Collaboration and Reciprocity

Successful collaborations are at the core of community-based learning (CBL). These partnerships, like all relationships, have to be cultivated and nurtured over time. CBL partnerships should be respectful, balanced, and mutually-beneficial, meeting course learning objectives while addressing community-identified aspirations. In these partnerships, community partners (CPs) and faculty are co-educators and co-learners, working together to define and act upon shared expectations and goals.

Basic Principles

Here are some basic guiding principles to get started.*

Establish trust and respect

  • Acknowledge the importance of what each of you brings to the table. Value each other's expertise and embrace multiple kinds of knowledge, skills, and life experiences.
  • Early on, invite the community partner to present to the class. This is an important signal to students that the community partner is a co-educator.
  • Recognize how your institution's history and culture may enhance/constrain and shape your approach to the partnership.

Unpack power dynamics

  • Be mindful of issues of power and privilege that may exist between the university and the larger community but recognize the strength that lies in the experience, resilience, and knowledge of community agencies and the professionals that work there.
  • Avoid approaching CBL from a charity orientation. CBL is an opportunity to "do with" and not "do for." CPs are not looking for saviors; they are looking for partners to build upon their assets and strengths to fulfil an aspiration or need.

Co-create goals and expectations

  • Begin by learning about each other's missions and aspirations to discover where your values and goals align. Clearly articulate collaboration goals, timeline, risks, and needs (including time, costs, and resources). Agree upon process and individual members' roles. Document these in a learning agreement.
  • Have a frank conversation about whether all parties have the time needed to devote to the collaboration. Welcoming students on site or to work on a project requires time and the ability to monitor and provide feedback.

Communicate consistently

  • When possible, meet in person. Alternate meeting on campus with visiting the CP site. This helps everyone understand the work and context of the CP and the course.
  • Establish communication methods, expectations, and timelines that work for all parties involved. This ensures everyone is informed about the progress and challenges of the collaboration every step of the way.
  • Invite community partners to listen to or view student reflections or final projects that emerged from the collaboration.


  • Solicit purposeful feedback from all stakeholders at least half-way through the collaboration and at the end and use it to inform process and fine-tune the partnership. This shows respect for partners and a true appreciation of their perspective.

Share credit

  • Make sure the deliverables or resources that the collaboration produced are accessible to all stakeholders, and when sharing more broadly, attribute credit to the community partner for their role in bringing about these outcomes. Publically sharing credit and thanking community partners for the joint endeavor is important. This can be done through presentations, newspaper articles, academic articles, celebrations, etc.

*From CCPH Board of Directors. Position Statement on Authentic Partnerships, 2013.