Brokering Community-campus Partnerships: An Analytical Framework

Gateways: International Journal of Community Research and Engagement, Vol. 11, No. 1 May 2018
ISSN 1836-3393 | Published by UTS ePRESS |


Brokering Community-campus Partnerships: An Analytical Framework

Charles Z Levkoe1*, Holly Stack-Cutler2

1 Department of Health Sciences, Faculty of Behavioural Sciences, Lakehead University, 955 Oliver Road, Thunder Bay, Ontario, P7B 5E1, Canada

2 Faculty of Extension, 10230-Jasper Ave, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB T5J 4P6, Canada

*Corresponding author: Charles Z Levkoe;


Article history: Received 19/05/2017; Revised 28/11/2018; Accepted 14/12/2017; Published 25/05/2018

Citation: Levkoe, C. Z. and Stack-Cutler, H. 2018. Brokering Community-campus Partnerships: An Analytical Framework. Gateways: International Journal of Community Research and Engagement, 11:1, pp. 1-19.

© 2018 by the author(s). This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License (, allowing third parties to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and to remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially, provided the original work is properly cited and states its license.


Academic institutions and community-based organisations have increasingly recognised the value of working together to meet their different objectives and address common societal needs. In an effort to support the development and maintenance of these partnerships, a diversity of brokering initiatives has emerged. We broadly describe these initiatives as coordinating mechanisms that act as intermediaries with the aim of developing collaborative and sustainable partnerships that provide mutual benefit. A broker can be an individual or an organisation that helps connect and support relationships and shares knowledge. To date, there has been little scholarly discussion or analysis of the various elements of these initiatives that contribute to successful community-campus partnerships. In an effort to better understand where these features may align or diverge, we reviewed a sample of community-campus brokering initiatives across North America, Canada and the United Kingdom to identify their different roles and activities. From this review, we developed a framework to delineate characteristics of different brokering initiatives to better understand their contribution to successful partnerships. The framework is divided into two parts. The first part examines the different structural allegiances of the brokering initiative by identifying the affiliation and principle purpose, and who received the primary benefits. The second part considers the dimensions of brokering activities in respect of their level of engagement, platforms used, scale of activity, and area of focus. The intention of the community-campus engagement brokering framework is to provide an analytical tool for academics and community-based practitioners engaged in teaching and research partnerships. The categories describing the different structures and dimensions of the brokering initiative will encourage participants to think through the overall goals and objectives of the partnership and adapt the initiative accordingly.


brokering initiatives; community-based research; community-campus engagement; partnerships; service learning


Academic institutions and community-based organisations have increasingly recognised the value of working together to meet their different objectives and address common societal needs. Building effective research and teaching collaborations between communities (e.g. organisations in the private, public and non-profit sectors) and academics (e.g. postsecondary students, postdoctoral fellows, instructors, professors and their institutions) have resulted in many fruitful outcomes (Buys & Bursnall 2007; Hart, Maddison &Wolff 2007). Schwartz et al. (2016, p. 178) explain that community-campus partnerships can provide ‘an avenue to address challenges that face society in new and innovative ways by bringing together knowledge, tools, and skills not previously combined’. Examples exist across a range of sectors and issue areas including community food security (Andrée et al. 2014; Andrée et al. 2016), poverty reduction (Calderόn 2007; Schwartz et al. 2016), violence against women (Bell et al. 2004; Jaffe, Berman & MacQuarrie 2011), and community environmental sustainability (Baker 2006; Molnar et al. 2010), to name only a few. While a diversity of approaches exists, in ideal conditions of community-campus engagement (CCE), partners share decision-making and equalise power throughout the research process (Lindamer et al. 2009), co-develop mutually beneficial outputs and outcomes (Levkoe et al. 2016; Naqshbandi et al. 2011), build capacity for under-resourced community-based organisations (Baquet 2012; Sandy & Holland 2006), engage new perspectives to increase knowledge (McNall et al. 2009), and sustain an ability to work together beyond the life of a specific project (Naqshbandi et al. 2011).

Despite the many successes, community-based practitioners involved in CCE have faced a number of challenges. While community groups typically enter into research relationships being promised mutually beneficial outcomes, studies show that academics and their institutions often benefit far more from these kinds of partnerships (Alcantara et al. 2015; Bortolin 2011; Cronley, Madden & Davis 2015). For community partners, barriers to participating in CCE can include limited time and resources to fully engage (Keyte 2014; Lantz et al. 2001), minimal support for building and maintaining partnerships (Dorow, Stack-Cutler & Varnhagen 2011; Petri 2015; Sandy & Holland 2006), power imbalances (Schwartz et al. 2016), lack of trust (Lantz et al. 2001; Petri 2015) and high levels of staff and volunteer turnover (Keyte 2014; Schwartz et al. 2016; Van Devanter et al. 2011). Despite recognition of these challenges, institutional structures are typically designed to support academics (Cronley, Madden & Davis 2015; Dempsey 2010; Ward & Wolf-Wendel 2000). Studies have also identified significant barriers faced by academics when participating in CCE, including having limited time and resources and being discouraged from community-engaged pedagogies through tenure and promotion structures (Levkoe, Brial & Danier 2014). While most responses tend to occur on a case-by-case basis, some have called for more institutionalised and sustained support mechanisms (Chen 2013; Dorow, Stack-Cutler & Varnhagen, 2011).

