Appraising HEI-community Partnerships: Assessing Performance, Monitoring Progress, and Evaluating Impacts

Plummer, R.,Witkowski, S., Smits, A., and Dale, G. (2022) Appraising HEI-community Partnerships: Assessing Performance, Monitoring Progress, and Evaluating Impacts. Gateways: International Journal of Community Research and Engagement, 15:1, 1–17.


Momentum of the creation of partnerships between higher education institutions (HEIs) and communities is strong. As their significance intensifies, the question of how to judge their value is garnering increasing attention. In this perspective article, we develop a framework for comprehensively appraising HEI-community partnerships. Constituent parts of the framework are unpacked, and application of the framework is then discussed. The appraisal framework provides a mechanism to document evidence of worth, and most importantly contributes to the continuous improvement and learning imperative of HEI-community partnerships.

From the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre, Brock University, the authors are writing from their experience in community-campus partnerships. They have developed a framework to appraise such partnerships. They have done this because there is increasing focus on community-campus collaborations. And the literature, while extensively cited, does not provide clarity on definitions, outcomes or details on how to appraise these partnerships.

The authors explicitly focus on formal partnerships. They are “concentrating on formal partnerships because they are a prominent means for HEIs and the community to actively engage with diverse societal challenges and to realise opportunities; offer explicit and agreed upon parameters regarding goal(s), functioning and aspirations; afford context specificity as determined in the initiation phase by the partners themselves, and have been recognised as an appropriate unit of analysis, which is an intervening variable as well as an ‘… outcome of “impact” in itself ’.” These partnerships are formalized in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the parties. I shall refrain from commenting on how an impact can (not) have an outcome when it is the outcomes that produce impacts – see their model.

There are three components to their framework for assessment of community-campus collaborations.

  1. Assessment (of inputs, process, and outcomes)
  2. Monitoring
  3. Evaluation

That’s the framework. Nothing wrong with it but I am not certain what it adds. There is a section on applying the framework in practice that references the “HEI-Community Partnership Performance Index (HCPPI; Plummer et al. 2021a) is a recent validated rapid assessment tool that can easily be completed by HEI and community participants to assess the performance of their collaboration.” That Index is likely worth digging into but if Plummer has done the work what does this article add?

Three final points:

  1. It would have been helpful if the authors included a case study where they applied the framework (and the Index above) in a real-life example.
  2. The authors repeatedly say that assessment happens at the end, ex post assessment. I agree that the final data collection and analysis happens at the end, but the assessment must be planned from the beginning, ex ante assessment, and be embedded as an commitment in the MOU. If you wait till the end you miss the chance to collect process metrics/indicators along the way.

The authors repeatedly state how important it is that the needs of community partners are considered throughout, and their input must be considered from the beginning. Not involving community partners risks meeting only academic goals not the goals of community partners. 100% agree. But the authors are all from Brock University. Where are the community co-authors or a statement acknowledging community engagement on the article?

And finally, an interesting subtlety I hadn’t seen before. The authors state, “engaging community partners through these types of partnerships aspires to eliminate tokenism and connect content experts (professionals, staff within each organisation, service providers, etc.) with context experts (those with lived experience).” I like that distinction between content expertise and context experts. It harkens to the distinction between end users and end beneficiaries.

Questions for brokers:

  1. Can this framework apply to less formal partnerships where an MOU does not exist?
  2. Compare and contrast ex post and ex ante assessment.
  3. What do you think of academics writing about community engagement without engaging community partners in the writing?

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