By Giedre Kligyte, Mieke van der Bijl-Brouwer, Jarnae Leslie, Tyler Key, Bethany Hooper and Eleanor Salazar
How can universities leverage students’ perspectives to create pathways towards lasting organisational change in higher education? How can we conceptualise institutional impact and outcomes of transdisciplinary student-staff partnerships?
Why student-staff partnerships?
Student-staff partnerships is an emerging approach to collaboration between students and staff members to create more egalitarian learning cultures in universities. Through partnerships, students are typically engaged in co-creating aspects of curriculum and student-facing university initiatives (such as service design), acknowledging students as having authority in their learning experience.
The Partnership Outcome Spaces framework
We adopted and extended the Transdisciplinary Outcome Spaces model described by Mitchell and colleagues (see also Mitchell et al., 2015) to develop a Partnership Outcome Spaces framework which enabled us to reconceptualise the purpose, scale and impact of process-oriented student-staff partnerships.
We propose four partnership outcome spaces (also shown in the figure below):
- The situation outcome space is the challenge that student-staff partnerships seek to address, for example, issues in curriculum, learning and teaching, or whole-of-institution practices. Improving the problem situation is generally the focal point of the activity that brings a student-staff partnership together.
- The knowledge outcome space highlights that new knowledge is often created through unusual configurations of expertise and institutional roles around a shared problem space.
- The learning outcome space is defined as both growth and development in each individual partner’s knowledge and skills, as well as mutual learning.
- The relationships outcome space emphasises that the evolution of relationships through the process of partnership is a worthy outcome in itself.
Reflexivity and a structured partnership methodology are placed at the centre of the Partnership Outcomes Spaces framework, as these are enablers of fruitful student-staff partnerships.
The framework is useful for planning and evaluating outcomes of any student-staff partnership but could also be used in the longer-term to explore how a range of student-staff initiatives might cumulatively shape university contexts.
Based on our experience as a team of university staff members and (now) graduates, who worked in partnership on a university wellbeing initiative in 2018-2019, we offer three key insights.
1. Engage in deliberate relational work
For students to be seen as true partners in such projects, we need to move away from ‘sticky’ labels such as ‘student consultation’ and ‘student users.’ A key challenge is that the relational patterns and perceptions of responsibilities in universities tend to be inflexible and reproduce organisational conventions: existing patterns of relations, categories and structures. The openness and fluidity of student-staff partnership processes challenge the more rigid understandings of institutional roles and responsibilities. Systems thinkers argue that to change relationships we need to change the way we think about these relationships. Therefore, deliberate relational work between various university constituents is central to enabling a change towards a partnership ethos.
2. Establish explicit reflexive processes
Partnership work needs to be supported by reflexive processes designed to specifically probe conceptions about roles and responsibilities. In our work, deliberate mechanisms for structured reflexive conversation enabled us to change how we saw each other; and the language of partnership helped us reframe relationships in the team. A well-considered methodology is required to facilitate this reflexive process; it does not simply emerge by completing project tasks.
3. Adopt a co-evolutionary approach to conceptualising impact of partnership initiatives
The success of partnership initiatives should not be conceptualised solely as a delivery of individual project outcomes, and their impact should not be judged purely on the basis of implementation of proposals. An on-going process fostering various types of student-staff partnerships can contribute to on-going co-evolution of the four partnership outcome spaces, such as building institutional relationships and developing shared knowledge about a given challenge space in a university. In this way an institutional trajectory towards shared goals and a partnership ethos can evolve. In our work, we discovered that the transformative potential of partnership initiatives is that they nudge the university towards a more positive direction through ongoing and iterative enactment of partnership practices.
The less-tangible aspects of transdisciplinary student-staff partnerships deserve attention and deliberate design. The Partnership Outcome Spaces framework helps articulate the diversity of possible outcomes, encouraging student-staff partnership participants to negotiate collective and individual commitments and compromises.
If you are involved in student-staff or transdisciplinary partnerships, do these insights resonate with you? What lessons have you learnt? How can we develop more systematic approaches to advancing partnership ethos in our universities and organisations?
