Developing Effective Social Work University-Community Research Collaborations

By Begun, Audrey L.; Berger, Lisa K. et al. | Social Work, January 2010 | Go to article overview

Developing Effective Social Work University-Community Research Collaborations


Begun, Audrey L., Berger, Lisa K., Otto-Salaj, Laura L., Rose, Susan J., Social Work


From the earliest medieval "town versus gown" disputes (Bender, 1988) to the recent "covenant for university engagement with communities (Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities [hereafter, Kellog Commission], 2000), the nature of relationships between academic scholars and members of their institutions' communities has been characterized along a broad continuum of ambiguity: from hostility to apathy to championing each others' causes, and it has been viewed as anything from parasitic to symbiotic in nature. Currently, many campuses actively pursue the role of "the engaged university," which, among other things, entails developing strong, mutually rewarding, mutually valued, enduring university--community research partnerships (Kellogg Commission, 2000; North CentralAssociation of Colleges and Schools [NCA], 2003). These concepts of mutuality and two-way relationships are central to the development of effective university-community research collaborative partnerships (Austin, Briar-Lawson, King-Ingham, Spicer, & Davis, 2005; Pardasani, 2005) and are ideally suited to the development of social work research collaborations.

Social work literature concerning the practices of community organization, advocacy, and program evaluation provide important insights into the nature of collaborative partnerships. However, emerging trends related to social work research and pressures on community-based organizations suggest that revisiting strategies for developing university-community research partnerships is warranted. Pressures on community-based organizations, in a context of diminished resources, include the following: public and private funders who require engagement with university research partners for service grants, ideological and policy expectations for engaging in research-based practices, and a national movement to promote community-based participatory research (Straub et al., 2007). Community-based participatory research (CBPR.) is an emerging methodology for bridging gaps between research knowledge production and community-based practices; however, there are few guidelines for such partnerships or established strategies for their effective development (Ahmed, Beck, Maurana, & Newton, 2004; Currie et al., 2005; Jason, Pokorny, Ji, & Kunz, 2005; O'Fallon & Dearry, 2002; Viswanathan et al., 2004).

The goal of this article is to provide both sides of the research partnerships (that is, universities and community-based social work professionals) with a clear understanding of factors that can support and impede the collaborative process, in keeping with this journal's aim to describe collaborative efforts among social work practitioners and academicians (Delva, 2006).

RELATED LITERATURE AND EXPERIENCE BASE

Recent literature concerning university-community partnerships emphasizes the effects of such partnerships on the community. For example, Currie et al. (2005) offered a complex and comprehensive model of community impacts derived from community-university research partnerships to address real-world practice issues. Their model presupposes a multidimensional, nonlinear, multidirectional, and developmental nature of the impact of research on the communities involved. However, "the model emphasizes outcomes or impacts; it does not address structural elements of partnerships and audiences, nor processes that could be utilized to enhance research impacts" (Currie et al., 2005, p. 402).

O'Fallon and Dearry (2002) outlined six principles of CBPR of translational research, comprised of outcomes and methodologies. These principles include a mixture of methodologies and impacts. For example, four outcomes are as follows: fostering co-learning, initiating community-driven projects, useful and practical dissemination, and use of culturally appropriate strategies. Two methodologies are (1) promoting participation throughout the process and (2) defining the community in terms of a single unit of identity. …

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