Featured Resource

Posted:October 31, 2014

The following is a summary of a featured resource from our Zotero database. The full article is available here.

Nichols, N., Phipps, D., Gaetz, S., Fisher, A.L. & Tanguay, N. (2014). Revealing the complexity of community-campus interactions. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 44(1), 69-94.

The authors of this article explore the complexity of collaboration between universities and communities, using four case studies to exemplify the structural and relational elements necessary for building and maintaining effective community-university partnerships. Beginning with a review of the now extensive literature around community-university engagement, the authors highlight how few articles offer insight into the processes (“the how”) of creating effective, equitable and lasting community partnerships based on trust and reciprocity. Their focus, thus, is on the actual activities of their four case studies, with an aim of uncovering the specific mechanisms of engagement that enabled successful collaboration. The authors chose four examples from a body of 88 Canadian collaborations and conducted a literature review against which they contextualized these partnerships. They interviewed 25 participants from these four collaborations: 9 academic partners, 12 community partners, and 3 stakeholders (not directly involved in the activities undertaken by the collaborators). In presenting their analysis, the authors make a strong effort to unpack some highly abstract concepts that characterize the landscape of community-engaged scholarship literature, among them “reciprocity” and “engagement.” This effort is timely as community-engaged scholarship gains traction in the mission statements and philosophies across Canada and worldwide, underlining the importance of deep engagement with the actual mechanisms of community engagement, rather than simply turning these principles into buzzwords without substance.

Among facilitators of effective collaborations, participants identified clear, common goals as drivers of collaborative action. These goals may change over the course of collaboration, particularly as partners’ priorities and institutional pressures shift. Particularly when social change is a goal of the project, partners are encouraged to revisit (and occasionally “remessage”) the project goals and strategies in line with dynamic systemic conditions. The authors also underscore the importance of “finding a common language” (p. 78) that allows partners to negotiate and discuss emergent goals as the project progresses. Unpacking reciprocity, the authors challenge collaborators to enact reciprocity at the institutional level. One way to enact reciprocity is through the creation of a memorandum of understanding (MOU). This may be more easily navigated via a boundary-spanning unit at the border of university and community, which can offer a point of contact for community while understanding the particular institutional politics of the university. As all of the cases used as examples in the article stem from existing relationships, it is perhaps unsurprising that the authors suggest prioritizing relationship-building between collaborators, which they acknowledge can be difficult within the confines of institutional policies and priorities. Varying priorities and pressures can make negotiating trust and reciprocity in relationships more difficult, and may require ongoing massaging from both community and academic standpoints. The authors conclude by encouraging ongoing work toward changing institutional structures in support of the uniqueness and at-times unpredictability of community-university partnerships and collaborations, including the ongoing work of CES Partnership in support of a culture of community-engaged scholarship.