CCE brokers have emerged as one response to these challenges. In this article, we broadly describe brokering initiatives as coordinating mechanisms that act as intermediaries between community-based organisations and academic institutions with an aim to develop collaborative and sustainable partnerships. A broker is an individual or organisation that helps connect and support relationships and share knowledge. While many different forms of brokering initiatives have emerged, there has been little synthesis or analysis on the various features of these initiatives that contribute to successful partnerships. Most brokering initiatives share a common goal of fostering relationships between community and campus partners; yet, they tend to be heterogeneous in their motivations, mandates, organisational structures, target groups, activities, and the sectors they serve. Because brokering initiatives differ on so many dimensions, it is necessary to consider their similarities and differences and assess which elements may be valuable for a particular type of CCE.

In this article, we present a framework for comparative analysis that identifies the different features, roles and activities of CCE brokering initiatives. This framework provides an analytical tool for academics and community-based practitioners to reflect on how the different characteristics of brokering initiatives may contribute to successful CCE partnerships. We begin by summarising the relevant literature, describing key features of CCE brokers, their different functions, and the various factors for success and challenges they face.

Describing and differentiating CCE brokering initiatives

Brokering initiatives aim to support participants at different stages of a partnership and vary depending on their structures, targeted populations and specific activities. Experiences of CCE tend to be context-specific and a CCE broker’s role is dependent on the specific project and the needs and assets of each partner. Brokering initiatives must also be flexible and open to change depending on the phase of the relationship. Tennyson (2005) identified three key differences, which provide a basis for understanding how brokering initiatives might function in different situations. First, she described internal brokers as those working within one of the partnering organisations and taking responsibility for preparing and conditioning the different actors, representing the organisation for the duration of the partnership, and managing various aspects of the collaboration. Internal brokers bring together relevant partners but may also share in decision-making throughout a project. These functions can be compared to those of external brokers who may be contracted by the partners to set up agreements, build capacity, and/or maintain and track ongoing effectiveness. External brokers support partners and equip them with tools to ensure the project is moving forward, but tend to take on little, if any, decision-making responsibility. Second, a broker can be an individual or a team working within or outside one of the partner organisations and tasked with building relationships on behalf of the organisation. Third, proactive brokers initiate and build partnerships, while reactive brokers coordinate partnerships or implement decisions on an organisation’s behalf. While some CCE brokers play a key role in developing a partnership, others support a partnership after its initiation. The three differences identified by Tennyson demonstrate that brokers can take on many roles, depending on the particular partners’ needs.

Besides recognising the many differences, Tennyson and Baksi (2016) point to a series of common roles and activities among brokers. These include supporting partners throughout the phases in the partnership cycle from scoping and building (e.g. providing outreach and opportunities to engage, managing expectations), managing and maintaining (e.g. facilitating dialogue and governance arrangements, problem-solving), reviewing and revising (e.g. establishing and implementing an ongoing evaluation plan, supporting changes to the partnership) to sustaining outcomes (e.g. knowledge mobilisation, celebrating achievements, managing closure/next steps). Given the variation in the needs of partners and partnership phases, brokers are likely to take on many roles within and across projects, developing a suite of skills to support and benefit partnerships. While some brokering initiatives take on a single role across community-campus partnerships, such as making an initial connection between two partners, others assume a combination of roles, supporting partners throughout the life of a project.

Specific to community-campus projects, CCE brokers act as an intermediary between community-based organisations and academic institutions. They have been shown to support community and academic partners in designing and implementing a project, establishing initial connections, delivering skills training, problem-solving, supervising students’ community-engaged research and learning activities, evaluating a project’s impact, and using results to improve future programs while contributing to positive changes in communities (Keating & Sjoquist 2000; Phipps, Johnny & Wedlock 2015; Tennyson 2014). CCE brokers have also promoted learnings and insights, and addressed concerns of power and resource imbalance by ensuring community and campus partners share control equitably (Keating & Sjoquist 2000; Phipps, Johnny & Wedlock 2015). In addition, because community organisations and universities face high levels of personnel turnover, CCE brokers can help by sustaining a project over the long term (Keating & Sjoquist 2000). To avoid leaving community-based organisations with unfinished projects, CCE brokers can help overcome constraints of an academic schedule by continuing to complete tasks after the end of a term.

