Finding the community in sustainable online community engagement: Not-for-profit organisation websites, service-learning and research
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The research used a three-phase ethnographic action research approach. The first phase was a content analysis and review of the editing records of 135 organisational websites hosted by the SOCE project. The second phase was an online survey sent to 145 community organisation members responsible for the management of these websites, resulting in 48 responses. The third phase consisted of semi-structured, in-depth interviews with 18 of the website managers from 12 of these organisations. The research revealed the extent to which organisations were unable to manage their websites and found that the proposed solution of an online community would not be useful. More importantly, it suggested other useful strategies which have been implemented. In Furco’s (2010) model of the engaged campus, public engagement can be used to advance the public service, teaching and research components of higher education’s tripartite mission, but this requires a genuine and sustained process of listening to the community of which the institution is a part. The article argues that, with recent changes to government policy reducing funding to the community sector, an important role for universities is to engage with their communities in both teaching and research. Service-learning projects are often evaluated for learning and teaching outcomes and valued as aligning with university policy on community engagement, but there is potential to do more harm than good for community partners. The experience with the SOCE project demonstrates that effective community engagement must be based on research of what the community partners genuinely want and then assessed against those objectives. Research and community engagement should not be framed as mutually exclusive but understood as part of the same process.
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