‘Useful, usable and used’: Sustaining an Australian model of cross-faculty service learning by concentrating on shared value creation
In recent decades, partnerships between community-based organisations and universities through service-learning programs have proliferated, reflected in an equally energetic growth in the research literature on process, evaluation, benefits and lessons learned. As an example of student experiential education through community engagement, service learning’s potential to contribute to students, community partners and the university is well recognised, although the research has tended to focus on benefits to students rather than the value in engagement for the community sector. UTS Shopfront Community Program is a cross-university initiative that has successfully facilitated curricular service learning in multiple disciplines for 20 years at an Australian university, leading to the completion of more than 1000 community projects. In examining this program, this article aims to describe both a sustainable, generative partnership model for creating shared value and, through analysis of 10 years of evaluation data, define what value is created for community partners and students through this project work. Key components in enabling a shared-value approach include: community-initiated projects based on need; a dedicated cross-university program and an assigned project coordinator; the engagement of faculty expertise through students with developed skills in appropriately structured courses; and community ownership of outcomes. Ongoing challenges include: scoping ‘student-ready’ briefs; managing risk, commitment and workload; designing coursework structures to deliver shared value; and achieving the ‘Holy Grail’ of transdisciplinarity.
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