In particular, brokering initiatives can be an accessible and responsive point of contact (Keating & Sjoquist 2000). For example, community-based organisations have expressed interest in having platforms to share research needs and interests, connect with academics and learn about opportunities for professional development (Dorow, Stack-Cutler & Varnhagen 2011; Tryon & Stoecker 2008). Brokering initiatives use physical platforms that include providing accessible office space and community workspaces, and staging events that bring partners and other stakeholders together. They also use virtual platforms such as websites, forums and matchmaking databases to bring diverse partners together to share ideas and information, especially when they are not in the same place. Lacking, however, is an understanding of how these different activities meet partners’ needs and the opportunities and limitations faced by CCE brokers when developing collaborations.

Factors for success and challenges of brokering initiatives

In this section, we draw on the existing scholarly literature to highlight factors for success and challenges in initiating and maintaining brokering initiatives and CCE partnerships.

Factors for Success

During the early stages of developing a brokering initiative, significant planning and investment is required (Tryon & Ross 2012). To improve the chances for success when setting up a brokering initiative, Pauzé and Level 8 Leadership Institute (2013) stressed the importance of first identifying the goals of the brokering initiative and then selecting a governance structure accordingly. Further, studies have found that brokering initiatives can benefit from having more formalised administrative infrastructure (Keating & Sjoquist 2000), a clear definition of their relationship with partnerships (Tennyson 2005), established guidelines and tools to address partners’ needs (Phipps, Johnny & Wedlock 2015) and flexibility in providing long-term support (Dorow, Stack-Cutler & Varnhagen 2011).

CCE brokers must also give significant attention to planning before brokering partnerships and initiating projects. For example, brokers at the Institute for Sustainable Solutions at Portland State University developed a strategy screen to map out potential impacts and the resources required by partners to help them decide on appropriate CCE projects. Accordingly, an ideal project should have a high impact while requiring low resources from community partners (Holliday, DeFalco & Sherman 2015). By considering the purpose of the brokering initiative and the capacity of the community-based organisation, CCE brokers can assess existing capacity (e.g. time, human resources, funds) to identify ways they can best support the partners as a project progresses (Keating & Sjoquist 2000). This is especially important, considering that both academic and community partners tend to lack sufficient time and resources for CCE.

Brokering initiatives can help academics share knowledge and research skills with community partners and address perceptions of CCE’s uneven benefits (Keating & Sjoquist 2000; Ward & Wolf-Wendel 2000). To address issues of limited community capacity and trust, brokering initiatives can develop funding agreements to more equitably share financial resources, an activity complicated by most academic funding structures (Lantz et al. 2001; Naqshbandi et al. 2011; Phipps, Johnny & Wedlock 2015). Building trust, however, takes time and commitment, and is a long-term process. Indeed, Evans and McClinton-Brown (2016), brokers from the Stanford University Office of Community Health, attempted to build on their many years of community-based work and their pre-existing relationships in an attempt to establish a community advisory board to support CCE efforts. Yet, they found that, in working out of the university, community members did not feel connected and many voiced feelings of alienation from the process. Through persistence and negotiation with the community advisory board members, an understanding was eventually established and the partnership was able to move forward. Likewise, in developing a pan-Canadian network of partners in First Nations communities, Naqshbandi et al. (2011) stressed the importance of valuing the different ways of knowing among the partners in order to be able to communicate in a manner that honoured and respected those involved (see Stiegman & Castleden 2015).

To achieve stability, CCE brokers benefit from identifying problems, developing strategies for overcoming challenges, putting plans in place, and providing ongoing evaluations (Naqshbandi et al. 2011). Brokering initiatives also require competent and consistent leadership to sustain themselves and the partnerships they support (Ivery 2010). As techniques and tools are refined, successful brokers are often able to empower and support the different partners without excessively controlling the partnership (Partnership Brokers Association 2012). In this way, they can play a management role, investing time and commitment but also being flexible as priorities develop and change (Lindamer et al. 2009). Tennyson (2005, p. 5) advised:

Good brokering is not a substitute for good partnering. It is always the partners themselves that are central to, and ultimately responsible for, making their partnership work. So a good broker works continuously to build capacity and systems within the partnership – thereby promoting healthy interdependence between the partners rather than partner dependence on the broker.

Maintaining and sustaining brokering activities involves evaluating the process and developing strategies for continued engagement (Burke 2013; Evans & McClinton-Brown 2016). To establish an evidence-based process for monitoring brokering initiatives, Phipps, Johnny and Wedlock (2015) recommended tracking a broad range of outputs, including the number of opportunities for partnerships, the number of partnerships attempted, the number of partnerships developed, the reasons partnerships did not develop, and the impact of projects on partners. A utilisation-focused evaluation approach allows brokering initiatives to examine the partnership throughout the stages of the research process (Mundy 2013), which helps to identify successful partnership characteristics, key benefits, and challenges that can then be assessed (Hundal 2013; McNall et al. 2009). The Partnership Brokers Association (2016) recommends brokers use specific tools for self-assessment and professional reflection rather than reflecting generally on the partnership.


