Network and System Science Contributions

Title of Proposal

Network and System Science Contributions to Advancing Community Engagement for Knowledge Translation

Presenter Name(s)

Melinda Forthofer
, John Clarkson
, Alyssa Mackelprang, 
Bob Roscoe


Solutions to modern societies’ greatest challenges are likely to come from those who can mobilize knowledge and expertise across perspectives and facilitate translation of new knowledge into practice. Community engagement is acknowledged as central to such efforts. Despite the attention devoted to community engaged scholarship as a vehicle for enhancing the validity of academic research and communities’ capacity to improve health and social outcomes, there is little empirical evidence regarding strategies for overcoming challenges inherent in building and sustaining productive academic-community partnerships. 

Although community engagement is generally manifested in the form of dyadic relationships between individual academic and community partners, such relationships exist within broader networks, and organizational and network-level factors may exert a powerful influence over the success of partnerships. Given mounting evidence that we must move beyond relationship focused approaches to consider best practices and processes on multiple levels, advancing community engaged scholarship requires an understanding of effective systems for linking academic and local expertise. 

This presentation uses our ongoing research on the institution-wide networks of community engagement involving researchers at a public university in the Southeastern United States to illustrate the interdependencies between academic community partnerships, contemporary knowledge production and translation of such knowledge into practice. This work offers insights into the experiences of academic researchers and community partners with community engaged scholarship, as well as partnership-level and network-level patterns of community engagement. Network analysis is a valuable tool for understanding organizational networks; yet, few studies have utilized network analysis to examine patterns in community engagement. Using results from our survey research with academic researchers, interviews with community partners, and case studies of selected partnerships, the presentation will compare and contrast the attitudes and experiences of academic and community partners related to costs and benefits of community engaged scholarship, needs for institutional support, and modes of communication and collaboration. Then, we will illustrate how a network approach can inform institutional strategies for supporting community engaged scholarship and facilitating the bridging of gaps between researchers and community partners that may hinder the translation of research into practice.

Copyright © 2010. All rights reserved.