A Guide for Academic-Practitioner Collaborations for the Participedia Community
By George Bolton, University of Southampton
Participedia provides a unique hub, a community of individuals and organizations working for the benefit of democracies across the world. The persistent and complex problems that the Participedia community is seeking to address require collaborations that draw on multiple perspectives and skills.
This is no surprise. Every democratic innovation involves countless hours of collaborative effort, often involving policymakers, activists, citizens, campaigners and researchers. Democratic innovation is simply not possible without the combining of multiple perspectives and capacities through effective and sustained collaboration.
For those within Participedia’s growing community with more experience, cross-sectoral collaborations across the academic-practitioner boundary may be relatively simple, but are always not without their challenges. However, for those with relatively less experience, the risks, benefits and intricacies of academic-practitioner collaborations may be largely unknown. These individuals from different sectors and backgrounds may have shared aims, yet lack the knowledge and experience to build and sustain effective partnerships. This blog post introduces a Guide that has recently been produced to help meet this need.
The Guide, available for download here is itself the product of a collaborative, participatory research project including over 40 academics and practitioners from across the UK. The project’s participants all work to improve democratic practice in the UK, either directly through practitioner organizations or indirectly through working on democracy-related topics at universities throughout the country. We hope that the years of cross-sectoral experience distilled into the Guide can help you to avoid common mistakes and achieve quick success in your efforts to build partnerships that produce democratic strength.
The project underpinning the Guide followed two key stages. Stage 1 involved semi-structured interviews with 16 academics and practitioners. Five key themes were identified, which then formed the basis for two co-production workshops in Stage 2. Between and after these two stages, the core team drafted the document with the feedback and suggestions of the various participants.
The Guide offers practical advice for academics and practitioners, borne out of 5 ‘barriers to collaboration’ identified throughout the interviews and workshops. In the interviews, members of both communities said that they frequently had misunderstandings with their colleagues from the opposing sector early on in their careers. The Guide also includes a ‘get to know each other’ section that tries to address misconceptions that academics and practitioners may hold unknowingly or not! Forming relationships based on shared commitments to democratic values and aims can help individuals overcome professional differences.
The Guide is intended for those at all career stages, especially those with relatively low experience of such collaborations. While the most impactful collaborations often have the backing of external funding, the Guide highlights that collaboration can come in multiple forms. External funding is not necessary to build collaborative relationships. Instead, the robust relationships between academics and practitioners that allow for funded high-impact projects must first be fostered through low-stakes, more casual interactions. The Guide draws attention to ‘Types of Collaboration’ to recognize this. The partnerships behind the high impact that all Participedia community members strive for likely all started with a casual email or meeting!
Here, I have given a quick overview of the purpose and content of the Guide for Collaboration. I encourage you to read and share the Guide with your network to spread the advice that it contains. As the Participedia community continues to grow, collaborations between individuals and organizations will become more and more critical.
The Guide for Collaboration is available to download here, and was a project attached to Involve’s Democracy Network as part of its APLN agenda. The Guide was funded by the University of Westminster.