The Center on Democracy and Organizing (CDO) has released the first of an initial series of four white papers advocating for a major shift in the means by which scholars pursue knowledge. Dedicated to challenging the academic status quo by encouraging collaboration between researchers and practitioners, CDO is a new research center at UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies spearheaded by co-Principal Investigators Lisa García Bedolla, Hahrie Han, and Taeku Lee. The center’s mission focuses on improving research on effective organizing to help advance democracy.
In “Engaged Scholarship: History and Present Dilemmas,” Postdoctoral Scholar Dr. Nicole Willcoxon provides a primer for understanding engaged scholarship, in which researchers and practitioners collaborate in the production of knowledge, and for understanding the obstacles to institutionalizing this practice. Willcoxon is a political scientist who has worked extensively in the non-profit and private sector, including at the Public Policy Institute of California and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
The Center on Democracy and Organizing is founded on the importance of moving away from traditional academic biases, toward an inclusive scholarship that draws upon the unique expertise that practitioners can bring to the pursuit of knowledge in their own field. “Engaged scholars continue to face a stigma that creation of knowledge through civic collaboration is not as rigorous as other forms of academic work,” Willcoxon writes. “Despite evidence that younger scholars are increasingly interested in producing work through engagement, graduate students find it difficult to identify faculty members who are doing such work or garner institutional support and resources.”
Willcoxon’s white paper poses a vital question, which CDO’s work seeks to answer: how can scholars engage in ethical and effective collaborations with practitioners? As a starting point, Willcoxon advises, “Scholars should continue to engage in critical reflection on collaborative arrangements—conducting case-study analyses, soliciting feedback from practitioners, and expanding student engagement and training in order to take on the challenge of co-producing knowledge in a way that breaks down traditional power structures that lead to inequality.” CDO will host an institute this summer bringing together researchers and practitioners to take a lead in forging collaborative research projects.
Willcoxon and CDO’s co-principal investigators are available for interviews on this subject. Contact Alex DiBranco, 646.450.8717, firstname.lastname@example.org, to arrange.