There are several pitfalls that can affect the success of brokering initiatives. One common challenge occurs when CCE brokers fail to find the right balance between directing the partnership and letting the partners lead. If brokers hold too tightly to their own ideas, it can be detrimental to the partnership (Partnership Brokers Association 2012). Thus, it is important for CCE brokers to know when to step back (Evans & McClinton-Brown 2016).

Another common challenge for CCE brokers is having to navigate project partners’ perceptions and assumptions of research in general, and those of brokers in particular. For instance, while internal brokers may be well-informed and have experience working through organisational issues, partners may perceive them as biased in favour of their own organisation’s way of operating and reluctant to accept new ideas. External brokers can be impartial to organisational politics, while partners may view them as being too distant and less committed when difficulties arise (Tennyson 2005). Because CCE brokers can be situated within or outside a partnership or community, they must proactively address partners’ concerns.

Limited resources or a lack of core funding can also challenge the ability of a broker to provide useful services to sustain partnerships and projects (Naqshbandi et al. 2011). Without consistent funding sources, CCE brokers tend to devote significant effort towards grant writing (Baquet 2012; Keating & Sjoquist 2000). Keating and Sjoquist (2000, pp. 155–156) found that, in some instances, ‘the choice of projects that are undertaken is largely determined by whatever kinds of projects are popular with funding agencies. The needs of communities can be overlooked if they do not require the kinds of projects that funding agencies are willing to underwrite.’ The reluctance of academic and community participants to participate in time-consuming projects that do not yield outputs that are directly beneficial (e.g. publications, funding, policy change) can challenge CCE brokers. When project partners feel overburdened by excessive meetings, participation and enthusiasm within community advisory committees has been found to decrease (Keating & Sjoquist 2000). Of note, just as community and academic partners interested in CCE struggle to find sufficient resources, brokers too are not immune to these challenges.

Despite the valuable insights generated in the literature thus far, limited documentation exists about the specific role CCE brokers play and ways they can establish and maintain more mutually beneficial partnerships. In response, we present an analytical framework to articulate the potential contributions of brokering initiatives to community-campus partnerships. We reflect on learnings from our review, highlight the opportunities and limitations of our analytical framework, and provide suggestions for future research and practice.

A review of community-campus brokering initiatives

The purpose of this review was to examine a sample of brokering initiatives, evaluate the commonalities and differences, and gain a better understanding of their contributions to successful community-campus partnerships. The initial research for this article was completed as part of the Community First: Impacts of Community Engagement Research partnership (CFICE; see We began by compiling a list of brokering initiatives through online searches of community organisations and academic institutions. Search terms included ‘broker’ and ‘brokerage’ by themselves and each combined with ‘partnership’, ‘community-university partnership’, ‘community-campus partnership’, ‘community-based research’, ‘community-engaged research’, and ‘community-driven’. From our search, we selected brokering initiatives that fell within our broad definition presented in the introduction to this article. We shared an initial list with a number of academics and community-based practitioners involved in CCE work to ensure accuracy and identify additional brokering initiatives we may have missed. From our review, we selected a sample of 23 different brokering initiatives within Canada, the US and the UK. While the brokering initiatives we reviewed varied significantly, the key criterion for inclusion in this study was that each brokering initiative’s mandate was to initiate and/or maintain partnerships between community and academic partners for the purpose of community-engaged teaching and research. For each initiative, we developed a profile, which included information gathered from websites and in some cases informal discussions with staff to obtain detailed descriptions of their work. Using cross-case analysis (Patton 2015), we categorised the information about each brokering initiative and established a classification system. After analysing the 23 brokering initiatives, we discontinued our search for new examples because we were no longer finding new information or codes to add to the dataset (Fusch & Ness 2015).

A framework for analysis

The brokering initiatives we reviewed revealed a range of services, focusing on a variety of partners and thematic areas. In considering the commonalities and differences, we identified variation in two key areas. First, from examining the different attributes by identifying affiliation, principle purpose and who received the primary benefit, and comparing this information, we generated five separate categories that delineate the basic structural allegiance of each brokering initiative: (1) community-based, (2) university-based, (3) community-university-based, (4) resource-based, and (5) brokering networks. Second, we classified brokering initiatives into four key dimensions that consider the kinds of activities being undertaken. These categories include (1) level of engagement, (2) type of platform, (3) scale of activities, and (4) area of focus. We then describe the categories within the analytical framework in which to situate different brokering initiatives. Following this description, we highlight ways this framework might be used to help inform decisions about the establishment, development and long-term sustainability of brokering initiatives.

Part 1: Structural Allegiance

Table 1 provides a description of each of the five categories of structural allegiance to indicate who CCE brokers are, what they do and the impact of their work, together with examples of the different brokering initiatives we reviewed.

