Community Engaged Scholarship

Many SF State faculty are at the forefront of leading community engaged scholarship and we are rebuilding this page to reflect the many exemplary achievements, projects, and models that exist.  This page will also consist of guidelines and standards, support for RTP and building the WPAF, sample selection of leading journals that support community-engaged research across disciplines, and ways to build a cross-disciplinary intellectual community to support faculty work.  Please visit the Events page for details about upcoming workshops and events; we’re striving to support faculty in developing both community service learning (CSL) courses and creating rigorous and high-impact community-based research programs.

Over 25 years ago, Ernest L. Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in the 1990s, published seminal work called “Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate”; this was a premiere paper on the state of American higher education and its recognition and reward system for faculty scholarship. Key highlights from Boyer (read more):

  • The professoriate should recognize that each dimension of faculty work harnesses true scholarship and that one area (e.g., teaching) is not superior to the other areas.
  • Scholarship is divided into four categories: 1) discovery, 2) application, 3) integration, and 4) teaching.  Each is purposefully labeled as their own scholarship. The genius in this taxonomy is the equal leveling of all four areas.
  • The "scholarship of engagement" is further identified as a separate category that crosses each of the other four. In 1996, Boyer elaborates on its meaning in the Journal of Public Service and Outreach.
  • The basis for engagement scholarship is that it focuses on addressing community-defined needs. Whereas academia tends to support the notion that knowledge is universal (and the more universal the better), engagement scholarship frequently focuses on the specific needs, the environment, constraints, and purposes of a given community.
  • It is local in respect to space (a particular community), time (an issue that is current), and method (which depends on local resources and opportunities). Because engagement scholarship is often concerned with issues defined by the community itself, it can be considered ordinary, not in the derogatory sense of being uninteresting, but rather as a customary occurrence in a community in need.
  • The product of engaged scholarship is often intended, both in action and expression, for an audience outside the world of academia.

At SF State's Institute for Civic and Community Engagement, our mission is to promote engaged scholarship that makes a real difference in the lives of the communities we serve. At first glance, this may seem like an everyday endeavor, promoting scholarship that is locally focused on contemporary problems that are ordinary and producing reports developed for a target audience of community partners. Quite the contrary!  This is the most exciting, meaningful, and cutting-edge work that we have ever encountered! 

What we strive to do at ICCE:

  • We combine the knowledge processes of our great urban university, with the knowledge assets of our constituent communities, to bring about positive social change.
  • We accept that our work may be:
    • stressed with challenges, equal in complexity to anything occurring in more traditional forms of research;
    • inspired by innovations of tremendous creativity; and
    • result in knowledge that is profound and often life altering for scholars and community members, alike.
    • We embrace the power of community service learning in making a difference to the growth of our students and/or community-based participatory research. This occurs by discovering effective practices, such as addressing health disparities or encouraging social entrepreneurship.  
    • We hope our work can also help change the way businesses provide for the common good and contribute to making a difference through social and environmental justice.

Best of all, new approaches are gaining acceptance in an ever-widening arena, placing engaged scholarship on the forefront of academic discovery, integration, and application. All of these approaches, and more, are within the purview of the Institute; if you have any ideas that you’d like to explore, we would love to hear from you!

While there are many forms of community-engaged scholarship, community-based participatory research (CBPR) has had the benefits of evolving out of the others and being the most intentionally reciprocal.

CBPR is research that is conducted as an equal partnership between traditionally trained "experts" and members of a community. In CBPR projects, the community partner participates fully in all aspects of the research process.1 CBPR encourages collaboration of formally trained research partners from any area of expertise, provided that the researcher provides expertise that is seen as useful to the investigation by the community, and be fully committed to a partnership of equals and producing outcomes usable to the community.

Equitable partnerships require sharing power, resources, credit, results, and knowledge, as well as a reciprocal appreciation of each partner's knowledge and skills at each stage of the project, including problem definition/issue selection, research design, conducting research, interpreting the results, and determining how the results should be used for action.

CBPR differs from traditional research in many ways. One of the principal ways in which it is different is that instead of creating knowledge for the advancement of a field or for knowledge's sake, CBPR is an iterative process, incorporating research, reflection, and action in a cyclical process.

