Community university partnerships through communities of practice
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, this study by Professor Angie Hart explored the application of the Communities of Practice approach (CoP) to Community University Partnerships (CUPs). A specific focus was whether forming CoPs might help struggling communities cope within an increasingly resource-stretched environment. Might they bring people together to solve common problems, overcoming differences in perspective brought about by specific organisational affiliations and personal backgrounds?
Data included: a literature review, semi-structured interviews and focus groups with CUP members, and Chicago fieldwork. Our study developed the research capacity of a local practitioner who shared the project’s learning within his ethnic minority community and beyond.
Data analysis indicated the versatility of the CoP approach for individuals working in partnership across boundaries (for example voluntary, statutory and university sectors).
Strikingly, our literature review shows little application of the CoP approach to CUPs, beyond our own limited work. In the literature, CoPs are critiqued for not dealing explicitly with inequalities; while they may offer space to address differences, there is limited analysis of how CoPs work through inter-group conflicts. However our empirical data revealed more potential.
Given this promise, future research priorities include (1) empirical studies of CoPs designed to provide effective mechanisms for developing cohesion and learning, and (2) enhancing the role of community partners in co-production and community knowledge exchange.