Table 1 Summary of structural allegiance categories
Category Description Examples
Community-based brokering initiatives
  • Embedded in the community
  • Exist independently of academic institutions (many are registered as non-profit organisations, some have charitable status)
  • Facilitate opportunities for community organisations to collaborate with academics and/or researchers on community-driven projects
  • Prioritise community objectives and goals
  • Centre for Community Based Research (Canada)
  • Vibrant Communities Canada (Canada)
University-based brokering initiatives
  • Embedded within a university
  • Support faculty members, students and staff to engage in research and teaching partnerships with community groups
  • University-driven or community-driven projects
  • Community Engaged Scholarship Institute (Canada)
  • University-Community Partnerships (US)
Community-university-based brokering initiatives
  • Embedded within the community or a university; co-managed by a team of academic and community representatives
  • Assist community and campus partners in establishing partnerships
  • Prioritise community objectives and goals
  • The Helpdesk (University of Brighton, UK)
  • Trent Community Research Centre (Canada)
Resource-based brokering initiatives
  • Funding bodies offering a series of grant programs along with extended support services
  • Aim to broker relationships for various purposes
  • Provide training and consulting to academic and community partners
  • Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Canada)
  • National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (UK)
Brokering networks
  • Established as independent arrangements
  • Connect relevant stakeholders for a common purpose
  • Differ on prioritisation of community and university goals (depending on network)
  • Community-Campus Partnerships for Health (US)
  • Canadian Rural Research Network (Canada)

Community-based brokering initiatives are rooted in communities and their primary purpose is to provide opportunities for community organisations to collaborate with academics and/or professional researchers on projects that address community objectives. The initiatives we reviewed worked with individuals and organisations in the public, private and/or non-profit sectors to accomplish a range of tasks, such as defining research questions and developing proposals, making initial connections with potential academics and other research partners, managing community-driven research projects, and providing training and mentoring in community-based research for all participants involved. Brokers pay particular attention to each community’s needs and work to ensure the community’s priorities drive the project. Brokers work with partners to make sure knowledge is co-created and projects are action-oriented, meaning that partners can use findings to make positive changes within their communities. Brokers build the capacity of community partners and community members by collaboratively developing training opportunities and resources. Stakeholders often include staff members and volunteers from community-based organisations, community residents, marginalised groups, academic institutions and government ministries.

One example of a community-based brokering initiative is the Centre for Community Based Research ( Located in Waterloo, Canada, it is an independent non-profit organisation which aims to promote collaborative approaches to the co-production of knowledge and innovative solutions to community needs. The Centre is committed to social justice and employs community researchers with insider perspectives. It uses a participatory and action-oriented approach, bringing people together with diverse expertise to contribute to positive community change. A second example is Vibrant Communities Canada ( which engages a pan-Canadian audience to connect people, organisations, businesses and government to reduce poverty in Canada. Their efforts are community-driven and focus on supporting solutions to reducing poverty. Members connect through in-person events and online opportunities, including joining discussion groups or learning communities, contributing blog posts and searching member profiles.

University-based brokering initiatives typically aim to encourage the university population to engage in CCE through training, partnership matching, funding and ongoing support. These kinds of models may support initiatives such as science shops, service-learning courses, community-based research projects and community outreach services. Many of them also offer support for community-based organisations working with academics by providing a range of services such as facilitating initial connections and partnership development, and offering templates for partnership agreements, financial and human resources and troubleshooting on an ongoing basis. Academic institutions typically house and fund university-based brokers to meet institutional needs. While community partners play an important role in projects working with academic faculty or students, a key purpose of these brokering initiatives is to ensure academics have opportunities to conduct research and learn within community organisations.

The Community Engaged Scholarship Institute ( is one example of a university-based brokering initiative. It is located in Guelph, Canada, and acts as a hub for engaged scholarship within the University of Guelph and the broader community. Staff members work with faculty members and students, community-based organisations and government, building capacity for participation in community engagement and social innovation projects. The Institute leverages resources, builds and maintains partnerships, and addresses obstacles to participating in community-engaged research. Another example is University-Community Partnerships ( Located in East Lansing, US, it provides a range of services for developing research networks among campus partners at Michigan State University and community partners. Staff match university partners interested in working with a community group or partner on a grant proposal or maintaining a long-term campus partnership with a community group. University-Community Partnerships balances university and community needs and priorities, promoting projects that provide mutual benefits for all partners, build capacity in communities and encourage long-term partnerships within research networks.

As a hybrid of the previous two categories, community-university-based brokering initiatives are often managed by a team of academic staff, students and/or faculty, as well as community-based organisational representatives. Initiatives in this category are typically driven by both community and academic partners, although it is common to see explicit reference towards prioritising community objectives and goals. These types of brokering initiatives typically operate using a mix of resources from postsecondary institutions and external grant funding.

