Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

Learning from Community-University Research Partnerships: A Canadian Study on Community Impact and Conditions for Success

Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

Learning from Community-University Research Partnerships: A Canadian Study on Community Impact and Conditions for Success

Article excerpt

1. Introduction: the emergence of a new architecture of knowledge

There is evidence of an impressive array of impactful knowledge creation and mobilisation through community university research partnerships in virtually every sphere of public activity to improve social, economic, health and environmental conditions and outcomes in Canadian society. This approach equitably partners university academics and community members in the coconstruction of knowledge to inform research design, implementation and dissemination, requiring an investment in team building, sharing of resources and mutually exchanging ideas and expertise. Increasingly, universities are engaging in research partnerships with communities and their various sectors (business, non profit organisations, local governments, Aboriginal and First Nations organisations) to enhance the value and relevance of their research and increase learning opportunities for their students. In the context of complex inter-related challenges that involve social, economic and environmental considerations in desired outcomes for Canadian society such as poverty reduction, health promotion and environmental sustainability, it is not surprising that governments, research councils, public agencies, universities and civil society organisations are coming together to strengthen their relationships and opportunities for partnerships.

There has been a plethora of literature on community-university engagement around the world, and of the social relevance of universities in a time of major social, economic and ecological challenges (Hall, 2012; Hall & MacPherson, 2012). Harkavy (1998) agues that given this context, universities are under increasing pressure to be relevant to 'real world' challenges, and are responding by adopting a community-oriented lens towards research activities and forming partnerships with communities. There is no arguing that knowledge and its creation and flow is linked to economic development, but it is also the most active ingredient in our thinking about acting in our world to deepen democracy, promote inclusion and build just and sustainable communities (Hall, 2012). Indeed, "the changing nature of knowledge production, global issues, and the role of education is affecting the intellectual strategies, relationships, societal roles and expectations that we attribute to our universities" (Holland & Ramaley, 2008, p. 33). The objectives of this collaboration are both to serve and create support from the public by connecting teaching and research to help solve community problems, while contributing to capacity-building, sustainability, economic, environmental and social development (Prins, 2006; Ramaley, 2002; Kellogg, 1999). These partnerships envision creating a better future through an iterative process of learning, reflection and action, whereby the process and results are useful to both community members and university partners in a wide range of areas developing social equity and creating positive social and institutional change (OCBR, 2012).

In the 2008 report Momentum, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) highlights the importance and breadth of communitybased partnership research in Canada. Universities are working with communities on research programmes and projects across Canada in a number of key areas including policies and planning, physical services and social services. Universities also work with a wide range of community partners in research aimed at addressing social issues and improving social services, in areas such as affordable housing, homelessness, crime prevention and public safety, addiction and substance abuse, poverty, immigrant settlement and adaptation, neighborhood improvement, public health, and services for youth and for the elderly.

Community partnerships help universities to define and scope the research questions and provide access to research participants and sources of local expertise, as well as additional funding and in-kind contributions. …

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