Pauline O’Loughlin is the Program Manager of the UTS Shopfront, the University’s community research and advocacy centre that was established in 1996. She is responsible for the overall activities and administration of the Shopfront.
UTS Shopfront is a university-wide program that acts as a gateway for community access to the University. It links disadvantaged and under-resourced community groups to university skills, resources and professional expertise. This allows projects that would not otherwise proceed to be completed with multiple benefits for both the community and students. Community-based projects are carried out by students through their subjects under the supervision of academics. The process is collaborative: students and community groups are involved in all facets of the projects' development and implementation.
Interview with Pauline O'Loughlin
How did UTS Shopfront originate? Why was the name "Shopfront" chosen?
Firstly, guess I should give you a brief description of the Shopfront. It is a university-wide community program at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). The core business is to facilitate a series of community initiated projects utilising the skills of the University. Students undertake the projects for coursework credit and are supervised by an academic member of staff.
The concept for the Shopfront came from a group of academics in the Faculty of Humanities – Paul Ashton, Jeannie Martin, Eva Cox, Karin Coleman, Roslyn Reed and Heather Goodall. This group wanted to establish a facility for community access to the University. It is called the Shopfront as it is loosely based on the Dutch Science Shop model. This was a 70s movement where professors of technology set up a ‘shop’ and worked with the community on issues identified by them. The Science Shop network is still going strong and the Shopfront is now a member of the International Science Shop Network.
What is the nature of your role in Shopfront?
There is a small staff at the Shopfront – myself (full-time) and Lisa Andersen (2 days a week). Associate Professor Paul Ashton is the Academic Director. This position is honorary and Paul isn’t based at the Shopfront. My official title is Program Manager and I’m responsible for the overall activities and administration of the Shopfront. This includes community project coordination, research development and formalising and monitoring all dealings between UTS staff, students and community organizations. So pretty much everything from strategic development to cleaning the kitchen and anything in between.
Can you give an overview of the types of disadvantaged and under-resourced community groups that Shopfront has worked with?
UTS Shopfront works with disadvantaged and under-resourced community groups; not-for-profit organisations; non-government organisations; government agencies that broker socially relevant projects that would be beneficial to the wider community. We have worked with so many groups I will give you the ones we worked with during 2004.
- Bankstown Youth Development Service
- Bondi Beach Cottage
- British Pensions in Australia Inc.
- Centacare Broken Bay
- Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association of NSW Forum on Australia's Islamic Relations (FAIR) FRANS Granville Youth and Community Recreation Centre Islamic Council of NSW
- Libraries and Museum Foundation
- Mineral Policy Institute (MPI)
- Muslim Women's Association
- Nepean Food Services (Meals On Wheels)
- New Theatre
- NSW Community Options Projects
- NSW Disability Discrimination Legal Centre NSW Rape Crisis Centre PACT Youth Theatre ReconciliACTION Redfern Aboriginal Corporation
- RESNET: City of Sydney's Resident's Network SievX National Memorial Project South East Neighbourhood Centre South Sydney PCYC Sydney Asia Pacific Film Festival Sydney Children’s Hospital The Settlement Neighbourhood Centre Tribal Warrior Association
Here are some examples of the type of projects we have completed: costume design for Streets of Dance; a rural online counselling service; investigative journalism into corporate influence on policy decision-making in the mining industry; public relations and research and evaluation for Bookfeast 2004; development of a women’s arts and film festival; TV program development with young people; website designs and research reports for Redfern Skills Centre, Bangarra Dance Theatre, Safe Streets Project, New Theatre, Childflight, Migrant Employment Taskforce, Newtown Festival and St. George Advocates for Children.
What criteria needs to apply for an organisation to qualify for assistance? Can individuals working by themselves in non-incorporated and low income producing ventures apply for assistance?
We are unable to work with individuals but the term community is used broadly to refer to formal community organisations, peak bodies or groups drawn together on an issue or interest for example women, children, unemployed, migrants, gays and lesbians or people with disabilities.
The main criteria for a project is that it would not go ahead without the Shopfront’s support. Mainly this is to ensure that students are not just providing free labour on work where people can be paid.
How does a community group go about seeking assistance from UTS Shopfront for a project?
Community groups can access our website (www.shopfront.uts.edu.au) or call us to discuss possible projects.
I often get asked how community groups find out about the Shopfront. I think word of mouth is the probably the powerful communication tool. Of course community organizations are adept at tracking down innovative and low cost ways to get projects/work done.
Does UTS Shopfront initiate projects by seeking out and presenting project proposals to relevant community groups?
Not usually - the Shopfront works on projects that are initiated by the community rather than those identified by the university. We wanted to move away from the idea of ‘expedition research’ as one of my colleagues calls it. This is when university staff visit a place then decide what is wrong with it and write a research paper without any discussion or consultation with the community itself.
We will ask community representatives to sit on a working group for a research project that might be relevant to their work/community or be an extension of a project that the Shopfront has completed with them.
