Blogpost: University-Community Partnerships

By Esmeralda Hernandez

Whether it is the community of Detroit or communities of higher education professionals, university-community partnerships is an important part of what we do here at the National Forum.  While much of our community engagement and many of our external partnerships come naturally, we should not underestimate the value of grounding our partnerships in theory— or at least learning from the experience of others doing university-community partnership work.  Suarez-Baltazar et al. wrote a chapter in Participatory Community Research: Theories and Methods in Action titled “University-Community Partnerships: A framework and an Exemplar.”  The chapter gives a review of the literature on university-community partnerships, and outlines ten characteristics of those partnerships that are successful.

The ten actions of successful university-community partnerships are to:

1)    Develop a relationship based on trust and mutual respect— Trust is essential in order to commit time and effort into a partnership that may involve several stakeholders with a diverse set of interests.

2)    Maximize, use, and exchange resources—Recognize that partners have a diverse set of resources and strengths that need to be valued.  Access to resources may create and unequal balance of power and control which needs to be addressed.

3)    Build two-way learning relationships— Each partnership must be ready to learn.  Do your best to challenge and eliminate the boundaries and pre-conceived notions of university knowledge and community knowledge

4)    Establish open lines of communication— This is at the heart of partnerships.  Keep in mind what is being communicated, how it is communicated, and be sensitive about the style and language used to communicate it.  Communication is involved setting goals and making sure everyone understands the process.

5)    Respect and celebrate diversity— Recognize that people have the right to be different from one another.  Respecting this difference is essential to partnerships, especially when the community is also diverse.

6)    Learn about the culture of the organization— Pay special attention to how people relate to one another.  Listening is key to developing understanding and respect to the cultural features of any particular setting.

7)    The research collaboration is based on the needs of the community—The research agenda should be guided by the community members’ concerns.  For the partnership to work, it must meet a need for the organization and be beneficial.  Understand that there are needs on both sides.

8)    Understand the multidisciplinary nature of partnerships— Partnerships involve engaging individuals from different multidisciplinary backgrounds.  Understand that even community members can bring their own extensive experience and views to the table.

9)    Use both qualitative and quantitative research strategies— Using a diverse set of research methodologies keeps partners continually involved and provides a diverse base of knowledge.  Not only do we need numerical data to describe populations, but we also need to have rich voices that give the numbers a story.

10) Share accountability of partnership success and opportunities- Just as power and leadership is shared in a partnership, so should responsibility for the successes and failures.  Just as successes are published in collaboration, so should the partnership share responsibility for problems, misunderstandings, and conflicts that may happen throughout the process.

The National Forum continues to engage in these partnerships with the understanding that they lead to an array of positive outcomes for all those involved.  We as a center would benefit from continuing to ground or work in theory that supports it.




Suarez-Balcazar, Y., Davis, M. I., Ferrari, J., Nyden, P., Olson, B., Alvarez, J., … & Toro, P. (2004). University-community partnerships: A framework and an exemplar.




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