University-Community Engagement: What does it mean?

Jenny Onyx


This article reflects on the nature of Community-University engagement from a research focus. This entails several steps. In this I start with ‘engagement’ and what that might mean in the context of a University-based research centre. I then reflect on the nature of ‘community’ and the significance of the third sector globally and in Australia. The Centre for Australian Community Organisations and Management (CACOM) was the first research centre in Australia, and one of the first in the world designed explicitly to study the Community Sector and its impact. The article outlines one significant research program that emerged from the work of CACOM, namely the story of social capital research. This research was initiated by a request from community partners, and was carried out in collaboration with them. The research program led to several significant research projects which have had a major impact on theory and public policy. It challenges the nature of the University as ‘expert’ and illustrates the co-production of knowledge. The article concludes by discussing the various roles that the University can play within the co-production of research knowledge with the community, as collaborator in the research process itself, as mediator in the development of linking social capital between community and more powerful players, and as the potential site for independent and critical analysis.

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