What partnership work means to me

Scales of Justice

Kim Aumann, member of the UK Community Partner Network thinks about what working with academics has meant to her. 

For me, community university partnership work is a chance to share resources, exchange knowledge and channel our collective effort to shift the odds. Having always worked in the third sector, it’s obvious that the cards don’t get dealt fairly and more and more people have little access to the opportunities we should all enjoy. So while not meaning to sound naively optimistic about work with universities, I do think it’s highly appropriate to partner with these large publicly funded, well-to-do and well connected institutions, to tackle social justice issues, and I’ve met loads of academics who think so too.  

When I first got involved in university partnership work back in 2004 (while managing a Brighton based charity run by and for parent carers of disabled children), we wanted to see if hooking up with the university might increase the organisation’s credibility or social capital. We had things to say to policy makers and service providers that, we figured, could be strengthened with the addition of a more rigorous research evidence base. We were trying to shift thinking, hassle for better services, change regulations and guidance to improve the life chances of disabled children and their families. Our work with different academics, some of which were established rather opportunely out of a different context and others brokered and supported by the Community University Partnership Programme at the University of Brighton, has helped us to do just that. We’ve learnt new ways to interrogate our data, had help to search the literature and received funding to fully involve parent carers in the work. The organisation was able to provide staff with professional development opportunities, services have been evaluated, we routinely deliver the parent perspective on university courses teaching the next generation of practitioners and we’ve influenced the research agenda so that it’s applied and useful to families and practitioners in very practical ways. 

Perhaps what’s been most useful has been developing a long term partnership with a lead academic committed to developing resilience research as it relates to the most disadvantaged children and young people in our community. Resilience is the ability to withstand and recover from adversity, becoming strengthened, resourceful and changing the odds in the process. Our interests align and what’s mushroomed from very small, tentative beginnings has been something very unexpected and very exciting - a whole community of academics, practitioners, parents, commissioners, young people and onlookers too - all trying to combine participatory research and practice development, to build the resilience of children, young people and adults having tough times. Ten years down the line, despite the difficulties (that’s a different blog), it feels to me like community university partnership working has been worth the bother.   

What does partnership work mean to you?

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