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Cultivating ‘communities of practice’ to tackle civic policy challenges: insights from local government-academic collaboration in Leeds

Background: The academic impact agenda and evidence-informed policy movement have formed dynamic incentives for engagement between universities and local authorities. Yet, in the competitive higher education landscape, research-intensive universities frequently gravitate ...

Published onMar 31, 2024
Cultivating ‘communities of practice’ to tackle civic policy challenges: insights from local government-academic collaboration in Leeds
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Abstract

Background: The academic impact agenda and evidence-informed policy movement have formed dynamic incentives for engagement between universities and local authorities. Yet, in the competitive higher education landscape, research-intensive universities frequently gravitate towards global rather than local impacts, while local government resources are diminished. In this context, how can universities and councils collaborate effectively to inform solutions to complex policy issues? Aims and objectives: This paper draws on data from a Review of Collaboration between researchers at the University of Leeds and officers at Leeds City Council, which explored factors that enable and constrain research–policy engagement. Where limitations of linear models of research–policy interaction are well documented, we consider how a ‘community of practice’ (CoP) approach might offer insights for accelerating civic knowledge exchange. Methods: A CoP lens was applied in analysing data from a mapping exercise, survey and semi-structured interviews involving academics and council officers. Findings: Examining research–policy engagement in terms of the ‘domain’, ‘community’ and ‘practice’ constituents of CoPs highlights the significance of interpersonal connections in forging ‘boundary-crossing’ collaborations that have spurred innovation in the city. Academics and officers commonly advocated enhanced inter-organisational processes whereby relationality is supported institutionally. Proposals are encapsulated in a model that conceptualises civic collaboration as a series of domain-specific CoPs supported by an inter-sectoral CoP performing vital ‘boundary bridging’ functions. Discussion and conclusions: Drawing on experiences from one English city, we advance a framework which offers promising insights into integration of organisational and relational facilitators of research–policy partnerships in responding to municipal policy challenges.

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