Funded by AusAID

Project Origins

This project originated from the realisation of the need for both supervisors (academics) and post-graduate students to be trained in community engagement research. Such research is a core function of the university, but few academics or students have the necessary skills and knowledge to embark on this kind of research and publish their work to maximise learning from it. The Faculty of Education at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (Port Elizabeth) and the faculty of Education Sciences Research Focus Area at North West University (Potchefstroom) identified research for social change as a key focus area, but few of their academics have the necessary experience to head up such research. The social, economic and health inequalities in South Africa make such research a priority. We proceed from the viewpoint that the university has a moral responsibility to improve the quality of life of the community in which it operates. The short learning programmes proposed to develop academics and post-graduate students in this field have been successfully developed, taught, continuously evaluated and reviewed over many years in various countries, e.g. in Austria at the University of Innsbruck (1995-2008) and the Management Centre Innsbruck (2009-2012) as well as many times in Africa (University of Stellenbosch, TUT, University of Pretoria etc). This will be the first time that two 5 day workshops are linked to a larger project.

Development Problem

The communities which these universities serve (like the majority of communities in South Africa) are beset by social, economic and health problems. There has been a resultant shift in the core functions of a university since democracy was attained in this country, to include community engagement as one of the three main functions of a university (the others being teaching and research). Universities can no longer create knowledge for knowledge sake – they are morally bound to make a positive difference in the welfare of others through the creation of relevant knowledge and skills. Training in participative and collaborative research strategies, underpinned by an emancipatory and values-based paradigm, will enable university staff and students to fulfil this mandate and contribute in a meaningful way to improving the social conditions of the communities that they serve. The philosophy of the proposed programme dovetails perfectly with our objectives: ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’ (6th century Chinese philosopher, Laotsu). Apart from the fact that most post-graduate students live and work and fulfil professional helping roles in the community, we intend to include some key representatives who head up helping/development agencies in the community so that they can also cascade their learning to others.


  • To recruit and train 12 participants for an intensive, one-week residential ‘short learning programme’ (SLP) on research for social change via community engagement
  • To engage international experts in the field to present this short learning programme specifically geared to the needs for further/future research for social change in the South African context (the outline of the SLP with specific outcomes is attached as Appendix B).
  • To support participants in the SLP to design and implement three community engagement projects
  • To support participants to cascade their learning and experience to others via presentation of SLP, workshops and/or teaching modules and publication of their research.

Expected Outputs 

  • A committed community of practice competent to conduct research for social change at both universities
  • At least four community engagement projects aimed at improving the quality of life of community members
  • At least four further workshops/short learning programmes/teaching modules to cascade learning to others
  • Collaborative partnership between Australian and South African institutions
  • A research culture at each university more supportive and capable of, and actively committed to, positive community engagement through action research, action learning and action leadership through cascaded learning


L Wood Project Coordinator

B Pretorius Project Administrator

Contact information
Prof Lesley Wood
Nelson Mandela University Research Associate
Tel: +27 18 299 4770 (mobile: +27 082 296 9202)

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