COMMENTS SOUGHT: How can I work with a community partner to develop and deliver a community engaged research and learning project?

Community Engaged Research and Learning (CERL) involves students working with community partners on collaboratively-designed, real-life projects, within the curriculum, for mutual benefit. This series of three blogposts is based on experiences from the Erasmus+ funded CIRCLET project where we supported educators to embed CERL projects in academic courses and modules. They are built on our experiences in the project and we are grateful to all those educators who participated in and contributed to our project activities for sharing their learning, challenges and hopes along the way.

 This blogpost summarises our advice on working with community partners, which is a key feature of CERL. Two further blogposts deal with working with students and working in the curriculum. We would like your thoughts on the following:

 Are the reflective questions helpful?

  • Do the recommendations make sense? Is anything missing based on your experience?
  • Is there anything from your experience you’d like to share with us?

Please email to share your observations and comments with us, ultimately by the 15th of July. 


 Reflective questions: 

  1. Identifying and making first contact with a partner. What is your starting point? What are your goals for this collaboration? Do you need to identify a suitable community partner?
  2. Working with the partner during the course. How closely will you and/or your students want to work with the community partner in course preparation, and in delivering and assessing the project? How will you know if it goes off-track?
  3. Managing outputs and outcomes. What will your students produce? Will it add value for a partner? Do you have concerns about quality? Does your partner have expectations about quality? How will you know if the project worked?


  1. Identifying and making first contact with a community partner 
  • Check your existing network and scope support within your HEI. Partnership offices, placement units and specialist CERL support units or Science Shop officers can help identify a partner.  
  • For a pilot project, use these networks to identify a partner who has an interest in the CERL process.
  • For first contact, outline your hopes for the collaboration, and share details about your course, particularly those that are non-negotiable. Identify areas for discussion and negotiation and invite the partner to do likewise. 
  • Have the first scoping meeting Topics to cover include: project ideas, time commitment, communications, and ethical and legal issues. This may involve some difficult or uncomfortable conversations, but it is important to make the implicit explicit.
  • Try gain a deep and realistic understanding of the community partners context: what are their resources, ambitions, anxieties? Make sure they also have an adequate understanding of your own context.
  • Provide a summary brief after the meeting and to share it with the partner for discussion and agreement.
  • Be aware of specialist use of language on both sides.   
  1. Working with the partner during the course
  • Set expectations for the students about contact with the partner. Streamline communications so that the partner is not overburdened with messages from students.
  • Ensure the partner knows they can contact you if issues arise. Agree regular check in points and re-calibrate expectations if necessary. Also ensure partner has a clear understanding of their partner role, and is happy with what they should do and when they need to do.
  1. Managing outputs and outcomes
  • Set expectations carefully. It is better to under-promise and over-deliver.
  • Honour any commitments you make on sharing final outputs.
  • Reports should be proof-edited before sharing with the partner.
  • You can agree with the partner to only share the best project outputs.
  • Plan post-project reviews with your partner, with students and other colleagues. This can be helpful in making changes to modules, for student learning or for future collaboration and can support the partner to implement the output they’ve received.