According to the WK Kellogg Foundation Community Health Scholars Program, Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) is a “collaborative approach to research that equitably involves all partners in the research process and recognizes the unique strengths that each brings. CBPR begins with a research topic of importance to the community, has the aim of combining knowledge with action and achieving social change to improve (health) outcomes and eliminate (health) disparities.”

There is evidence that the most learning occurs and the best knowledge is generated when students are involved. Research by the Pew Partnership for Civic Change and Campus Compact shows that CBPR works best when integrated into academic coursework. This combination of CBPR and service-learning pedagogies increases student learning and greatly increases sustainability and outcomes of the community work.

1Minkler and Wallerstein, ed. (2008). Community-Based Participatory Research for Health: From Process to Outcomes.

Action research can be described as a family of research methodologies that pursue action (or change) and research (or understanding) at the same time.

"In its simplest form: Action research is a way of generating research about a social system while simultaneously attempting to change that system. While conventional social science aims at producing knowledge about social systems (some of which may eventually prove useful to those wishing to effect change), action research seeks both to understand and to alter the problems generated by social systems."1

Principles of action research:

  • Uses a cyclic or spiral process, which alternates between action and critical reflection and in the later cycles, continuously refining methods, data and interpretation in the light of the understanding developed in the earlier cycles.
  • It is thus an emergent process that takes shape as understanding increases; it is an iterative process that converges towards a better understanding of what happens.2

Community-Based Research is in the community and benefits the community. Community-based Research takes place in community settings and involves community members in the design and implementation of research projects, demonstrates respect for the contributions of success that are made by community partners, as well as respect for the principle of "doing no harm" to the communities involved.

In order to achieve these goals, the following principles should guide the development of research projects involving collaboration between the researchers and community partners, whether the community partners are formally structured community-based organizations or informal groups of individual community members.

Principles of Community-Based Research:

  • CBR is a collaborative enterprise between researchers (professors and/or students) and community members. It engages university faculty, students and staff with diverse partners and community members.
  • CBR validates multiple sources of knowledge and promotes the use of multiple methods of discovery and of dissemination or the knowledge produced.
  • CBR has as its goal: social action and social change for the purpose of achieving social justice.
  • In most forms, it is also participative (among other reasons, change is usually easier to achieve when those affected by the change are involved) and it's qualitative.3

1Troppe, Marie. Participatory Action Research: Merging the Community and Scholarly Agendas. Providence: Campus Compact, 1994.

2Winter, Richard. Some principles and procedures for the conduct of action research. In Ortrun Zuber-Skerritt, editor, New Directions in Action Research. Routledge, 1st edition, August 1996.

3Community-Based Research and Higher Education: Principles and Practices  by Kerry Strand San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, c2003. 

According to Pew Charitable Trust:

  1. Community-Based Research (CBR) provides new opportunities to connect with the community and to apply research
  2. CBR increases both "hard" and "soft" skills
  3. Junior and Senior faculty both benefit from CBR
    • Junior faculty like entree into the community
    • Senior faculty like to try something new
    • Both like being on cutting edge of publishing and presenting options
  4. In spite of some evidence that CBR can negatively impact the efforts of faculty to gain tenure, etc., faculty report that the “cumulative effect of individual faculty members' involvement in community partnerships was having a positive impact at the departmental and university levels, contributing significantly to institutional buy-in.”

Named in honor of Dr. Gerald (“Jerry”) Eisman, the Eisman Award for Engaged Scholarship provides university-wide recognition of highly engaged community-based scholarship collaborations that positively impact both the community and research/creative works endeavors.  

Jerry Eisman

The Eisman Award for Engaged Scholarship is awarded annually through the Call to Service Initiative grants. 

The Chancellor’s Office (CO)has called for two common attributes and definitions of Service Learning (CSLI) and Curricular Community-Engaged Learning (CCEL) across all CSUs to improve data collection, assessment, and information transparency with students. CO definitions have been designed to encompass existing campus definitions (not supersede).  

The attributes will be implemented through a faculty survey managed through the CO's CalStateS4 and ICCE. The survey will be disseminated to faculty teaching a wide variety of community-engaged courses. Based on a faculty member's response to the survey, a course will receive either the CSLI or CCEL attribute. 

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