Contributions, challenges, and contradictions
Tetloff, Meredith Leigh
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Multi-sector collaboration is an appealing intervention strategy to address complex social problems, such as economic stagnation and environmental hazards. By working together, community members have the potential to develop a thorough and accurate understanding of the cause of the problem, and share the responsibilities associated with implementing a solution. As participants share costs and resources, they create a synergistic approach to problem-solving. Collaboration has increased in popularity due to a shift from the federal government to local municipalities to address social concerns and funder mandates to create partnerships. Despite the potential and increasing popularity of collaboration, research indicates it fails as often as it succeeds. This is likely due to the complexity of the intervention strategy that is inherently conflict-ridden and logistically demanding. One promising approach to mitigate challenges is to employ a fulltime professional community organizer who can manage the details and address challenges as they arise. This multiple case study investigates nine university-community collaboratives in order to better understand the challenges of partnership, and the contributions of a fulltime professional community organizer. Data were collected through in-depth interviews with organizers, focus groups with community participants, and document analyses. The Archway Partnership, an innovative university-community engagement initiative of the University System of Georgia, provides the cases. Findings suggest eight primary roles within the context of a university-community partnership: resource broker, relationship builder, process designer, facilitator, community insider, conflict resolver, visionary, and ego manager. Data analyses indicated that by fulfilling these roles, community organizers serve a valuable purpose within collaboration and provide a promising strategy to overcome the challenge of cross-sector partnership in order to improve the well-being of communities.