Does Shopfront provide the funding for the project? Are UTS staff members paid for their involvement in a project? If funding is to be secured, does UTS Shopfront do this or is it the responsibility of the group seeking assistance?
There is usually no funding required for the community-based projects as these are completed by students as components of their coursework. The supervision undertaken by UTS staff is an integral component of their existing academic activities/workload so there is no charge for their input.
What process is used to link a community group requiring assistance with professional expertise within UTS? Have there been projects for which it has been difficult to match the two?
UTS Shopfront does have processes and procedures in place and I will give a brief overview of those steps. In terms of matching initial conversation with community groups often excludes projects due a number of reasons that include; constraints of the academic timetable; difficulty matching the specific needs of a project with the necessary expertise; subjects taught not appropriate; no access to particular resources. While the staff at the Shopfront have a very good knowledge of the types of projects that are possible we do have a reference group that has representatives from all nine faculties and we can call on them for assistance with projects.
1. Firstly the community organization contact the Shopfront to outline their project.
2. A project description form is completed by the community organization.
3. The project is offered to appropriately qualified academic and they decide if it is suitable to offer to their students in class.
4. Project is offered to students who have to volunteer to undertake the project. The project is undertaken for academic credit.
5. A meeting is arranged with the students, community group and a representative from t he Shopfront. The Shopfront can’t always guarantee a project will go ahead as it is the academics and students to decide to undertake the work. While not all of them get picked up we probably have close to an 85% success rate with project.
At this stage the outcome of the project itself becomes the responsibility of the students, community group and academic while the Shopfront is responsible for the process. Ensuring things go as smoothly as possible for all stakeholders. We also offer students additional training that might be required for more successful outcome. For example: project management training, cultural awareness workshops and ethics support.
Can UTS Alumni students or members of the general public become involved if they have the relevant experience?
Yes, though the main focus is on the students and the community, we have had people act as Industry Mentors on several projects.
Can you describe how the students who have participated in the projects benefited from their involvement?
Students benefit through their participation in these projects as they are given a form of practice-based learning that enhances both their intellectual and professional life. We always think its best for students (and community) to have their own voice – below are some comments that students have made about working with the Shopfront.
"I really enjoyed the flexibility of working on the Shopfront project.. I was able to work at my own pace and access support when I needed it. The project gave us all the opportunity to utilise the skills we’ve gained (throughout) the degree and to participate in relevant research."
Cate Jansen Project Young Women in Rural Areas
"I was able to work with real people on real issues where my opinion and professional expertise were respected. I also received an excellent grade – which doesn’t hurt. It was terrific to work on project that is of real benefit to the community."
Project: Curl Curl Lagoon
"It has been a great learning experience. Both projects have enabled me to establish links for my own future career in community arts, and have allowed me to tailor my degree to produce a more relevant study program."
Project: Granville Youth and Community Recreation Centre and PACT Youth Theatre.
Does UTS Shopfront require the community group to sign some form of a contract when entering into a project?
Yes. At the first meeting the project is refined to meet both the students learning objectives and the community requirements; decisions are made on deadlines, timelines, budget etc. The community group are required to acknowledge the work of the students on any publications or product. The group also have to nominate a liaison person who is always available to the students. Roles and responsibilities are discussed and agreed.
Students produce a project plan, learning contract or brief that includes, project description, aim, objectives, target audience, task, me etings schedule, deadline and outcome. The stakeholders agree and sign off on their roles and responsibilities. This would be the only contractual agreement between the University and the community group.
What has been the level of interest in UTS Shopfront by other institutions in Australia and abroad?
There is a keen interest from other universities in Australia to develop centres or program for community engagement but it is very difficult in the current climate to find funding to set up any new ventures.
UTS Shopfront is a member of two national networks the first is the Australian Universities Community Engagement Alliance (AUCEA) which is based at University of Western Sydney http://www.uws.edu.au/about/adminorg/devint/ord/aucea and the second is the Australian Consortium on Higher Education, Community Engagement and Social Responsibility www.australianconsortium.net.
Internationally, we have an excellent partnership with the Centre for Urban Research and Learning (CURL) at Loyola University, Chicago and as I mentioned we are a member of the International Science Shop Network. Last year I was invited to a present a keynote address at a conference in Norway. Stavanger University, the host of the conference, is establishing their own centre for community partnerships and we were also able to participate in their strategic planning
What plans do you have for Shopfront's future development?
This year the community-based student run projects will continue as normal. We also want to focus on the consolidation and development of collaborative research. Collaborative research aims to ensure the benefits and outcomes for the participants and communities as well as the researchers and funding bodies. One of the research projects we have just started is in partnership with Parramatta Mission and is called Forgotten Women which is a paper on the lack of crisis accommodation for women in Western Sydney. Last year we ran a forum called Facing Fear: Anti-racism work since September 11 the participants requested more forums where research information is represented and discussed. We are currently discussing how best to share information. We try and be as open and responsive as we can to suggestions and ideas from the community about our future progression.