey; provided support and guidance on overall project design and delivery.
  • Community Research Assistants – With the Research Coordinator, administered in-person community surveys.

In addition to the core research team, a small advisory group consisting of Northside Rising staff and community volunteers provided feedback and input throughout the research. 

In the latter stages of the project, 20 community members participated in two Resident Review Panels providing feedback on draft research findings.

Northside Rising staff were engaged with the research throughout the project assisting with project management, fostering opportunities for community engagement and maintaining a focus on community needs and goals. 

Dr. Margaret Dechman was an invaluable member of the Invictus research team.  Her unanticipated death in November, 2020 was a profound loss for the project as it was for the community she served as a faculty member at Cape Breton University.  As a veteran researcher and educator, Margaret worked tirelessly to help build a more just and inclusive society.  In partnership with people experiencing social exclusion and their allies, Margaret led a remarkable array of research projects that gave voice to people’s experiences, built understanding of the issues involved and mobilized support for meaningful change.  Her expertise, insight and generous spirit were irreplaceable contributions to the Invictus project.

Northside Rising and Inspiring Communities nominated Margaret for a Human Rights Award, which she received posthumously in December 2021.

Research Questions

Key questions guiding the research included:

  1. What do we mean by hope, agency and trust?  Why are these factors important for personal and community well-being?
  2. What is the overall state of hope, agency and trust on the Northside?  How do these qualities vary for different members of the Northside community?
  3. What helps and what hinders the development of hope, agency and trust?  What are the key challenges and opportunities facing the Northside community with respect to hope, agency and trust?


If you have any questions related to the research or the methodologies employed, you are encouraged to contact Dr. Ed Michalik.


Sampling and Methods

Northsiders from a wide range of social and economic backgrounds participated in the Invictus study.  The project employed a ‘purposive sampling’ strategy to ensure that research participants were both broadly representative of the Northside community and included the particular experience of two groups of special concern to Northside Rising: individuals with lived and living experience of substance use and individuals experiencing economic hardships. Specific efforts were made to ensure the latter two groups were well-represented in the research.

Invictus was designed as a mixed methods study.  It used three research tools in combination to help ensure both breadth and depth of understanding of the issues being examined:

  1. Community survey – A community survey was conducted with Northside residents.  In total, 502 individuals took part in the survey. Of these 402 completed the survey on-line; a further 100 participated in in-person surveys undertaken in an effort to ensure that low-income residents who may not have access to the Internet were included in the survey process. In-person surveys were undertaken at local food banks, community organizations and other locations where there was a good prospect of reaching individuals living on low incomes.  Results from the in-person delivery of the survey were monitored until adequate representation of this population group was achieved.The survey consisted of a series of close-ended questions exploring hope, agency and trust as well as demographic backgrounds of respondents. The survey included the 6-point ‘State Hope Scale’ developed by Dr. Rick Snyder and colleagues at the University of Kansas.  The State Hope Scale was developed more than 20 years ago and has been widely used since then as a way to measure hope and agency among adults.  The survey also tested a new ‘trust scale’ developed by Dr. Michalik and Dr. Dechman for the Invictus study.
  2. Semi-structured interviews – Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 41 Northside residents. A series of open-ended questions were used to explore in-depth the life experiences of Northside residents with respect to hope, agency and trust. Interviews lasted between an hour and a half and two and a half hours. Research participants were Northsiders from a wide array of backgrounds; included in the interviews were 14 individuals identifying themselves as having lived or living experience with substance use.
  3. Focus groups/community conversations – Opportunities were created to test draft research findings with members of the Northside community. Twenty community members participated in two Residents’ Review Panels. The first Review Panel session explored overall findings about hope and agency with a diverse group of residents; the second explored findings specifically related to substance use and included 10 participants, each of whom had experience with substance use themselves or through a close family member.  Feedback from participants in these sessions contributed to revisions in the research findings.  

In addition to the Resident Review Panels, Dr. Michalik made two public presentations about the Invictus findings.  Residents attending these talks participated in brief table discussions about the findings.  Their reflections and feedback were recorded as part of the ongoing community discussion about the state of hope, agency and trust on the Northside, and their implications for community action.


Select Bibliography


Bandura, Albert. 1997. Self-efficacy: the exercise of control. W.H. Freeman.

Fukuyama, Francis. 1995. Trust: The Social Virtues and The Creation of Prosperity. Free Press.

Lembke, Anna. 2021. Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence. Dutton.

Lopez, Shane J. 2014. Making Hope Happen: Create the Future You Want for Yourself and Others. Atria Books.

Margaret Dechman, Janet Bickerton, Christine Porter. 2016. Injection Drug Use and Health Care Needs Assesment. Ally Centre of Cape Breton.

Maté, Gabor. 2009. In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction. Vintage Canada.

Matthew W. Gallagher, Shane J. Lopez, ed. 2018. The Oxford Handbook of Hope. Oxford University Press.

Michalik, Edward. 2016. “Cape Breton Gothic: a cultural history of the coalfields.”Accessed January 2022.

Putnam, Robert. 2000. Bowling Alone: the collapse and revival of American community. Simon & Schuster.

Snyder, C.R. 1994. The Psychology of Hope: you can get there from here. Free Press.