in Collaborative Partnerships
In this interview, CCPH Member
Rae Walker shares her work on trust and partnerships. Rae is a Professor
at La Trobe University School of Public Health in Australia. Her research aims
to better understand trust-building in partnerships, including how organizational
and policy environments make it easier or harder to work in trust-based ways.
"Trust is a fascinating thing to study" says Rae, and her passion extends
to building community-campus partnerships that address the "wicked problems"
- the complex ones - including the problem of climate change and the imperative
to transform national economies while maintaining community wellbeing.
I work in a School of Public Health teaching health promotion, undertaking research, and working with local agencies on collaboration processes in general, and on collaboration with the university in particular.
The particular focus on my partnership research is trust. Trust is a fascinating thing to study. Most of us experience trust in the context of our family and friendship relationships. Most of us also carry that experience over into our work in organizations and in partnerships. Hence, people speak about trust in their work place partnerships as being about personal relationships. And that is true, up to a point. However, in the workplace we don't usually have the opportunity to choose who we work with, or to work with people we like personally. And yet we still need to develop trust-based relationships with many people in order to work cooperatively with them. This leads to people doing partnership work well to develop 'ways of working' that help them to build and maintain trust in order to achieve practical goals. As someone said, you don't have to like the people you work with to trust them in regard to work matters. What few people speak about is the ways their organizational and policy environment make it easier or harder to work in trust-based ways. This is something we need to pay much more attention to, both in terms of what organizations can do to make it easier for people to trust each other sufficiently to cooperate effectively, and what to do when a partner acts in a dastardly way in response to environmental pressures.
My current project is to work out a practical
way of understanding trust in government. In this context government consists
of politicians and their political institutions, but it also includes an array
of public sector services. In my country people respond to surveys saying that
they have very little trust in politicians and their institutions but high levels
of trust in many public sector services. The task involves pulling together theoretical
and empirical work from across the globe and the sorting through of many conceptual
Building partnerships is an inherently important task
if we are to address the 'wicked' problems - the complex ones. My current work,
about which I care deeply, is building partnerships between the University and
external institutions around the problem of climate change and constructive ways
for communities to respond to the imperative to transform national economies whilst
maintaining community wellbeing. Most members of our community, when asked about
climate change, identify the wellbeing of people and communities as paramount.
They are concerned about public good. In the political process much of the interest
is in maintenance of particular industries and firms - frequently private good.
The disconnect is sometimes startling. I am fascinated by the work of archeologists
trying to understand the emergence and decline of ancient civilizations. Frequently
the issue of environmental, and subsequent economic, change is a central theme.
If we need to use satellite imagery to locate of the great wealthy cities of the
Silk Road what will people use in 1,000 years time to locate Sydney, London or
Partnership work requires a lot of time. It is increasingly difficult to find the amount of time required. However, my colleagues value this work too and endeavor to create the space for it. This kind of work really does require intrinsic motivations. You do it because it matters.
I would really like more of my university colleagues to refocus their ears - from listening intently to their peers to also listening intently to their communities. Of course, they also have to act on what they hear!
The term means many things. My particular interest is in having universities include in their suite of activities an overt effort to be a resource for their local communities - to contribute the special resources they have to the solutions of community problems and do that respectfully and cooperatively.
Don't just act in ways large and powerful organizations value. There is a lot you can do to strengthen the voice of community members in their role as citizens. Members of powerful organizations are also citizens.
CCPH is the only organization that specifically tries to build partnerships between universities and communities. And it does it with a lot of energy and competence. It is a major source of support for this kind of partnership work.
work on trust is relevant.
I would really like to see an active global network of people building and using these partnerships for public good. In my country CCPH work with senior members of the University sector is starting to bear fruit in that they are actively encouraging, but perhaps not always practically helping, in strengthening and extending these partnerships. In ten years time I would like to see CCPH recognized as a major centre of expertise in this area.
To see Raes presentation, Trust Between Community-Based Organizations and her Trust Evaluation Scale tool, go to the September 7, 2006 CCPH Seminar on our Past Conferences and Presentations webpage.
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