Report takes stock of outreach

15 May 2007

At first glance, the Social Responsiveness Report may appear to be little more than a rah-rah chronicle of the forays of UCT scholars into "social outreach".

After a thorough read-through, though, it becomes clear that the report has bigger ambitions. What it sets out to do is not just list how and where scholars have responded to the issues and needs of local communities, but just how - if at all - those efforts have contributed to the pursuit of new knowledge, and who - if anyone - it benefits.

Take the 2006 edition, for example, just recently brought out by the Institutional Planning Department (IPD). The volume features 13 case studies, covering everything from architectural students' work on community projects to a beadwork initiative with the mothers of HIV-positive children, from the work of the Child Guidance Clinic to that of the Raymond Ackerman Foundation Academy for Entrepreneurial Development at the Graduate School of Business.

"Looking at the cases, it's clear that there is a wide range of development needs that are being addressed," says the IPD's Judy Favish, who oversees the publication.

The success of such initiatives, says Favish, is measured by the revised definition of social responsiveness that was approved by Senate in 2006. "Social responsiveness is defined," it reads, "as the production and dissemination of knowledge with public benefit, which demonstrates engagement with external constituencies, and shows evidence of externally applied scholarly activities."

In her wrap-up analysis of the cases in this year's report, Favish says that the projects measured up well. In many cases, new knowledge is being produced through "building on the assets and knowledge of people in different contexts and by reflecting on the application of established theories to new contexts".

That benefits not just researchers and their research, but also the now-updated university curricula. Students also pick up new skills when they have to apply themselves to real-world problems in these new contexts.

But what about the communities, those "external constituencies" where the work takes place? Are there any long-term payoffs for them?

To differing degrees, yes, says Favish.

"What's come up is the importance of thinking about the ethics of social engagement, particularly with regard to promoting mutual benefits for external constituencies and the university."

There are challenges, though. UCT needs to think carefully about how to promote the notion of "active citizenship" among students, how to create an enabling environment for critical policy engagement, and more thought has to go into how the wider range of scholarly outputs associated with social responsiveness is evaluated.

To that end, the IPU will host its first Social Responsiveness Colloquium in the Senate Chamber, Bremner Building, on 16 May from 13h00 to 16h15. The aim of the colloquium is to profile various forms of social responsiveness and promote debate on ways to expand and enhance social responsiveness at the university.

For more information about the event, please contact Pamela Johnson at

Visit the IPD website to download the Social Responsiveness Report.

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