To find out more:
Kligyte, G., van der Bijl-Brouwer, M., Leslie, J., Key, T., Hooper, B. and Salazar, E. (2021). A Partnership Outcome Spaces framework for purposeful student-staff partnerships. Teaching in Higher Education. (Online – early access) (DOI): https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2021.1940924
Mitchell, C., Cordell, D. and Fam, D. (2015). Beginning at the end: The outcome spaces framework to guide purposive transdisciplinary research. Futures, 65: 86–96. Open access: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0016328714001682
Giedre Kligyte PhD is a lecturer within the Transdisciplinary School (TD School) at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in Australia. In her research, she explores how different perspectives and relationships across organisational roles, silos and disciplinary divisions can be creatively leveraged to create ‘third spaces’ – spaces where difference, experimentation and co-creation are embraced to stimulate mutual learning, new ways of thinking and creativity.
Mieke van der Bijl-Brouwer PhD is an associate professor at Delft University of Technology’s Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering in the Netherlands and an adjunct fellow at the Transdisciplinary School (TD School) at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in Australia. She investigates how design practices, complexity thinking, and transdisciplinary collaboration contribute to tackling complex societal challenges. She has a particular interest in designing for human relationships, and enabling mutual learning and creativity in complex contexts.
Jarnae Leslie is a PhD candidate and casual academic at the Transdisciplinary School (TD School) at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in Australia. She examines ambitious city waste reduction targets identifying key characteristics, challenges (including barriers or enablers), and boundary objects at play. Her passion lies in exploring complex systems, collaborative relationships, behaviour change, language, spatial design and sustainable futures building.
Tyler Key is an associate lecturer in the Transdisciplinary School (TD School) at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in Australia. He teaches into the Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation and is a First and Further Year Experience Co-coordinator assisting students in transitioning into and out of university. He works with a clear purpose of improving the wellbeing of students through engagement in UTS-wide projects focused on creating a holistic approach to wellbeing in the university space.
Bethany Hooper is a graduate in Creative Intelligence & Innovation and Design in Architecture at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in Australia. She practices as an architectural assistant and is currently undertaking a Masters of Architecture at the University of Sydney.
Eleanor Salazar is a graduate in Creative Intelligence & Innovation and Communications at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in Australia. Currently, she works as a community associate at WeWork, an organisation specialising in co-working spaces.
8 thoughts on “A Partnership Outcome Spaces framework for transdisciplinary student-staff partnerships”
Giedre, Mieke, Jarnae, Tyler, Bethany and Eleanor..
Thanks for your great paper on student-staff partnerships – a refreshing approach to service delivery and capability development. It constantly surprises me that organisations (not just HE institutions) outsource a lot of this important work rather than setting up frameworks and investing in ‘deliberate relational work’ to harness the creativity, insights and goodwill within their own intellectual capital. The amount of learning and its impact in the intentionally ‘explicit reflexive’ processes for the partners (staff, students) probably outweighs much of the learning that happens in regular coursework, and builds a fantastic portfolio of work.
Please keep us updated on future partnership activities.
Thanks so much for your generous feedback, Chris! I agree that the institutional learning with and by its constitutive community is something that universities could certainly embrace more! Just to let you know, there’s a thriving community in Australian universities that works with partnerships approaches (often referred to as Students as Partners). Western Sydney University will be hosting a national Students as Partners Roundtable in November (online), which might be of interest if you’re keen to explore these types of university-based partnership initiatives further: https://www.saproundtable21.com/
Great to connect!
Great to see the idea of relationality being made more explicit.
Our implicit ways of working with TD (transdisciplinarity) is that relationality is the underlying principle of each of these outcomes spaces. For example, what are the ways of relationing (i.e. complementary, distinctive, integrative, evolutionary) of various knowledges and ways of knowing? The transformative learning enabled within a transdisciplinary process is towards more complex and relational ways of perceiving the world, and it’s through meaningful experiences of relationing with our partners and colleagues that we create the conditions for transformative learning. And in terms of change in the situation, fostering meaningful relationships is one of the most crucial outcomes, as it’s through the relationships developed, that the impact of the transdisciplinary process continues to grow.
Considering relationality is an underlying principle of all outcome spaces, do you see the addition of the ‘Relationship’ space specifically referring to ‘student-teacher’?
