Session: Maintaining Vital Connections in Human Dimensions During a Global Pandemic
Navigating change in community-university partnerships: Maintaining vital connections during times of transition and disruption
Monday, August 2, 2021
Link To Share This Presentation: https://cdmcd.co/rMWGBJ
Elizabeth M. Cook, Environmental Science, Barnard College, New York, NY and Kirsten Schwarz, Departments of Urban Planning & Environmental Health Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Elizabeth M. Cook
Environmental Science, Barnard College New York, NY, USA
Background/Question/Methods Participatory approaches are increasingly recognized as essential in transdisciplinary projects that seek to meet society’s future challenges and address community resilience and inequities in the face of changing climate. Participatory projects involve partnerships among non-academic (civic and government) and academic actors in an iterative process to develop new, shared knowledge and define research questions, methods, and solutions. This process builds legitimacy and credibility, but requires significant time and effort to establish trust, shared goals, and a strong rapport through active listening and transparent communication. We often emphasize the careful process of initiating and maintaining community-engaged research; however, many partners will also have to navigate the process of leaving the partnership. Transitions are especially common for early-career professionals who may relocate for career prospects and for community organizations with dynamic funding and staffing. Transitions may also occur because of unexpected disruptions, such as the COVID-19 pandemic or an extreme weather event, which force a shift in organizations’ priorities and resources. Yet, very little guidance exists for navigating these transitions in community-engaged work. Drawing on examples from our collective participatory work in urban ecology and sustainability, we present a framework of strategies and best practices for managing inevitable transitions in engagement. Results/Conclusions Reflecting on our experiences and synthesizing the small amount of literature on navigating career transitions, unanticipated project disruptions, and maintaining connections during the COVID-19 pandemic, we identify six best practices related to community engagement transitions. Successful transitions must aim to preserve the community and academic partners’ investment, as well as the trust and momentum in achieving the partnership’s goals. Best practices for navigating transitions or unexpected disruptions include: 1) set clear standards of practice for open, transparent communication about expectations, outcomes, and timeline from the beginning, 2) establish regular check-ins about uncertainties and changing priorities, 3) build transition capacities from the beginning by developing a sustainability plan for how the work will continue, regardless of changes in key partners or unanticipated disruptions in funding or resources, 4) integrate flexibility in goals and timeline, which may accelerate or slow significantly depending on circumstances, 5) recognize that expectations and modes of engagement (virtual, in-person, email, text) must be adjusted to align with changing needs and the history of the partnership, and 6) create space for difficult conversation and processing current events. Successfully navigating the inevitable transitions and disruptions in community-engaged research sustains and improves our science.