An example of a community-university-based brokering initiative is the Helpdesk of the Community University Partnership Programme (, housed at the University of Brighton in the UK. The Helpdesk’s work is community-driven and collaborative, with an emphasis on ensuring that community and academic partners are able to build equitable relationships and gain mutual benefit (Rodriguez & Millican 2007). It acts as a gateway to the university for both representatives from community-based organisations enquiring about funding for starting up a research project and faculty members who might have relevant research interest in collaborating on a project; and as a contact point for university staff and students interested in making contact with community-based organisations for collaborative research and teaching purposes. Initiated through philanthropic seed funding, the Helpdesk currently receives the majority of its funding through its university host. Another example is the Trent Community Research Centre ( located in Peterborough, Canada. The Centre is community-based, with project proposals prioritising community needs coming from community-based organisations. Brokers match Trent University students seeking to engage in community-based projects as volunteers or to fulfil part of their course work with community partners to conduct community-based research projects. They ensure that community partners’ priorities drive the project, as well as supporting the university students throughout the project.

Resource-based brokering initiatives include grant programs that provide resources to community-based organisations and academic researchers and/or institutions that aim to address key challenges through research and action. While some resource-based brokering initiatives simply provide monetary resources, others prefer to play a more active role in the partnership by taking on management responsibilities and/or offering extended support services such as training and knowledge mobilisation services. For example, the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada ( offers a series of grant programs to support partnerships between academics at different universities, as well as between businesses and non-profit organisations. Funds are granted to carry out research, training and knowledge mobilisation activities using approaches that involve partners collaborating and sharing leadership. Funds can be used to establish new partnerships, test partnership approaches and expand established partnerships. As a second example, the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (, located in Bristol, UK, supports universities throughout the UK to increase how often and how well they engage in community-based research and learning activities. It works with campus staff members and students to develop skills for community-engagement activities and offers training sessions (e.g. funding, impact, evaluation) and consultancy to researchers, research managers and staff members in community-based organisations.

Finally, brokering networks, the broadest of the brokering initiative categories, describe initiatives that tend to operate independently to foster relationships through a series of mechanisms. With brokering networks taking on a range of formal and informal structures, they often require little commitment from members and minimal resources to sustain. Networks can also work across geographies to provide a channel for sharing information, resources and ideas (Ontario Health Communities Coalition n.d.). Brokering networks offer opportunities to develop partnerships, collaborate on projects and share information in a more indirect way than the other four structures.

The Community-Campus Partnerships for Health ( is a membership-based CCE network that provides numerous opportunities to promote and connect communities and academic institutions around health equity and social justice (Community-Campus Partnerships for Health 2017). Through their website, multiple listservs and biennial conference, the network mobilises knowledge, provides training and technical assistance, conducts research, builds coalitions and advocates for supportive policies. As a brokering network, it unites community practitioners and academics from diverse fields around community-based participatory research principles and practices. On the other hand, the Canadian Rural Research Network ( acts as a hub for rural stakeholders across Canada, including academics, practitioners, formal and informal community groups, and government officials, to share research outputs. Members can stay up-to-date on rural research, connect with various rural stakeholders, and develop and maintain research partnerships. The Network has no budget, but is sustained by its members who serve on various committees.

Part 2: Dimensions

The second part of the framework involves four categories that speak to the kinds of activities undertaken by brokering initiatives. These categories address details of what CCE brokers do and how they develop programs, governance and infrastructure accordingly. Below we present a description of each of the four categories as well as examples of some of the different kinds of brokering initiatives.

First, level of engagement covers the frequency of support and duration of involvement that brokers have with stakeholders throughout a CCE project. The level of engagement of the different brokering initiatives can be conceived of as a continuum that meets the needs of CCE partnerships in a variety of ways. At one end are brokering initiatives that provide ‘light-touch’ engagement, which often involves CCE brokers having initial contact with partners, being less involved after the partnership has been established, and allowing the partners to take on leadership. For example, some brokering initiatives we reviewed supported community-engaged learning projects by pairing students with community-based organisations to fulfil coursework requirements, identifying faculty members to work with a particular community partner, and offering training sessions, one-time learning events, or meeting spaces to be used on an as needed basis. At the other end are brokering initiatives that offer a deep level of engagement. This involves establishing partnerships and playing an active role throughout the duration of the project by working with partners to manage and conduct community-driven research. The Trent Community Research Centre, for example, maintains contact with partners throughout the course of a project and sometimes beyond. These CCE brokers also engage in project-planning and decision-making, helping to secure project funding, and in the case of community-based research activities, playing a direct role in the research (e.g. data collection, analysis and interpretation, and knowledge mobilisation).

Second, brokering initiatives differed in respect of the types of platforms they used to manage services. Some brokering initiatives maintained a physical centre within an academic institution or an office in the community. Having a physical presence within a community or on campus allowed these types of brokering initiatives to host face-to-face meetings with community and university partners or make workspaces available for planning, data collection or informal discussions. Learning events, such as workshop series, presentation panels and informal meet-and-greets could also be used to bring community and academic partners together for face-to-face interaction. Other brokering initiatives, such as the Canadian Rural Research Network, used virtual platforms that offered community and academic partners the opportunity to connect through online communication tools, such as discussion forums, listservs, researcher wanted boards, expertise or member profile searches, volunteer or partner matching databases, and virtual platforms for group collaboration. Some brokering initiatives offered a combination of physical and virtual platforms as multiple ways to connect diverse partners.

