UCT Knowledge Co-op: Research meets community-based organisations

07 February 2023 | Story Kamva Somdyala. Photos Lerato Maduna. Read time 7 min.
Julia Starck, programme manager for teen parenting at The Parent Centre.
Julia Starck, programme manager for teen parenting at The Parent Centre.

The University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Knowledge Co-op recently hosted a networking event on campus to allow community partners and academics to explore possibilities for collaboration and pinpoint some of the improvements they can make to their programmes.

The Knowledge Co-op provides a channel for community-based organisations to access UCT’s skills, resources and professional expertise by matching community groups with academic partners in a collaboration that meets the needs for research or practical support identified by the community group.

In the case of research projects, these are mostly taken up by students as projects that are conducted under the supervision of a senior academic for their dissertations; and at the networking sessions, community organisations shared about collaborative projects they had worked on with UCT students and researchers.

Audience members at a networking event hosted by UCT’s Knowledge Co-op
Audience members at a networking event hosted by UCT’s Knowledge Co-op on 28 January.

One of the organisations that submits research requests to the Knowledge Co-op is Living Hope, an agency concerned with issues like healthcare, substance abuse, and life skills.

“We realised we need to have academic research to hold up the programmes we have at Living Hope, and I am grateful for the relationship with Knowledge Co-op. The relationship has given us clarity, objectivity, opportunity and progress,” said Living Hope programme manager, Avril Thomas.

Also speaking on behalf of Living Hope, Sive Vaaltein, who is the family strengthening manager, gave a rundown of some of the projects her branch is concerned with, among them a mom-and-baby programme and a book-sharing scheme.

Provide support

“All these programmes are aimed at providing maternal health education to parents, particularly teenage parents; providing support to parents who are part of the programme to enable them to raise children in a healthy manner; and [facilitating] psychosocial groups such as health awareness, protective behaviours and gender-based-violence groups,” Vaaltein said.

Recently, a student undertook “an evaluative study on our book-sharing programme to check the level of engagement of the children during the process of book sharing”.

The lesson, Vaaltein said, is the “need to incorporate play and interactive activities in book sharing to encourage interest”.

Sive Vaaltein is the family strengthening manager at Living Hope
Sive Vaaltein is the family strengthening manager at Living Hope.

Also in attendance was Julia Starck, the programme manager for teen parenting at The Parent Centre, who was effusive in detailing the benefit she’s seen working with the Knowledge Co-op.

“We started our relationship around 2016,” Starck said.

“Knowledge Co-op has provided an amazing opportunity for us to research and evaluate the programmes that we have been running for years.”

Some of the programmes under the umbrella of The Parent Centre include providing information and support to mothers during pregnancy and after birth, equipping parents and caregivers to cope with the parental and childcare roles as well as providing positive parenting courses and workshops.

“As an NPO, there just isn’t money for research and evaluation and we know our funders want evidence-based work, evaluated externally. We love to have our work researched and evaluated at The Parent Centre because we get an objective opinion of whether we’re on the right track or not.”

Beatrice Conradie spoke from the side of academics at the Knowledge Co-op networking session
Beatrice Conradie spoke from the side of academics at the Knowledge Co-op networking session.

Director of the Sustainable Societies Unit in UCT’s Centre for Social Science Research, Professor Beatrice Conradie’s contribution to the networking event included a future-focused lens for the Knowledge Co-op. Going forward, she said, the unit should spend time on building their personal connections among the people involved in the research.

“Be flexible and get them [projects, students, academic supervisors] early,” Professor Conradie said.

The Knowledge Co-op process:

  • When community ideas are submitted to the UCT Knowledge Co-op, Knowledge Co-op searches for suitable partners in the university and connects staff members and/or students with the community partner.
  • Ideas may become topics for research by students or staff; others may be suitable for practical involvement, for example, in-service learning.
  • The UCT Knowledge Co-op will help find a fit between the needs of both parties and to clarify the aims, time frame, approach to be followed and respective responsibilities.

Frequently asked questions

1. What groups can get involved?

The Knowledge Co-op assists NGOs, CBOs, local government and SMMEs – or any community group who could benefit from research but is unable to fully pay for it. As the aim is for close collaborations, the co-op can only support groups in the greater Cape Town area.

2. How long will it take to find a student once a project idea is submitted?

The co-op will advertise the project ideas to students and academics, but there is no guarantee that they will find someone to take on the project. Every six months the co-op team will report back to the community organisation on any progress.

3. When is the best time to submit project ideas?

Ideas can be submitted at any time. Most students start thinking about research topics at the start of the year, so the best time to submit a project is in October or November.

4. Can an organisation get funding through the UCT Knowledge Co-op?

The co-op is not a funding agency, but it does make staff and student time available to under-resourced community projects.

5. Is it possible to access the research produced in previous projects?

The aim is to make the results of all co-op projects available on the website after completion.

Students and academics at UCT who are interested in exploring possibilities for engaged research with non-profits are welcome to contact the UCT Knowledge Co-op.

Community groups interested in having independent research done on their issues in collaboration with researchers at UCT are also encouraged to get in touch, either via the website or by calling 021 650 4415.

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