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.