Catalyzing ecologies of transformative community partnerships

Romand Coles

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


Introduction “Community partnership” is a contested concept with many meanings ranging across a broad spectrum (Boyte & Farr, 1997; Butin, 2010; Jacoby & Associates, 1996). At one end, we find charitable service events that are relatively thin on collaboration, have few pedagogical implications, and avoid questions of power and genuine change. At the other end, we see a variety of long-term collaborative relationships for public work and political action built on patient dialogue; discernment of mutual and intersecting interests; sharply articulated and shared goals; careful definitions of roles, responsibilities, resources, and risks; reciprocal accountability; attention and efforts to thwart unacknowledged inequalities in power relationships; and regular critical evaluations leading to corresponding adjustments. Crafting partnerships in this way can have transformative democratic implications for communities, teaching and learning, scholarship, civic agency, and public power. I focus my discussion on these latter frontiers, where I think the work on community partnerships is most promising because it has the richest implications for enlivening our pedagogy, knowledge, and capacities for work and action that co-create change in response to challenges faced by polities, ecosystems, and institutions of higher education. I suggest that we ought to explore ways to move beyond a one-to-one community partner model to an approach that strives to catalyze transformative democratic ecologies among a variety of community partners. This approach to catalyzing community partnerships is inspired and informed by a vision at the heart of the community organizing tradition in the United States – that one of the most profound aspirations of public work and political action concerns revitalizing and co-creating publics (Boyte, 2015; Coles & Scarnati, 2015). By “publics,” I mean diverse groups of people with capacities, relationships, and passions for democratic action that enable us to resist the worst modes of power and related suffering while imaginatively engendering commonwealth in all sectors of life. Public work and political action always vitally concern specific challenges and possibilities. Yet, at the same time, the sharpest forms of community engagement inhabit these as opportunities for nurturing the demos in ways that exceed the issues at hand.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Handbook of Service Learning and Community Engagement
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)9781316650011
ISBN (Print)9781107153783
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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