Collaboration X-Change

Guest post by Joan Clifford, PhD, Service-Learning Faculty Consultant and Director of Community-Based Language Initiatives

Truly reciprocal partnerships, also called collaborations, are well-defined relationships based on “a commitment to: a definition of mutual goals; a jointly developed structure and shared responsibility; mutual authority and accountability for success; and sharing not only of responsibilities but also of the rewards.” (Jacoby, 2015)

xchange2Duke Service-Learning and the Social Innovation pillar of Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship hosted the 2nd Annual Collaboration X-Change on February 22 at The Bullpen. The Collaboration X-Change is an annual event intended to explore the skills and resources needed to build positive relationships between Duke students/faculty/staff and community partners. It is essential to include the voices of all stakeholders in an on-going conversation about our practices in community engagement. Despite regular communication between individuals at the university and community partners on specific projects, there rarely is there a space in which multiple stakeholders from multiple projects intersect. At the Collaboration X-Change we invite community partners, faculty, staff, and students to share ideas and to work to negotiate best practices for successful collaborations. Our exchange serves as a building block for reciprocity—and provides a forum through which we reflect on past, present, and future collaborations.

xchangeForty-six participants, a mix of community partners, faculty, staff, and students explored three questions: What is responsible engagement? How do we best build sustainable partnerships? What are best practices for orientations? A short survey was distributed that asked the participants to identify various traits they associate with students, partners, and their relationship with a partner. It revealed that the perception of the top two characteristics for millennials are: achieving and confident. In addition, the survey reported that the primary motivation for community partners to work with students is capacity building. Finally when asked how to describe their own relationships with partners the group rated highest these descriptions: mutually beneficial, collaborative, challenging, and co-educators. Seeing how the group perceives different stakeholders and their relationships is a way to encourage responsible and ethical engagement that leads to sustainable partnerships. Many of the sixteen community partners represented at this event commented that they appreciated the opportunity to interact in this setting, and we are grateful that they were willing to invest time in building community dialogue.


The Academic Collaboration

Service-learning and social entrepreneurship, while distinct practices, have enormous potential to build on each other’s strengths to create collaborations that make a difference in communities. (Enos, 2015)

One last observation to offer is the importance of Duke Service-Learning and Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship co-sponsoring the Collaboration X-Change. Enos states that “these fields [service-learning and social entrepreneurship] have much to offer to each other and that expanding definitions and ways to consider this work should characterize a next generation of community engagement” (3). Most campuses do not have much communication between service-learning and social entrepreneurship due to a variety of issues like: perceived differences in values, campus infrastructure, and the positioning of each within different academic disciplines. Looking at the big picture of engagement we need to find common practices across programs so that we are all contributing to partnerships characterized by reciprocity and respect. Responsible and ethical engagement with the community is a shared goal for both pedagogies, and we are committed to building collaborations within and beyond Duke U to become leaders in the next generation of community engagement.



Enos, S. (2015). Service-Learning and Social Entrepreneurship in Higher Education: A Pedagogy of Social Change. Houndsmills, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Jacoby, B. (2015). Service-Learning Essential: Questions, Answers, and Lessons Learned. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.