Finding out what works. That is how we at the Pew Partnership for Civic Change described what we set out to do in 1998 with our Solutions for America initiative. The task seemed straightforward enough. We would find an expert researcher and send him or her off to investigate the practices of the nineteen sites we had selected to take part in the project. In time, we would have amassed a collection of validated strategies and examples of what communities were doing to solve tough problems across the country.
But something kept nagging at us: nearly all of the Solutions sites were located in communities that contained colleges and universities. Why then, we asked, were we planning to parachute in an academic researcher from outside those communities to examine local programs?
We backtracked and took a different approach in structuring the research. Instead of sending a sole researcher to each Solutions community, we decided to partner program staff at each site with academics from colleges and universities in their own backyards. We also asked two researchers from the University of Virginia, Kathleen Ferraiolo and Paul Freedman, to track these university-community research partnerships over the course of the project. Their findings are profiled in Part 1 of this report. The results of these local partnerships, we have found, are promising and exciting for all those involved: practitioners in the nonprofit and government sectors, researchers from higher education, and the funding community.
To help us place the findings from Solutions for America into a larger context, the Pew Partnership joined with the University of Virginia provost’s office to convene a distinguished cross-section of individuals in October 2002 to discuss the potential for these university-community research partnerships. Representatives from higher education, the funding community, nonprofit organizations, and local government offered their reactions to the findings and grappled with a crucial question: What do these sectors need from one another in order to develop more effective university-community partnerships? The discussion was both reaffirming and inspiring. No longer working in isolation, academics and practitioners are forging effective partnerships, often with the help of the funding community. Nonetheless, there are still specific steps that will enhance these collaborative research ventures. The findings and recommendations from our discussion are summarized in Part 2 of this report.