Come Together: Unlocking the Potential of Collaboration between Universities and Park and Recreation Agencies

By Bocarro, Jason; Barcelona, Bob | Parks & Recreation, October 2003 | Go to article overview

Come Together: Unlocking the Potential of Collaboration between Universities and Park and Recreation Agencies


Bocarro, Jason, Barcelona, Bob, Parks & Recreation


The past decade has seen a renewed interest in creating more engaged universities that better serve the community at large. Historically, collaboration between universities and community organizations has been led by the education and medical fields. Stakeholders in these professions recognized that collaborative efforts often provided better training opportunities for teachers and medical professionals, as well as opportunities to conduct high-quality evaluation and research.

The park and recreation profession also has a long history of collaboration. Historically, most of the initial university park and recreation departments housed faculty who came directly from the field. However, although there have been good examples of collaborative efforts between park and recreation practitioners and universities, there's still a feeling that more collaborative efforts could be encouraged and the benefits of existing efforts maximized. As one recreation director has said to us, "Collaboration is the key to improving both education and practical application in our field. We have often seen some cooperation take place and not enough collaboration. The clients who receive our services deserve the best that both sides can offer."

Benefits oF Bonding

Successful collaborative efforts between higher education institutions and community organizations create a winning situation for both sets of stakeholders. For example, as James Carr has pointed out, universities can be powerful agents of change in a community because of their geographic location, enormous resources (often ranking as the largest nongovernmental employer in cities) and the benefits of altruism.

Successful collaboration between higher education institutions and community agencies exists when faculty gain an understanding of what the community needs are, and the community is exposed to the resources and expertise of universities. When this occurs, the advantages accrued are beneficial to all parties.

An engaged university that actively collaborates with community agencies often results in a more dynamic learning environment for students. In terms of parks and recreation, colleges and universities are often equipped to provide valuable services, such as research and evaluation, especially during a time when park and recreation departments are under pressure to show more accountability. As one park and recreation director put it, "Too often the political area looks at park and recreation as a soft environment, one where they can place any administrator. As one former councilman said to me, 'What does it take to throw out a couple of basketballs, mow some grass and weave a basket?' Practitioners and educators need to work together to raise awareness and change these kinds of perceptions."

So Why Isn't More Happening?

Some researchers have described how many of the problems behind collaborative efforts stem from a power inequity between university personnel and those who are working in the community. This is generated by academicians' self-perception of their role, status and power, and how they're perceived by those within community agencies. The perception of knowledge and power inequities can result in an unrealistic elevation of the university professional in a role where she's expected to fix problems in the community. Disappointment can often result when these expectations aren't met.

Some researchers have described two types of relationships that form in collaborative efforts. The first, "power-over" relationships, occurs when power is viewed negatively resulting in resistance on the part of one or both parties. "File second, "power-with" relationships, consists of synergistic collaboration in which tire participating individuals construct mutually beneficial social structures. Unfortunately the power-over model is pervasive, often compounding the issue of creating effective university-agency collaborations. …

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