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Universities’ community engagement is confronted with growing pressure from increased competition and marketisation of knowledge, along with widespread adoption of New Public Management measures. This context is notably challenging for forms of engagement that are based on such principles and practices as cooperation, knowledge democracy and public value. Within this framework, this article identifies competencies and strategies that may ensure durability of community-university partnerships.
The article presents the results of two different, yet coherently connected, research endeavours on Science Shops in Europe. Science Shops are a unique way to organise relationships between science and society mainly by responding to research questions arising from citizens and/or Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), usually by means of a participatory methodology and active involvement of students.
Empirical evidence for this article was gathered by means of a wide range of different techniques, such as structured questionnaires, focus groups, interviews, direct observation and document analysis. In the first research effort, a questionnaire was delivered to European Science Shops in order to produce mainly descriptive statistics prior to progressing to case studies and focus groups which would generate more in-depth knowledge and understanding. The second study program was connected to formative and summative evaluation of a European Commission funded project aimed at embedding Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) in Higher Education curricula through Science Shops (namely EnRRICH – Enhancing Responsible Research and Innovation through Curricula in Higher education). Participatory evaluation was carried out mainly on pilot projects run by project partners.
Results are discussed in the light of relevant literature regarding possible strategic assets that may enable Science Shops and Community Engagement units to overcome observed fragility and ensure durability. This can be pursued through systematic mobilisation of specific knowledge, competencies and abilities. Combinatory capacity and boundary spanning are pinpointed as specific components of Science Shops’ action, which – we maintain – are also key strategic assets to consolidate their role and ensure durability. The distinction between the ‘instrumental/operational’ and ‘strategic’ function of boundary spanning is introduced in order to analytically develop this argument.
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