Supporting Social Innovation through Community-University Partnerships


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Really effective collaborations between communities and universities are of increasing interest to organizational leaders, policy-makers, students, teachers, and researchers. They have the potential to be a crucial source of social innovation in the 21st century. SiG@Waterloo has worked with five outstanding examples of such collaborations to find out what perspectives, processes and practices allow them to significantly support innovation to emerge, be sustained and to positively affect some of the most challenging problems of our time.

For a list of resources and to hear the webinar associated with this slide-deck, visit and click through to our Canadian Social Impact Series

Published in: Education, Technology
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  • Have you connected at all with Community-Campus Partnerships for Health, the leading organization in this field? They have a wealth of resources to support community-university partnerships and have conducted a number of studies of partnership processes and outcomes. We adopted the CCPH principles of partnership as guiding principles for our partnerships and they have served us well over the years. We have also looked to CCPH for leadership on the policy changes needed to support partnerships, in particular funding that flows directly to community organizations to support their partnership roles, and faculty promotion and tenure policies that recognize and reward community-engaged forms of scholarship.
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Supporting Social Innovation through Community-University Partnerships

  1. 1. Nov 23, 2011
  2. 2. !  These partnerships have been sustained over a significant time period!!  Strong examples of achieving social impact, as well as organizational/ institutional change!!  Partners obviously think and act in quite unique ways - “rule-breakers” !
  3. 3. Multiple inner city organizations and UBC’s Learning ExchangeMultiple, cross-sector partners and Lakehead U’s Food Security Research Network –First Nations community around Fort Albany and U Waterloo’s Department of Environment Resource Studies
  4. 4. Université de la Rue / Écol-Hôtel / and other community initiatives with U Québec à Trois RiviéresCity of Guelph / McNeil Pharmaceuticals / and other community initiatives with U Guelph’s Research Shop
  5. 5. !
  6. 6. ….is an initiative, product, process or program that profoundly changes!  the basic routines,!  resource flows,!  authority flows or!  beliefsof any social system. !
  7. 7. !  Awareness of processes of emergence in a system !  The jazz metaphor describes this comprehensive approach - improvisation and listening are key !  Sensitivity, humility, ‘tuning-in’ to system helps include multiple perspectives, work with emergence !  Enables emphasis on high-leverage areas !  Letting go of control and fixed agendas “The First Nations in the North “This strategy’s intentionaland down here, I generally don’t focus on emergence andhave to explain systems to them. complexity demands that weThey have a really clear sense of facilitate interactions how political, social, ecological, amongst many diversehistorical systems interrelate. It groups of people. The big is sort of intuitive.” challenge for most is to resist the urge to control. !
  8. 8. !  Follow the passion in people – use this!  Invest in relationships over time!  Appropriate pace and sequence!  Invite trust and connection “When you bring together enough people “…we held our meetings after who are open to their 8pm, and we went to their passion, something will living rooms because that is happen.” where they like to meet; we established this “inside-ness” but we didn’t set the agenda or the timing, we just let it emerge.” !
  9. 9. !  Requires strong willingness to question assumptions & habits, remain open, humble!  Basic deconstruction of positional/financial power is necessary, but implicit or foundational – it doesn’t lead “We work with “So if there is that community obvious sense of organizations disparity and inequality who feel they between people’s are powerful circumstances, how do and who act we relate to that? This is positively.” simply an important starting point for me.” !
  10. 10. !  Power is not a zero-sum game – new power is an emergent quality of effective community- university collaborations “It’s the emergent power of working collaboratively: how do we mobilize it? How do we generate it? Not approaching it as, what power does someone have because they have a PhD and a higher salary? Let’s not waste our time on that.” !
  11. 11. !  One or more individuals who are trusted authorities in multiple contexts – community, classroom, university!  Harness or weave energies towards collaborative action!  Accessible, informal mentors!  Blend personal and professional - passion, values, purpose “[She] recognizes the complexity and concentrates on the dynamics, the relationships between the different parts and people involved in our work. She and her team build connections between different cultures, all of which she understands and honours.” !
  12. 12. !  Intentional development of “third spaces”, “hybrid spaces”, “insideness”, “we-ness”!  Institutional and personal relationships both important!  Passion, purpose, fun, and energy are hallmarks!  NOT bureaucratic – direct, messy relationships We have to get faculty members, students, staff, going to the community, and people from community coming to the university to lead reflection sessions, giving presentations… we need people from each space to infect the space of the other. !
  13. 13. !  Work comes from a sense of calling, service, connection!  Requires self-change, humility, transformation!  Motivation from deep, collective values!  Can bring up strong resistance/fear “These partnerships can allow the idea that you no “They are doing the longer see yourself as so work because it separate. The ego structure has to be done, for bumps up against these their children’s collaborative approaches – children.” no one talks about that very much.” !
  14. 14. ! New ways of knowing and learning are fostered incommunity organizations, among community membersand within university participants! Connected to larger paradigm shift in academia and inthe social sector! Breaking down old institutions of knowledge, opening upnew avenues for solving problems “We are currently operating in a period of global transition between two world views - an old one and a new one that is non-linear, non-mechanistic, and interconnected.…We’re like a termite group that’s chewing away at the old structures.” !
  15. 15. !  Central Catalyzers: initiators, weavers, boundary- spanners, institutional entrepreneurs!!  Gatekeepers: release resources and support!!  Practitioners: academic and community-based!!  Students: bring enthusiasm, authenticity!!  Observers: internal or external, offer encouragement and/or recognition!!  Investors: financially support and therefore guide development, implementation and evaluation !
  16. 16. “Ideally the creation of these hybrid spacesbetween the university and community happensbecause people from both sides realize that it isway more fun, and ultimately powerful, to workwith each other than it is not to! ! I really truly believe if we can bring these twoforms of knowledge together, we can solve someof the problems in the world, we can understandand do things di"erently. Part of the reason thatthese problems seem intractable and complex isthat these two domains of knowledge have notbeen e"ectively married.” !
  17. 17. !  To ensure necessary TIME (to see the system, to assess readiness, to develop relationships, etc): implicitly ask for time from funders – point to outstanding examples, highlighting TIME taken to create foundations for sustainability and impact!!  To attune to POWER in a productive manner: intentionally engage with individuals passionate about change on an issue, and work to focus on the emergent power that comes with collaboration; do NOT waste time convincing uninterested parties to participate !
  18. 18. !  To create conditions for PARTNERSHIPS: identify a ‘central catalyst’ to move across the system, internally and externally; must be individual(s) with established trust in multiple places, with access to those who hold resources, with capacity for keeping the big picture in sight (system sight), values-driven, purposeful, strategic and engaging!!  To enliven relationships: reduce the distance between key actors; for example, encourage faculty members to join the Board of Directors of organizations with whom they partner. !
  19. 19. !  How can we more fully describe the ‘hybrid space’ or ‘insideness’ that supports these partnerships?!  What skills and competencies do central catalyzers have? How to cultivate these? Can they be trained?!  Is it possible to institutionalize this work without diluting it to where the power and potential is lost?!  What does it take to keep these highly interpersonal, values-driven partnerships alive beyond the originators?!  How much does language limit our attempts to describe these partnerships and patterns? How can we best tell these stories? !