A few months ago a potential student was suggested to talk to me. Most of our discussion was about how community-based research (CBR) efforts could fit in a relatively short graduate study program. Her last question was what would be my one suggestion to start/navigate a successful CBR, and I responded by saying “be a good friend, build a genuine friendship with your community partners.”
That was my first occasions suggesting that. Lately, I have reflected on that comment, and connecting with my current partnership.
Community -university partnership is ultimately a way to connect both parties in a meaningful collaborative initiative that would benefit them. Both partners need to come to an understanding about the goals of their initiative. The disconnect of their ideas could lead to partners who would see the partnership as a mere work together (note I don’t use the word collaborative) for the sake of partnership, something they could talk about to their peers but not care enough to deliver a successful project.
Lately, I continue to reflect on that concept of friendship. When I talk to my 12 y.o. son, he can say that a boy/girl is not a friend just because he plays with him/her. Friendship is more than sharing a moment or something together. Being a friend is to have a hearty connection around matters that link them. That connection is so important that everything else does not matter as long as we could all focus on what makes us connected. A strong friendship could minimize the possibility of academics in viewing a partnership as just another line in their CV.
Of course, being academics, and looking a friendship as a way to build a community-university partnership could be dangerous if not careful. Academics matters could be affected (for example: graduate students not graduating, professors not able to publish, assistant professor tenure may not be approved), which is not the responsibility of community partners, but these academics’ own.
Balancing the two has been a constant struggle for many CBR practitioners, or public scholars, including myself. How to make progress on my academic goals, while at the same time managing the progress of my community-based projects.
It is more of the partnership that gives you more troubles than the academic matters, at least reflecting on my situation. But if you manage to build a genuine friendship with your partners, however messy the process, you will end up supporting each other.
The partnership becomes manageable.