This article explores the experiences of organisations participating as Community Partners (CPs) and co-educators in a service-learning module in a Higher Education Institution (HEI) in South Wales, UK. It focuses on the opportunities and challenges faced by community organisations when working within the Service-learning (SL) model, and the relationship with the university and the students, including issues of expectation, assessment and identity. The partners provided SL placements of 30 hours or more in a range of community projects and organisations. These placements were intensely collaborative affairs. We researched the experiences of community partners to better understand the dynamics of the relationship; to better understand how to prepare community partners, HEIs and students; and to tease out how complex partnership projects like this one with multiple partners may be conducted successfully. A qualitative study was conducted. The data were collected through semi-structured interviews and analysed using Reflexive Thematic Analysis. Three main themes emerged from the data: Dynamic Tensions; For Each and Every One; and Broadening Horizons. The findings suggest that developing a transformation of the relationship is key to a strong and effective partnership. There needs to be active and dynamic collaboration between CPs and HEIs, including involvement in research projects like these, to better understand and navigate the pleasures and pains of successful cooperative relationships.

Practitioner Notes

  1. Service-learning requires a high level of collaboration between different organisations which can be challenging, when trying to meet the needs of all partners.
  2. Effective collaboration requires commitment, flexibility and compromise.
  3. Community Partners are an essential part of a service-learning collaboration and should be recognised as co-educators and included in planning and assessment.
  4. Collaborative assessment has high validity but low reliability and clear guidance and support are needed to overcome the difference in understanding and approach of different Community Partners.
  5. Organisational identity has an impact on the nature of collaboration.