Dr Jane Cullingworth, Research Associate, Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland and The Collaborative.
The Collaborative Model
The Collaborative project was initiated by Paula Karlsson-Brown, Senior Lecturer in the Adam Smith Business School and Sarah Weakley, Research and Impact Acceleration Officer, Policy Scotland, in July 2020 with the aim of creating a community of academics and other University staff interested in using their knowledge to support third sector organisations (TSOs).
The goal was for staff to act in an advising role to TSOs, complemented by students who would provide support to organisations via integrated coursework modules, internships or collaborative dissertations. In the third sector, the vision was to create a network of TSOs developed through an active partnership with Glasgow Council for the Voluntary Sector, the city’s main intermediary body and official partner on the project.
The model aspired to create benefits for all stakeholders:
- Third sector – contributing to sustainability through pro-bono technical expertise; identifying and facilitating access to the University and its resources.
- Staff – providing a vehicle to engage with local TSOs for research and impact: creating research opportunities, projects for students, internships and collaborative dissertations.
- Students – engaging with real world projects, applying academic learning, building third sector awareness.
- University of Glasgow – promoting University of Glasgow’s role as an anchor institution and a civic university, strengthening its reputation.
While the development of The Collaborative model pre-dated the pandemic, the COVID-19-focused Impact Acceleration Award gave rise to the initial pilot. The figure below depicts the model:
The Collaborative activities
Over the period July 2020-July 2021, relationships were built with the local third sector through a close working relationship with GCVS. Initial outreach included a programme of two tailored workshops based on GCVS priorities (Managing risk in collaborative working and Digital and hybrid working). The 18 organisations who applied for the workshops formed the basis of our initial inroads into the sector.
Through outreach within the university, 30 academics signed up to act as technical advisors to TSOs. Over the life of the project, four matches were made between TSOs and academics. The project also developed strategic relationships with university initiatives that involve TSOs, including an active partnership with the Adam Smith Busines School Connections with Practice team that focussed on recruiting TSOs to fulfil course needs for consultancy-based projects. Over the course of four months, we facilitated matches between six organisations and ASBS staff for courses. The Collaborative also facilitated relationships between university initiatives and GCVS, such as the Internship Hub and Collaborative Dissertations.
Key learnings (TSOs, University staff and The Collaborative)
In the first year of The Collaborative some key learnings have emerged:
TSOs struggle to take advantage of engagement opportunities because of capacity issues and may not be able to respond in the timescales required by university partners. Feedback from TSOs suggest that despite seeing the potential benefits of working with the university, they often do not have the time to develop the relationship.
University staff experience barriers to acting as technical advisors because of workload issues. The constraints experienced by academics highlight the challenges of engagement in impact activities beyond more immediate service-learning needs. Question were posed about how pro-bono work would be reflected in workloads and if time would be backfilled.
Institutional issues exist regarding the lack of reward, incentives and time allotted within workload models for civic engagement activity to occur in day-to-day work. Our experience echoes findings in the recent report on civic engagement in the College of Social Sciences that cited time, recognition and university bureaucracy as key barriers to civic engagement (Armstrong & Fletcher, 2021). Many individuals and initiatives across the College of Social Sciences (CoSS) engage the third sector but there is no coordination or synergy. There is great potential – and appetite – to share knowledge, learning and strategies.
The Collaborative found that relationship management is labour intensive. The involvement with Connections with Practice shifted the focus away from third sector needs to course engagement demands. There is a need to further build understanding of the unique third sector needs within the service-learning environment. Lack of funding for The Collaborative constrained the scope of the activities.
Third sector engagement – future directions
Initial funding for the pilot (secured through an Impact Acceleration Grant, the Chancellor’s Fund and university internships) has now come to an end. The Collaborative has demonstrated the value of investing in a broker to facilitate connections with the local third sector, with positive feedback from GCVS and internal partners in connecting TSOs to opportunities within the university. A sustainable strategy is needed to realise the full potential of UofG’s relationship with the local third sector. Possible strategies for the future include:
- Creation of a CoSS Third Sector Advisory Group to review existing engagement with the third sector, to explore potential for synergies and opportunities, and to advise on broad external engagement strategies with the local third sector
- Building understanding of the third sector within the university through development of a learning module on Moodle – Introduction to the third sector – geared to CoSS students participating in in-service learning and CoSS staff less familiar with the sector
- Institutional support for an initiative like The Collaborative to continue developing strategic university-third sector partnership work
The Collaborative has highlighted the benefits of building stronger relationships with the local third sector, particularly amongst small-medium sized organisations. A commitment to continuing this work holds great strategic potential for the university to demonstrate its civic credentials, as well as bringing brings benefits to students, faculty and the wider third sector.
For information about The Collaborative, contact Paula Karlsson-Brown
The Collaborative team consisted of
- Paula Karlsson-Brown (co-investigator)
- Sarah Weakley (co-investigator)
- Jane Cullingworth (research associate/knowledge broker)
- Laura Lebec (research intern)
- Katie Fraser (research intern).
 Armstrong, S. & Fletcher, M. (2021). ‘It starts with Conversations’: report on civic engagement in the College of Social Sciences. University of Glasgow.
Inage credit: JasonDoiy | iStockphoto