Community Engagement Advice
As you seek to build mutually beneficial partnerships, here are some words of advice from MSU seed grant awardees on developing collaborations with community partners.
It is so important. Students get SO MUCH out of working on real world problems with community partners. It is critical to do a lot of listening to understand the problem very well. Ultimately, the value of the partnership should be realized by both the community partner and MSU - which has been the case with our project. We would have made naive mistakes had we not been integrally engaged with our partner and learned from their decades of experience.
It is some of the most rewarding work that one will ever do! We have learned that our partners are very busy. It is of utmost importance that we add value to their organizations as well as assure that we have prepared our students for the opportunity.
Find a sincere partner, who can help find solutions to a genuine need. It is great to involve students from MSU or your partner organization.
Our first suggestion is to meet with community leaders and potential partners with a completely open mind. Too often, university professionals and faculty have a pre-established “agenda” in mind, even if we don’t realize it. This makes sense given our specialization and preparation, but truly collaborative and respectful community engagement depends upon genuinely hearing the needs and interests of communities, then applying our efforts and expertise to address those areas of need/interest.
We also encourage others to consider use of the DSP 6 R framework (respect, relevance, reciprocity, responsibility, relationality, and representation), which was influenced by leading Indigenous scholars and built upon by our community partners. Even when working beyond Indigenous communities, this framework proves helpful for establishing projects that advance the spirit of engagement with integrity. See https://journalhosting.ucalgary.ca/index.php/esj/article/view/61489
To create a collaboration with a community partner the best thing to do is ask them:
- What can I do as a researcher to help your agency/group/organization/etc.?
- How can we partner together to do research that will be meaningful to you/your stakeholders/your funders/etc.?
The best partnerships come when you have a specific research interest or area of expertise, but you can be flexible with the specific research questions or the design.
~Selected from MSU Outreach & Engagement Council seed grant awardees, 2015-2017