Evolution in partnership: Lessons from the East St Louis Action Research Project
AbstractAs one of the oldest community–university partnership programs in the United States, the University of Illinois’s East St Louis Action Research Project (ESLARP) has evolved in an ongoing effort to balance stakeholders’ needs, broadly defined to include community partners as well as the university and its involved faculty, students, and staff. While ESLARP’s mission has remained consistent – briefly stated ‘matching needs and opportunities in the community with resources and opportunities on campus for teaching, research and service for social justice’ – what constitutes action research within this partnership has been broadly framed and has evolved due to circumstances on campus and in the community. Based on analysis of projects over the 23-year period and the personal reflections of two participants, this article seeks to reflect on the evolution through what we see as three phases – Neighborhoods First, Technical Assistance, and Engaged Research – in order to gain insights into the negotiations required to sustain a university–community partnership program. Refraining from judgment as to what model might be better, we reflect on the change in five core area: community organizing, direct assistance, popular education, mode of research, and the university’s core teaching mission. We acknowledge the different but important contributions of each phase.