Synopsis of Concerns
Trust. In community-engaged urban research, developing and maintaining trust is a persistent challenge. Researchers have not always enjoyed positive relationships with practitioners. Research often seems “evaluative” to practitioners, which can lead to defensiveness and apprehension. Many practitioners have experienced instances in which researchers make promises about the benefits of their research but leave before following through on those promises or even sharing their findings.
Mutualism. It can be challenging to maintain mutualism in research-practice partnerships. Differences in status mean that not all voices have equal weight in discussions. Practitioners can fall silent in rooms filled with “expert” researchers. At the same time, practitioners have ultimate authority over change and may not consider the research outcomes or valuable advice in their decision-making.
Culture. Researchers and practitioners come from different cultural worlds with different ways of working and different incentive systems. For example, practitioners often feel a strong sense of urgency to solve current problems, and want solutions that they can put into practice now. In contrast, research proceeds slowly, and researchers are often uncomfortable recommending action before there is a strong foundation of research. Researchers and practitioners may also have different priorities and agendas, leading to divergent ideas. Traditionally the focus has been on researcher perceptions of success, with little interest in community perceptions and few researcher-practitioner narratives readily available.
Timing. Timelines for research are typically much longer than those for practitioners, making it difficult to put research into practice, even when the results are relevant. When partnering with researchers, practitioners usually want to work on high- priority issues, which means they may prefer data and analyses with quick turnaround. At the same time, high-quality nuanced research can take a long time to unfold, especially when research questions require depth of analysis, longitudinal designs, or repeated cycles of design and redesign.
Recommendations and Examples
As at Ohio State’s STEAM Factory, establish a permanent location as a key venue for faculty and local professionals to participate in sustained community outreach and research. The location should support "mingling" to encourage creative collaboration and new researcher-practitioner pairings. In addition, it should be off-campus in a neutral location that provides an open, relaxed, and easily accessible co-working space with free parking.
Establish an independent clearinghouse for creating and maintaining vetted research-practitioner partnerships. The clearinghouse must act as a financial intermediary, with reporting obligations to both the community practitioner and the research institution. Through the clearinghouse, the trusted intermediary must explore and evaluate new metrics for assessing the effectiveness of community- engaged research partnerships from a variety of different perspectives.
Using funds earmarked for broader impact and engagement, establish a permanent year-round, safe space as a dedicated site for data-driven investigation of social justice and humanitarian grand challenges (health, energy, environment, food). As for the engineering grand challenges, support culturally responsive STEM curriculum development, service learning, teacher training, and an on-line learning network to support replication and sharing of best practices.
Use broader impact funds and the CS Department CISE platform to support a digital infrastructure that make updates rapidly available nationwide, including a distributed online community hub for information on grand challenge curricula, training, feedback, questions, and research.