A grounded theory of university leadership in community engagement

Silvestrone, David Michael (2011) A grounded theory of university leadership in community engagement. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


Increasingly, universities are being called upon to reach out beyond their walls and engage with potential collaborators on a myriad of activities. These expectations arise from a range of factors, many associated with the increasing prevalence of multi-party trans-disciplinary approaches for creating and activating knowledge to address challenges faced around the globe. To succeed in this emerging milieu, universities require a more refined capacity to engage in such collaborations. Vital to this development is a deeper and more nuanced understanding of what leadership means for such activity, and how it can be encouraged and strengthened. However, to date investigation related to universities' involvement in community engagement has been primarily descriptive, rather than theoretical in focus (Hart, et al., 2009). The present study seeks to advance theoretical understanding in this field by examining the university leadership associated with the development and implementation of community engagement initiatives. The inquiry builds upon Heifetz' (1994) broad view ofleadership as those actions taken within an organization to achieve desired outcomes, and Huxham and Vangen's (2005) concept of "leadership media", which encompasses the structures, processes and people that enable desired outcomes to be achieved within collaborative endeavours. The study adopts Strauss and Corbin's (1990) model of Grounded Theory as a primary methodology to develop this theoretical understanding. This approach was buttressed by multiple complementary methods for data collection and analysis to strengthen the robustness of the thesis. The principle data collection strategy was "convergent interviewing" (Dick, 2008). These findings were systematically compared and contrasted with data derived from secondary sources, survey research and a Delphi (i.e. expert) Panel. Data analysis combined grounded coding with quantitative analysis, visual mapping, narrative development and pattern matching. Findings revealed a multi-level model of leadership, comprised of key factors, both at an institutional (i.e. meso) and individual (micro) level, which appeared to activate and sustain members' involvement in community engagement. The model was conceptualized as the 'Capacity to Engage'. Aligning with Huxham and Vangen's leadership media and other contemporary leadership theory, this capacity provides the impetus and critical resources that facilitates members' initiation of and participation in such activities. Study implications are considered for further theory development and research, as well as policy and practice.

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