6 Responses to “Translating academic research to results-oriented solutions”

  1. Emily Edmonds


    Great post. I am working on a similar graduate degree at UNC-Chapel Hill, and I also work in the Public Policy Institute at Western Carolina. We are, it seems, constantly trying to find new ways to bridge the distance between academia and local governments.

    I know of several institutes, like ours, that do work with local governments – we do everything from surveys to data analysis to facilitation of public meetings. Do you know of any other specific examples where university research has been utilized as a means of enhancing community engagement?

    I’ll also point you to a survey we did on this subject, asking NC’s local government managers to tell us about what works best for them in public outreach (http://www.wcu.edu/WebFiles/PDFs/PPI-2013-LoGoS-Summary.pdf).

    Interestingly, most used social media and online media only as a passive, information-sharing tool; the time-intensive options like workshops and charrettes had the most influence on public policy, while the required-by-law options, like public comment periods at board meetings, were least effective.

    Thanks for a great post!

    • Shawn Colvin

      Thank you for your comments, Emily and thanks for sharing some of the outstanding work the Public Policy Institute is doing at Western Carolina! I think part of the disconnect and disparities in engagement are two-fold: First, citizens who tend to be more concerned with government at the local level are those who have experienced the effects of its policy the longest. These tend to be long-time residents with a vested interest in their communities. These citizens tend not to believe as much in technology as the younger generation who faithfully rely on it. Secondly, I believe long-time residents also usually have personal dealings/relationships with municipal leaders and would much rather interact with them face to face, so public forums and workshops offer an opportunity for visual advocacy as opposed to electronic communication.

      I attended the National Fair Housing Conference in Washington DC a few years ago where the keynote speaker was Dr. Melissa Harris Perry who then was professor of Political Science at Tulane University (currently professor of Politics and International Affairs at Wake Forest University and TV host on MSNBC). She along with Robert Schwemm, Ashland Professor of Law at the University of Kentucky, presented their research regarding overcoming structural barriers to integrated housing. From their presentations I was able to gain clarity on the “affirmatively furthering” mandate required by federal fair housing law intended to replace segregated living patterns with integrated ones. It enabled me to convey that knowledge not only to members of the community but also to city leaders providing them with a better understanding of the purpose and intention of fair housing policy at the local level. This type of engagement with housing experts in academia helped strengthen my leadership on the City of Raleigh Fair Housing Hearing Board while providing city leaders a better understanding of our mission.

  2. John Stephens

    Shawn and Katie – I’d like to encourage you to compare your recent posts:

    Translating Academic Research to Results-Oriented Solutions
    and The University as Community Partner

    Here’s how I see two possible connections. I hope others will chime in:

    1. How to listen and work together on what college people “know” and what is “really needed” by community people of various educational backgrounds.

    In Katie’s post The University as Community Partner – she notes three things universities do less well [I shorten her points]:
    • Knowledge Sharing/Co-creation. Universities [do less well] at asking communities what their challenges are and working together toward solutions.
    • Sharing the Wealth. Universities must ask themselves whether the wealth they are generating is improving the economic health of the whole community….Sitting next to these centers of innovation and economic growth are centers of poverty and need.
    • Too often colleges and college students “use” communities for feel good projects that do little to address the most important challenges that communities face.

    2. Who participates, how, and with what power or authority?

    Shawn, in Translating Academic Research to Results-Oriented Solutions writes that “be it though university volunteerism or simply goodwill, [college leaders should] provide guidance to [neighborhood people to] strengthen their political voices for more effective civic participation.” I think this is part of an interesting topic: which voices get attention, and how much of university-community connections should be designed to strengthen a grassroots groups, or neighborhood’s political voices for more effective civic participation (paraphrasing Shawn).

    Participation that mobilizes people, can shift the perception of political power, and may be judged to be “effective.” One measure of participation is how a group focuses on what it wants or needs and if they achieve their goals.

    Alternatively, as I wrote about in “Is there a sharp line between political protest and civic engagement?” people who benefit from the current arrangement of power and participation may see university folks as stepping beyond what they should do with neighborhood people.
    My post: http://cele.sog.unc.edu/is-there-a-sharp-line-between-political-protest-and-civic-engagement/

    I hope to hear from others.

  3. Kwesi Brookins

    These are excellent posts and for me come at a very appropriate moment. Here at NCSU we have partnered with the City of Raleigh over the past 2+ years to conduct a comprehensive (economic, social, historical and spatial) analyses of the city district that surrounds the university. The role of my team was to generate data directly from citizens. The findings speak to that “sharp line” between civic engagement and what we call sociopolitical development (which, at its highest levels may result in political protest). We are scheduled to present the overall findings to the city council in a couple of weeks and are in the process of determining the messages that the university and city need to understand about their citizen partners.

    The points brought up here help frame that conversation since there is no doubt that those who are most benefiting from the current and rapid economic development occurring are not really interested in “citizen voice.”

    My main interest is in moving the university toward an local engagement model that goes beyond service learning and problematizing communities. Any further suggestions or experiences people may have on how to engage this conversation within the university would be welcome.

    • Shawn Colvin

      Dr. Brookins – You raise an excellent point regarding the relationship between sociopolitical development and civic engagement. I believe that the drivers of sociopolitical development that spark various forms of civic engagement are in direct response to national events and how their processed by members of the community. Oftentimes, racial events such as those offered in John’s post, spark dialogue and reveal viewpoints from many different perspectives. Some form opinions driven by media representations that ultimately have an adverse affect on how citizens participate in political protest. It’s at this point where academia can also act as facilitators to help correct false narratives and misrepresentations that prove divisive and polarize our communities.

      I’ll be interested to see the findings from the data collected from the district analyses as I’m sure it will properly inform the partnership conversation.


Join the Conversation

If you are having problems with commenting please let us know here by creating a ticket.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *