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Featured Member

Examining Trust 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.

  1. Briefly, what is the mission of your organization/partnership? What do you most want people to know about your organization/partnership and the work that you do?
  2. What are you most passionate about in your work?
  3. What is the biggest challenge you face in your work? How are you working to overcome it?
  4. What is your dream for the future of your organization/partnership?
  5. What does “community-campus partnership” mean to you?
  6. If you could give advice to a policy maker (Congress, President, Secretary of Health, Surgeon General, etc.) what would you say?
  7. Why did you join CCPH?
  8. What strengths and talents do you bring to CCPH?
  9. What is your greatest hope for CCPH going forward?

1. Briefly, what is the mission of your organization/partnership? What do you most want people to know about your organization/partnership and the work that you do?

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 issues.

2. What are you most passionate about in your work?

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 New York?

3. What is the biggest challenge you face in your work? How are you working to overcome it? What keeps you motivated to do the work you do?

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.


4. What is your dream for the future of your organization/partnership?

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!

5. What does "community-campus partnership" mean to you?

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.


6. If you could give advice to a policy maker (e.g. a Legislator, President, Prime Minister, etc.) what would you say?

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.


7. Why did you join CCPH?

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.


8. What strengths and talents do you bring to CCPH?

My work on trust is relevant.

9. What is your greatest hope for CCPH going forward?

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 Rae’s 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.

To read about previous featured members click here.

If you would like to be an upcoming CCPH Featured Member, or would like to refer a colleague, please email info@ccph.info.

 

 
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