Thanks for your blogpost
Thanks, Dena, for your generous comments. ‘Relationing’ is such a fabulous concept – we do need a verb like that! Great question whether relationality is more fruitfully seen as a principle underpinning TD (transdisciplinary) collaborations or an outcome of these collaborations. In our case, I feel that naming relationality as an outcome enabled us to move away from the idea that the impact of these initiatives has to be necessarily about the material improvement in the problem situation (similar to the premise of your paper). In short term initiatives (like many student-staff partnerships are), the often intangible relational infrastructures that develop and grow incrementally as a result of doing this work, are often overlooked (ie. they are beyond the scope of a single initiative). So I feel that naming relationships as an outcome allows for this work to become more visible, and hopefully more valued.
In our case we think about ‘reflexivity’ as the key enabler of moving ‘towards more complex and relational ways of perceiving the world‘, but I can see how relationality can also be seen as a core principle of TD work too. I think the key question is whether relationality is better seen as the ‘what’ or the ‘how’ of TD collaborations. I wonder if other readers of this blog have any thoughts about that.
I would not necessarily limit relationality as an outcome to ‘student-staff’ partnerships. I think in any context where new constellations of players are emerging, and where the existing roles or categories are holding the system in an undesirable state, new forms of relationality can be a worthwhile outcome in and of itself.
I would love to read more about the taxonomy of relationing you highlighted (i.e. complementary, distinctive, integrative, evolutionary) – in our case, we approached it more as co-evolutionary relationality (eg. opening up the categories of ‘student’ and ‘teaching staff’ in a given problem space). Our upcoming paper expands on the co-evolution of other wellbeing initiatives and grapples with the longer-term evolution of these initiatives more explicitly. It would be fabulous to continue this conversation!
Hi Geidre and all,
I’m glad you like the term ‘relationing’, Katie Ross, Ulli Vilsmaier and I are writing a paper at the moment on how relationing is the fundamental logic and perception of Trandisciplinary processes and outcomes.
If you wanted to reference some existing work there is of course Katie Ross’ fantastic PhD thesis specifically on this issue, you can find her thesis here:
Ross K. (2020), Transforming the ways we create change: experiencing and cultivating transformative sustainability learning (on the UTS Library website at http://hdl.handle.net/10453/149105).
and a recent paper as well…
Lange E., O’Neill J. & Ross K., (2021) Education during the great transformation : Relational approaches and transformative sustainability education, Studies in Adult Education and Learning, 27(1), 23-46DOI: https://doi.org/10.4312/as/9692
Look forward to seeing the next version of this work
Thanks Giedre. Powerful to see wellbeing foregrounded in this way, and I love the way you hint at a dissolving at the edges of traditional roles and power structures. It will be wonderful when we are able to articulate subtle shifts in relational infrastructure the way we (think we) can in physical infrastructure :-). And I’m looking forward to seeing that paper in the works – I’m quite certain that building our capacity to engage with difference beyond disciplinary and role (ie around values and worldviews) is essential for expanding transdisciplinary and Integration and Implementation Sciences (i2S) work.
Wonderful extension of our model – thank you for engaging with it so thoughtfully. I love the idea of making relational/relationship development/enrichment explicit, and I’m particularly interested in how you describe the qualities of relationship – in other words, what is it that changes (or ought to change), and how? what kinds of changes are more or less preferable, and why?
Great question, Cynthia! In this particular exploration, we’re thinking about change or evolution of relationships as challenging the existing categories and assumptions about what specific organisational roles might entail (eg. what is expected if your institutional role is ‘student’). The ‘partnership’ framing in this case study allowed to open up the student-teacher dyad and renegotiate the nature of this relationship (so at the end of the project we were not quite ‘students’ and not quite ‘teachers’ anymore). The change in relationship with institutional stakeholders was more subtle and perhaps more future-oriented – it strengthened trust and created a relational infrastructure for other projects and initiatives in the wellbeing space.
But yes, a great question about the ‘quality’ of this relationship and whether any change in relationship is good change. There is another paper in the works where we explore the role of values and purpose in a much more explicit way. The ‘why’ that gives a directionality to these types of initiatives is extremely important to the evolution of relationships, and we probably should have foregrounded it more. Thanks for reading our work!