Third, brokering initiatives differed in their scale of activities. Some brokering initiatives were primarily focused on supporting partnerships in their local community or region. Examples include brokering partnerships between community groups and students to establish a food rescue program in a city, establishing connections with local housing providers and professors to develop innovative opportunities in a low-income neighbourhood, and working with local libraries to match university students with children in need of reading mentors. Other brokering initiatives reached a national audience. For example, establishing partnerships between rural researchers and practitioners across Canada, connecting diverse stakeholders to explore national poverty solutions, and bringing together community-based organisations and academics in the UK over issues of food security. Other brokering initiatives spanned a much wider geography, working with partners on an international scale. Examples include promoting an exchange of ideas and knowledge-sharing at international health and social justice conferences on community-based participatory research, implementing an international in-person community-campus partnerships course and follow-up mentoring, and promoting online global dialogue and resource-sharing for students and community activists interested in social action and research.

Lastly, the areas of focus varied among the different brokering initiatives. Some initiatives engaged in particular issue-based activities and services. For example, a brokering initiative focusing on community food security hosted webinars and workshops, posted articles on their website and sent out newsletters to members. Other issue-based efforts covered poverty reduction, rural research, HIV/AIDS, and housing. In general, these activities tended to be more issue-based than those in the other brokering initiative categories. Some brokering initiatives had a much broader focus, however, with CCE brokers engaging in projects using community-engaged approaches to teaching and research, focusing on a broad range of issues and areas, such as community resilience and health promotion.

Upon examination of the four categories, level of broker engagement and types of broker platforms, appeared to be the most informative for developing a brokering initiatives matrix. Areas of focus tended to vary among the brokering initiatives and few patterns could be identified from that dimension. And while we noticed that brokering initiatives using virtual platforms tended to reach more national and international audiences, whereas physical platforms lent themselves to a local scale of activity, descriptions of activities within the level of broker engagement and type of broker platforms seemed most informative for guiding brokering initiatives. Figure 1 provides a summary of these two brokering initiative dimensions.


Figure 1 Broker initiative dimensions matrix

Brokering initiatives in the virtual-light touch quadrant offer opportunities to share knowledge and establish connections with a wide span of members or partners. The Canadian Rural Research Network ( is one example of this type of approach. Some drawbacks to this approach include members engaging in passive interactions (e.g. scanning a blogpost), but not reaching out to members, and offering limited member contact by not promoting regular member or partner contact. Brokering initiatives in the virtual-deep engagement quadrant offer members more engaging opportunities to connect by promoting ongoing project sharing, regular meetings and frequent news updates. While this approach has great potential in deeply connecting diverse stakeholders, we did not come across this kind of brokering initiative in our search. Drawbacks to this approach could be the increased resources required within the brokering initiative to moderate discussions, host meetings, and provide regular coaching and member interaction. Brokering initiatives in the physical-light touch quadrant offer services to connect people within communities while requiring fewer resources to sustain a deep engagement initiative. The Helpdesk is an example of a brokering initiative that uses this approach. A drawback could be that partners might not be able to sustain engagement without a broker’s ongoing support. Finally, the physical-deep engagement brokering initiative offers partners opportunities to deeply engage with one another throughout the life of a project. The Centre for Community-Based Research is an example of this type of brokering initiative. Drawbacks include the resources, such as time, space and funds, necessary to support partners at each phase of a project.


In this article, we have presented an overview of the features, roles and activities of brokering initiatives and a framework to better understand their contributions to successful community-campus partnerships. Our intention has been to provide an analytical tool that can support academics and community-based practitioners engaged in teaching and research partnerships. There are a number of ways this framework might be used in developing new or existing brokering initiatives. First, the categories in each of the two parts of the framework describing the different structural allegiances (i.e. community-based brokering initiatives, university-based brokering initiatives, community-university-based brokering initiatives, resource-based brokering initiatives and brokering networks) and dimensions (i.e. levels of engagement, types of platforms, scales of activities and areas of focus) could encourage partners to think through their overall goals and objectives. The framework could also help participants to better evaluate the purpose of a brokering initiative and the various mechanisms to be used to meet those objectives. Further, it might enable consideration of the strengths and limitations of various brokering initiatives in order to understand what each might accomplish, its limitations, and how it could adapt accordingly.

