Whose Incentives and Whose Rewards?

This post by David Phipps, RIR-York, was first published on the Community Knowledge Exchange blog on August 6, 2014 and is reposted here with permission.

David PhippsI recently posted a Linked In discussion titled “It’s time to stop complaining about tenure and promotion and do something about it”. That post was based on the often cited barrier of lack of incentives and rewards for community campus collaborations. In the university system faculty are assessed on their teaching, research and service usually with a 40%, 40%, 20% weighting.

In many institutions the only service that is assessed is service to the scholarly community (serving on university committees for example) although this isn’t the case in all universities. Many activities that promote community campus collaborations are therefore not counted in tenure and promotion decisions. Activities such as sitting on agency boards or committees, building community capacity for research or making a presentation to community agencies are necessary to support engaged scholarship but are not given the same weight as sitting on university committees, teaching students and presenting a paper at a scholarly conference.

To be sure, there are successful faculty who have obtained tenure based on a portfolio of engaged scholarship but this pressure is most keenly felt by new, untenured faculty members who have up to seven years to establish their scholarly career and obtain tenure. Teaching and research is not a zero sum game…they complement each other. Traditional and engaged scholarship can also be complementary as shown by engaged scholars who have achieved tenure. What is a zero sum game is time. It takes time to nurture research partners and create sustainable, authentic and equitable partnerships. That is time spent not doing something else…sometimes at the expense of family life instead of scholarly achievement.

But what about incentives and rewards for community members collaborating on research projects with university or other community partners?

I read much less on this likely because community partners are too busy collaborating and aren’t measured on their publications so they don’t have the same imperative to publish. I also lament publicly about academics that work with community partners, extol the virtues of community campus collaborations yet fail to publish with their community partners as co-authors. If you aren’t publishing with your partners then you fall short of having truly authentic partnerships.

Why do community partners engage in collaborative research?

In my 7 years’ experience on the United Way York Region (UWYR) Community "Community research is a mile wide and an inch deep while academic research is an inch wide and a mile deep" David PhippsEngagement and Research Committee I have come to appreciate the different nature of research undertaken by my UWYR colleagues.  If pressed to describe the differences in a concise manner (and in so doing make sweeping generalizations) I would say community research is a mile wide and an inch deep while academic research is an inch wide and a mile deep. Academics will take a closer and closer look at very specific questions seeking to maximize academic impact and answer the question “why”.

Community research is more instrumental seeking to provide answers to maximize operational impact and answer the question “what”. This complementarity is why community-campus collaboration magic happens when we get it right.

Apologies to all those differences I have just white washed over with my intentionally broad brush strokes. Certainly there are excellent examples of scholarly research arising from community organizations such as the Centre for Community Based Research and the Wellesley Institute. The incentives for community research seem to be operational effectiveness and providing maximum impact for constrained service delivery budgets. The rewards are likely less tangible and include service to community and the sense that their roles make a difference.  And here I am guessing what community feels. I know better than to represent the views of community from my position in the university.

That is why this post is just the start of the conversation.

On November 19-21 in Toronto CKX will create a venue for exploring these issues. You can contribute to that agenda by commenting here.

You can also join us on a tweetchat at noon Eastern Time on Thursday August 28.  Sign in with your twitter account into www.tweetchat.com and use the hashtag #KMbChat to get to the tweet chat where we will be discussing community knowledge exchange. The tweet chat is hosted by @researchimpact and the @KMbYork Knowledge Mobilization Unit and sponsored by @CKXdotorg.

By the way, there is great work underway on the tenure and promotion front. A group of 10 universities and Community Campus Partnerships for Health are collaborating to explore the issues related to community engaged scholarship. They will be presenting a report at workshop on October 6 in advance of the Engaged Scholarship Consortium 2014 annual meeting in Edmonton October 7-9. CCPH also sponsors CES4Health that has a full suite of peer review mechanisms for products arising from engaged scholarship. This peer review is available to community-community as well as community-campus research collaborations.

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