The exploration of community boundary spanners in university-community partnerships
Adams, Katherine Rose
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Boundary spanners are leaders that are able to bring people together across traditional boundaries to work towards a common goal. In university-community partnerships, boundary spanners can flexibly transverse historically divided lines to increase access to resources and build upon reciprocal partnerships (Miller, 2008). Previous research has examined the roles of boundary spanners, but only from the perspectives of the institutional partners (Weerts & Sandmann, 2010). The purpose of this study was to examine the characteristics, roles, and motivations of community boundary spanners in university-community partnerships. The research questions guiding the study were: (1) What are the characteristics of community members actively engaged in university-community partnerships? (2) What roles do community members play as boundary spanners in university-community partnerships? (3) What are the motivations of community boundary spanners? (4) What is the relationship between the phases of partnership and the characteristics, roles, and motivations of community partners in university-community partnerships? A qualitative instrumental multi-case case study (Stake, 2006) was conducted with community partners of a university-community partnership. Focus group and interview data were analyzed using constant comparative and framework-specific coding methods. The case study report provided detailed descriptions of each case or community boundary spanner, with illustrative quotes from participants. When coded for social closeness and task orientation, findings led to community boundary spanning adaptation of the Weertz & Sandmann model. The Framework for Community Boundary Spanners in Engaged Partnerships identifies four distinct roles community boundary spanners may play: engaged employee, reciprocity recipient, connection companion, and community champion. Analysis yielded three conclusions: (1) Boundary spanning capacities of community partners are derived from motivations over roles as previously highlighted in the Weerts & Sandmann boundary spanning model; (2) From the community perspective, the institution is represented by the institutional boundary spanner; (3) Those identified as boundary spanners came to the partnership with developed boundary spanning capacities; participation was not a boundary spanning development effort. This study provides institutional partners with the tools and techniques to better engage and locate community boundary spanners through partner identification and development.