The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Organizational Culture and Partnership Process: A Grounded Theory Study of Community-Campus Partnerships

Sunday, January 20, 2013: 10:45 AM
Marina 5 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Sharon Foreman Kready, PhD, Assistant Professor, Lynchburg College, Lynchburg, VA
Background and Purpose

The purpose of this study is to explore the meanings of community-campus partnerships among stakeholders in the community and in academia towards the goal of generating a theory that will contribute to the  community engagement practice and policy knowledge base.  There are an abundance of empirical studies in the interdisciplinary literature on community-campus partnerships that disseminate data on the outcome measures of partnerships. However, few studies seek to study process as a unique phenomenon in such a way that uses the organization as a unit of analysis and involves the systematic scrutiny of organizational behavior within partnerships. Using as its foundation the shared interest among the social work profession and the community engagement movement on values and ethics, this study utilizes a traditional grounded theory methodology as a means to systematically examine the research questions “What is the experience of community and academic stakeholders involved with community-campus partnerships?” and “How are organizational culture dynamics, power, and trust experienced by community and academic stakeholders in community-campus partnerships?” In keeping with the characteristics of grounded theory methodology, hypotheses emerged and were modified throughout the data collection and analysis process.


The sampling process in this study is purposive, and the final sample size for this study was 29 individuals representing community and academic partners. The data in this study were gathered through observations, interviews, and artifacts. Observations were made during interviews, and recorded through field notes. Participants were engaged in a conversation regarding their community-campus partnership experiences through an interview process that was guided by open-ended questions. As sources of data were collected, the data analysis cycle included the recurrent processes of unitizing, naming, and categorizing; and the constant comparison method was used.  Atlas.ti was used to assist with the data analysis process.


The theory that emerged from the data in this study is about what it takes to sustain partnerships between community and campus organizations.  The final five themes found in the theory of partnership sustainability are: A strong foundation upon which the relationship is built; navigating the process of a partnership project; goodness-of-fit for all involved; resources; and impact.  Overall, the theory of partnership sustainability draws the attention of partnership practitioners and stakeholders to the importance of relationships as being the core for any partnership activity.

Conclusions and Implications

The study provides empirical support for practice guidelines as well as the creation of policies and procedures for sustainable community-campus partnerships which are cognizant of the uniqueness of community-engagement; mindful of the timeframe issues that come hand-in-hand with building relationships; and selfless and respectful of the primary focus being on the needs of the community. Key implications of this study for future research include the investigation of relationship building methods that allow for reciprocal consideration of diverse organizational culture dynamics; the intersectionality of student volunteerism and community engagement; and the nature, value, and perceived importance of research conducted in the community.