Gathering my Thoughts for the C2UExpo Gatherings

This week’s guest post was originally posted on the C2UExpo 2017 blog on April 29, 2017. It is reposted here with permission.

With C2UExpo 2017 beginning in a couple short days, we can’t wait to delve right into some of the themes each of our Gatherings will be addressing.

Let’s see what Trail Blazer– David J. Phipps, Executive Director, Research & Innovation Services at York University had to say about the following questions!

1. What does community-campus partnerships mean to you? Why should we care?

The key for me is the word partnership. Partners come together around a shared interest. If it’s not a shared interest, if there isn’t equal passion and valued contributions from both (or more) partners then you might as well secure the help of a consultant (no offence to the many excellent consultants out there…and see a very old post I did about consultants vs knowledge brokers). At York University’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit 70% of the partnerships we support are driven by the needs of the community partner. This is one of the ways we strive to balance power in a demand driven (or community “pull”) method. The life skills mentoring program that researchers from our Faculty of Education co developed with the Youth Emergency Shelter of Peterborough was a result of the shelter seeking to understand recidivism in their client population and asked York if we could help. See this video for more on this example.

Why should we care? Universities are bound by a social contract. We are invested in by the public. And while the creation and dissemination of new knowledge and understanding is a legitimate goal there is an opportunity to create a broader return on the public’s investment in universities by connecting our research activities to organizations from the public, private and non-profit sectors so that our research and expertise can have an impact on the lives of local and global citizens.

We don’t do this because we are mandated to do so. We do this because we want to make a difference. And that difference is magnified when we do it in partnership with organizations that can make the products, develop the policies and deliver the services that have an impact on citizens.

2. Defining and measuring the impact of our work. Can it be done? If we don’t then what?

Yes. And since the first answer is yes then the second question is moot.

In the Research Impact Canada network we have taken the UK Research Excellence Framework (REF) as the starting point. The REF is a centralized research impact assessment exercise that evaluates all UK universities on the impact their research has had beyond the academy (on culture, society, health, economy, environment etc.). So not only can it be done it is being done on a national, system wide level. The Research Impact Canada network has adapted the REF impact assessment guidelines and template to fit our Canadian context. York University is piloting this tool on a community-campus collaboration that evaluated a hub of domestic violence shelters. The Knowledge Mobilization Unit brokered this collaboration. Once we have assessed the pilot we will adjust the tool and roll out in a more systematic fashion.

This makes the second question less urgent. But if you don’t assess your impact then you will never be able to report on your successes. You will lack the evidence to make the case that your work is vital. You will not be able to create a sustainable model for supporting community campus collaborations without the evidence of success.

If we expect community campus collaborations to create evidence that informs decisions about policies, practices and services then we need to apply that same rigour to our own operations.

I am sharing the stage for the Final Gathering with Jacline Nyman, Am Johal, Annalee Yassi, Derek Gent and William Lindsay. What a great group presenting in front of a great (and hopefully engaged) audience to kick at these very important and timely questions. See you in British Columbia!

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