Building Community Relationships
A CBTL project relies heavily on working with a community organization. Building strong community relationships is an important component of CBTL, not only because it's the CB in CBTL, but because the community organization(s) will play a large role in the learning experiences of the student(s). As these projects and relationships grow, partnerships begin to develop between the university and community. A true partnership is one where each partner plays a role in creating the partnership's goals, devising the plan, contributing to the work and benefiting from it.
Faculty and staff often need to begin with the end in mind when planning for their CBTL course, project or activity. Before a community organization is approached or brought into the planning process, the lead faculty or staff person should have a general idea of how a community-based component will fit within their course, project or activity. It's important in a CBTL course or project that the community-based component is relevant and helpful to the rest of the curriculum. Once a faculty or staff member has determined that they would like to try CBTL, they should determine what community organization(s) might fit well with their course, project or activity. Determining the organization can be done through the Center for Community-Based Learning (CCBL) or personal connections. Often times a community organization may approach the faculty or staff member directly, in that case it's important to remember who initiated the relationship and why. From here, an initial meeting should be scheduled between the faculty/staff and a representative from the community organization (staff from the CCBL are available to attend these meetings as well). Below are a few tips to assist in establishing relationships once the faculty or staff member has made connection with an organization.
- Share each other's history, traditions, assets, interests, needs, etc.
- Meet agency representatives at their location whenever possible (note any visible risks as well as information that might be helpful for the student later on: parking, location, etc.)
- Share the course/project's learning outcomes and goals
From here, both parties should be able to determine whether or not the connection is a match. If it is, the following tips can be used in strengthening and building towards a true partnership.
- Develop a common language for the partnership
- Develop clear expectations, a timeline and anticipated outcomes
- Discuss the roles each party will play
- Establish a process for feedback and assessment
- Articulate risks (determine if an affiliation or agency agreement is needed)
- Discuss and agree on any ownership concerns upfront
- Relate to students the importance of the agency and the partnership
In most cases, these steps should be completed with both the faculty/staff and community organization representative present. Both sides should listen and be flexible in discussing the initial plan. After all, the relationship should be rewarding for all parties involved. Once the project is underway it's natural for the relationship to change. Several factors can affect the relationship, such as: a change in needs, turnover in personnel, misunderstood expectations or a project is nearing completion. Building to a true partnership will require regular communication, negotiation and assessment.
For assistance in working with a community organization, please contact the Center for Community-Based Learning.
Principles of Partnerships
Community-based experiences require a community partner or organization with which students will interact. True CBTL experiences consist of mutually-beneficial projects for both the students and community organization(s). A basic relationship can evolve into a partnership over time. Below is a list of characteristics indicative of good community-university partnerships.
- Partnerships form to serve a specific purpose and may take on new goals over time.
- Partners have agreed upon mission, values, goals, measurable outcomes and accountability for the partnership.
- The relationship between partners is characterized by mutual trust, respect, genuineness, and commitment.
- The partnership builds upon identified strengths and assets, but also works to address needs and increase capacity of all partners.
- The partnership balances power among partners and enables resources among partners to be shared.
- Partners make clear and open communication an ongoing priority by striving to understand each other's needs and self-interests, and developing a common language.
- Principles and processes for the partnership are established with the input and agreement of all partners, especially for decision-making and conflict resolution.
- There is feedback among all stakeholders in the partnership, with the goal of continuously improving the partnership and its outcomes.
- Partners share the benefits of the partnership's accomplishments.
- Partnerships can dissolve and need to plan a process for closure.
Principles of Good Community-Campus Partnerships
Adopted by the CCPH board of directors, October 2006