SYMPOSIUM: Dissolving the boundaries: the challenges of developing collaborations and reciprocity in practice

In this symposium we will explore the process of education as both a collaborative and a creative process. As academics on a youth work and community work programme we work closely with a broad range of community partners, but does this in and of itself mean we manage to successfully navigate, what Martin and Brown (2013) term the distinction between the ‘in here and the out there’ In our teaching we emphasise the importance of relating theory to practice, and are aware of Baelin’s (2007) warning that theory can very easily lose its vitality if we have no practice on which to reflect. Our focus here therefore will be to explore the benefits of working ‘out in practice’, emphasising three in particular;

1. to relate present tense stories to students;
2. a remembrance that ‘the rub between theory and practice is not always neatly resolved’
3. a building of relationships with practitioners ‘grounded in common experience and genuine collaboration’ (Intrator and Kunzman 2009)

We have a commitment to working collaboratively with community partners, and furthermore suggest that in the future these partnerships will grow in their importance. More broadly universities are increasingly being judged on their levels of public engagement, and community impact in terms of research outputs, but what does this really mean? Does this signify in any meaningful way that the traditional binaries of ‘in here’ and out there’ are actually being challenged, or indeed to some extent that collaboration in and of itself can dissolve the boundaries between ‘in here’ and ‘out there’.

In response to some of these issues the symposium will draw on 3 case studies to reflect on the tensions, dynamics and necessary negotiations between theory and practice. The case studies are all ongoing collaborations between us and our community partners; and will include a peer mentoring training which has been co-produced with different partners to develop bespoke training to meet the needs of varying groups, an evaluation of the Joanna Project, which works with sex workers caught up in vicious cycle of drug dependency and abuse and reflections on collaborative work with the York Street Practice, a centre of welcome and wellbeing for those who are homeless, vulnerably housed and caught in the asylum system.

In this symposium we will share reflections about what makes for positive, creative partnerships. We will analyse challenges that have arisen in the course of the work, and discuss strategies developed to overcome them. Our final consideration will be an examination of the broader benefits to our partners, our students and ourselves as academics.