For example, a CCE broker interested in disseminating knowledge, keeping participants up-to-date on activities and providing a place for input and sharing ideas might adopt a virtual light-touch engagement model. This type of model would require few resources to maintain (e.g. staff members, infrastructure, costs). A brokering initiative interested in regularly engaging a wide reach of partners or members, but at a low cost, might wish to use a virtual deep-engagement model. This could keep overheads low as only a few key staff members would be required to maintain online communication tools and activities (e.g. website, discussion moderation, web coaching, webinars). By contrast, a brokering initiative seeking to have a wide community impact by reaching many diverse partners might decide to use a physical light-touch model. By offering matching services, but not requiring resources to provide ongoing support to partnerships throughout a project, this type of initiative would require minimal staff members to review proposals and match partners. The most resource-intensive choice is the physical deep-engagement model. A brokering initiative with the goal of establishing and maintaining CCE partnerships and supporting partners long-term would need to ensure they had adequate, ongoing funding available to sustain such a model. As more CCE projects turn to brokering initiatives as a way to support their work, it is important that all partners have a clear sense of the initiative’s purpose and what is involved.

The framework could also be used to consider where and how to situate a brokering initiative. For example, a brokering initiative based in the community would be more accessible for community-based organisations and more understanding and responsive to their needs than if based in a university. This would be especially true if there was concern that a particular institutional structure might not address the needs of community participants in a meaningful way. However, university-based brokers might have more success securing funding and other resources to support their work. Universities could also facilitate broader based partnership networks, while many non-profit organisations would have limited capacity to build and maintain relationships beyond those related to their immediate work. With university funding, however, comes additional expectations (e.g. prioritising faculty and students, adhering to a university’s strategic plan). As another example, as brokering initiatives in a physical location are typically housed in community-based centres or university-based offices, they are well positioned to respond to their immediate community, an important element in building trust. Network brokers, on the other hand, tend to use virtual platforms, which limit face-to-face contact but allow them to reach a much wider constituency.

Brokering initiatives could also use this framework when mapping out the resources needed to sustain their work. Common to most brokering initiatives we examined was the importance of having a steady source of funding to develop infrastructure, hire staff to carry out the necessary tasks and sustain the initiative over the long-term. CCE brokers that are funded or based in a university tended to have the most stability and capacity as a result of solid institutional backing. In fact, some of the brokering initiatives we studied began as independent organisations based in the community, but over time chose to relocate to the university due to funding opportunities and the institutional resources and supports available. Having stable funding appeared to lessen the anxiety of participants and allow CCE brokers to focus on improving the content of their activities and services. In a number of cases, added stability also enabled participants to more seriously consider and address power imbalances within their relationships. Some of the networks we examined, such as the Canadian Rural Research Network, did not have funding and, as a result, operated primarily as a shell, with activities driven completely by participants (typically those with grants to do their work). The source of funding also made a significant difference to the work CCE brokers could take on. For example, one brokering initiative reported that having support from an external funder over the course of several years allowed them to respond better to community needs, take risks and experiment with new types of activities rather than worrying about whether they were addressing the university’s strategic plan. For many academics, a well-funded, secure and long-term partnership provided added legitimacy for engaging in, and in some cases leading, CCE projects.

We propose several directions for future research on CCE brokering initiatives. First, there is very little research documenting and evaluating case studies of brokering initiatives, especially in peer-reviewed journals. These kinds of scholarly studies are important as a means of sharing information and comparing and contrasting the efforts of different initiatives. The framework is a first step towards that in-depth analysis and could be used to further examine the process of building and maintaining CCE brokering relationships and models. Second, limited research exists on both the factors for success and the challenges faced by CCE brokering initiatives. To share learnings, we suggest that researchers analyse experiences and document lessons learned from attempts at brokering community-campus partnerships in relation to the categories proposed in this article. Finally, CCE practitioners would benefit from studies of the different tools available to support brokering initiatives. We propose that these tools could be conceptualised in relation to the framework.

While this framework provides a valuable tool for understanding and evaluating brokering initiatives, it is not intended to be static. In most cases, we found that the categories were not fixed and that many of the brokering initiatives we examined took on more than one of the structural allegiances and/or dimensions simultaneously. This speaks to the context in which many of these brokering initiatives operate (e.g. reacting/responding to changing funding realities, program priorities of community organisations, emerging/unanticipated needs, etc.). Also, as technology changes along with the needs of CCE, new tools are being developed that may require different kinds of frameworks to understand and interpret CCE activities. Thus, while we compared brokering initiatives in order to understand their different attributes, we are not advocating a standardised approach to evaluation. Our research and experience leads us to suggest that brokering initiatives must be context-specific and respond to the needs of both community and academic partners. However, we need mechanisms to support community-campus partnerships in a more institutional and sustained way. It is our hope that the analytical framework will make a meaningful contribution to this endeavour.


We gratefully acknowledge the assistance and support of the academics and practitioners involved in the Community First: Impacts of Community Engagement (CFICE) project. Specifically, we wish to acknowledge contributions made by Peter Andrée, Jason Garlough, Stephen Hill, John Marris, Natasha Pei, Amanda Sheedy, Elizabeth Whitmore and Amanda Wilson.


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