Method: Brokerage

Community groups
Could be £65k per annum

Method Description

The overall purpose of a brokerage system is to create an “enabling platform” (Alter 2005) for university-com­munity engagement.   Helpdesk type mechanisms are commonplace in the world of work outside the univeristy.  Paradoxically, given the complex organisational structure of a university, it is very unusual to find a systematic ‘corporate’ approach to facilitating and building lasting relationships  with external communities.  To address this gap at the Univerisity of Brighton we developed the Cupp helpdesk and, in reflecting on our learning, we would beak down the method as follows:

  1. Create a single point of contact for external communities and university staff
  2. Spell out a system by which univeristy staff can be enabled to work with those making enquiries on behalf of external communities
  3. Establish an enquiry  management system so there is clarity around how enquiries are being progressed, and when work has been completed
  4. Establish a system to capture outputs, and to periodicaly evaluate the outcomes of the service
  5. Ideally identify resources to support substantial pieces of project work that might emerge from the inititial enquiries
  6. Consider identification of a small resource to contribute towards incidental costs 
  7. Publicise the point of contact and precisely what the university can offer  

What it can be used for

To encourage engagement with the university by external communities and to  manage initial contacts.  To identify the possibility of co-working and to identify how contact might progress into long term partnerships.  To ensure equitable treatment of people who approach university for support and / or interest

Things to bear in mind

  • Be sensitive to language and culture differences between academia and practice
  • Be prepared to overcome resource and policy barriers within the university
  • consider co-working with other Higher education institutions that are also working with the same local communities.  A ‘single gateway’ approach is ideal for communities, and if this is not possible good communication about activities is essential.
  • Create a system whereby the collective intelligence of academics from different disciplines can be pooled to consider how best enquiries can be supported.
  • Try and mix up the locations of meetings.  Get academics out to community organisations and community practitioners and members in to the university as that will help develop a shared understanding
  • Be serious about data capture and enquiry management.  The university can be a complex and chaotic system so it is important that you are able to systematically process enquires.
  • Be serious about feedback from your partners as you develop university responses through this method
  • Ensure that whoever is the first port of call for external enquiries (at Cupp we call this person our Helpdesk Manager) is friendly, has a ‘can do’ approach  and is able to hold lots of different networks in mind.

Skills required

  • Excellent communication skills which include both an understanding of community and public culture, and of academic culture. 
  • An extensive knowledge base of what the university can offer with a good understanding of research and teaching strengths and priorities (see University of Brighton and Cambridge examples of audits/surveys of activity).  Knowledge of university systems: costing and overhead policies, ethics, health and safety, employment, curriculum development. 
  • An extensive knowledge base of local community** requirements and assets including the priorities of local authorities, health bodies, third sector etc . (see Taking Account as an example in Brighton )
  • Scope of community to be defined for each university case – may or may not include business for example.
  • Good marketing skills to explain to all parties what is on offer (and what is not) and to develop a university wide and a public profile for the work.
  • Coherence/coordination across the main points of brokerage 

Cost and time requirements

Example costs

Below are minimum costs likely to establish an ongoing brokerage service for an average size university.

Helpdesk manager: 35k plus overheads/annum

University staff time to respond to community enquiries.  15k/annum

Projects fund:  15k/ annum.  (This is optional – seeking external funding can be the strategy used.  Even if you can’t fund projects  there is worth to having a more effective mechanism in place to deal with community queries and/ or requests.)

Example timings

Year 1: Set up

  • Develop knowledge base of university and community strengths and requirements
  • Develop system for accessing university staff and for pooling academic expertise
  • Discuss co-working with other local higher education institution
  • Develop project fund
  • Market service for launch
  • Set up evaluation and monitoring

Year 2: Up and running


This method was written by David Wolff and Angie Hart from the Community University Partnership Programme (CUPP) at Brighton University.