Connecting university scholars with Discovery community members, partners, and parents
In 2010, the Memorial Fund began working with Connecticut-based university scholars as one approach to its knowledge development agenda. Through these relationships, the Memorial Fund sought to encourage and nurture participatory learning inside the foundation and through projects - where community members, parents, and advocates would be actively involved in the learning - from asking the initial questions to sharing the findings.
Five universities took up this partnership, though their projects and approaches to engagement varied. Some research partners used data collection opportunities, such as focus groups or workshops, for participant discussion and information sharing. One university partner designed a project where parents were co-researchers in learning about issues that they identified.
In each case, university partners had to carefully consider how to broaden participation in meaningful ways and how they could bring this approach and learning back to their institutions. The university scholars were housed in departments focused on education. Their challenge was to introduce this kind of engagement as a credible and important aspect of educational leadership, change, and research methodology. In turn, students adopting this perspective would be ready to engage in and create more equitable educational systems as educational professionals and leaders.
The five participating universities included Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU), University of Connecticut (UCONN), University of Hartford (UH), Western Connecticut State University (WCSU), and Yale’s Health, Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence (Yale). Their projects were each very different and engaged various groups of Discovery communities and grantees in different ways, including:
* Identifying learning questions and relevant data to assess the contribution of the Discovery initiative and setting up systems for collecting and analyzing data going forward. (SCSU)
* Working with communities to identify levers of community change and helping communities and co-funders identify how they can reach the next level of collaboration, performance management, and sustainability in their work. (UCONN)
* Working with parents as co-researchers to develop an issue guide to help communities talk about nurturing children. Supporting parent co-researchers in creating community action projects to address some of the challenges facing parents in their community. (UH)
Working with a Discovery community to understand parent perceptions about early childhood teacher quality and using the findings to develop a parent grounded curriculum for early childhood teachers. (WCSU)
* Engaging parents and community members in a discussion about social-emotional development in early childhood and parent's role in promoting healthy development. (Yale)
The Value of Partnership
These partnerships have value for the Memorial Fund and the Discovery communities and partners, as well as for the participating universities. University partners bring in-kind supports, such as student researchers and other staff support, research capacity, and an ability to disseminate findings. University partners also bring an "outside" perspective, shedding light on aspects of the initiative and offering a variety of approaches to partnership with community.
A key benefit for universities in partnering with Discovery is the instant "laboratory" to study community change efforts, parent leadership and advocacy, and observe policy change efforts. This research then builds the knowledge base in the fields of education, social and policy change, and philanthropy. University partners have also been able to use Memorial Fund grants in conjunction with and even to leverage additional funding for their work such as from national philanthropic and federal agencies.
For communities, university partnerships can help advance their local agendas and offer new ways of thinking about their work. The partnerships also create opportunities for engaging parents and community members in the learning. In some cases, university partners are providing intensive, real time support to the communities. In others, they are providing feedback and tools for reflection.
For the Memorial Fund, learning partnerships have leveraged funding and supported inquiry and sharing across Discovery. Staff have also had opportunities to share this learning approach and the grantmaking process with philanthropic colleagues and contribute to the emerging field of knowledge development.
In November 2014, the five university scholar partners and friends from other universities came together with the Memorial Fund to talk about their work. They reflected on what they learned and what it meant to do their research in an engaged way, and whether this approach has changed things in their universities. The Memorial Fund shared its theory of change related to the university partnerships approach. The original learning partners are continuing to explore ways to share their lessons about both content and methodology.