Lessons Learned: Thematic Findings from the Partnership

A thematic analysis was performed based on procedures recommended by Miles, Huberman, and Saldana (2014). This process started by assigning codes to each section of text using participants’ actual language and then employed a multilayered process that further developed and grouped these codes into themes. The following four thematic findings emerged from the data analysis process.

Theme 1: Creating a Shared Community

Participants described a sense that the collaboration had created a new community. One student participant reflected on having an expanded understanding of the meaning of “with” and “we” in working in community; this perspective was contrasted with an alternative orientation of service that concentrated on “for” and “them.” Reciprocity was an important component of this orientation, illustrated by one student’s comment that “we couldn’t go into East End with the mindset of us helping them, but them helping us; they are the experts in their community.” A community partner expressed the same idea through a different lens: “In the typical power dynamic you have one owner maybe two; in this dynamic, everyone at this table feels like an owner in some way, and I think that has huge ramifications.”

This sense of collective ownership also extended from the community as a whole to the ways in which participants related to ideas and projects, as expressed by one student:

From a student perspective it teaches you the unique concept of growing attached to ideas but not taking complete ownership. I have been involved with Freedom Enterprise from the first time it was written down on scrap paper but to be able to open that up to the collaboration and having people come in and out in any way that it happens. It just teaches you to welcome that instead of be like “this is our idea, we came up with this.” We all collaborate and it comes out better because of that.

Community partners reflected on the importance of being able to access research and technical skills of the university within the context of a community that placed equal value on their deep knowledge of the problems they were addressing and what had and had not worked in the past.

The processes of applied creativity that situated this collaboration were described as critical to developing this community.

Students also reflected on how the initiative changed their perspectives on interacting with faculty members toward more of an equal footing where their experience was more valued. The IACT staff member summed this dynamic up by saying, “Collaboration and flat hierarchy can change the way we think about learning.” Thus, cultivating a shared community through collaboration contributed to meaningful learning experiences for all of the participants. Lcnning, Hill, Saunders, Solan, and Stokes (2013) have described this type of inclusiveness and shared decision making as vital to building learning communities that are impactfid on their members. At the individual level, Baxter Magolda and King’s (2004) learning partnership model has emphasized shared authority and mutual relationships and meaning construction catalysts for cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal development among students.

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