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Designing Community-University Partnerships for Systems Change: The power of place, stories, and relationships

Format: Papers, RSD12, Topic: Cases & Practice, Topic: Learning & Education, Topic: Methods & Methodology

Danielle Lake, Sandy Marshall, Rozana Carducci, Nick Gozik, and Tracey Thurnes

This paper offers methods for facilitating more inclusive, participatory, and place-based social systems change efforts through a case study analysis of the Power+Place Collaborative. Based in Burlington, North Carolina, USA, the Power+Place Collaborative is an evolving community-university partnership that seeks to examine power-laden place-design processes and cultivate participatory practices of community co-creation in the Southern United States. The Power+Place Collaborative includes a transdisciplinary and intergenerational partnership between the African American Cultural Arts & History Center, local community centres, and Elon University. Since 2018, Collaborative members have been working with students and community members on an emergent participatory place-based oral history project aimed at bringing to light the hidden histories and unsung stories of people and places in Burlington’s African-American communities.

This project has evolved over time to include participatory oral history and digital story co-design with diverse communities throughout Alamance County, as well as a number of related initiatives, including public poster campaigns, interactive media design projects, museum exhibition curation, youth educational curricula, public screenings, community dialogues, and social media campaigns.  To date the Collaborative has involved work with over 50 community storytellers, hundreds of students enrolled in 18 courses, and more than a dozen faculty and staff. 

The case of the Power+Place Collaborative contributes to the broader theoretical and applied work of Systems and Design educators, practitioners, and thought leaders seeking methods and processes for unravelling systemic inequities, shifting power, and designing in relationship with communities. Drawing upon case study and narrative methodologies, analysis shows these practices have created unique spaces for public engagement between faculty, students, and local community members, prompting new modes of ethical engagement and collaborative co-design. Participatory oral history and storytelling practices have centred the stories of marginalised communities, highlighted the strengths and resilience of those communities, surfaced existing structures and systems of disenfranchisement, and created spaces and relationships essential to envisioning and sustaining long-term transformation. 

The Power+Place Collaborative succeeds by connecting diverse communities, creatively visualising our mutual dependence, and co-designing roles for members across the community to play in shaping place. The goal of systemic design, according to RSD12, is to increase our “ability to influence change through exploration, connection, creativity, and action,” and the Power+Place Collaborative approach to community-based learning and creative co-design does each of these things.

KEYWORDS: place, participatory design, oral history, storytelling

RSD TOPIC(S): Cases & Practice, Learning & Education, Methods & Methodology 

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Citation Data

Author(s): Danielle Lake, Sandy Marshall, Rozana Carducci, Nick Gozik, and Tracey Thurnes
Year: 2023
Title: Designing Community-University Partnerships for Systems Change: The power of place, stories, and relationships
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD12
Article No.: pre-release
URL: https://rsdsymposium.org/community-university-partnerships
Host: Georgetown University
Location: Washington DC, USA
Symposium Dates: October 6–20, 2023
First published: 30 September 2023
Last update: no update
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404
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