Future Directions of Practitioner-Scholars in Community and Civic Engagement: Discussions from the International Association for Research on Service-learning and Civic Engagement

By Lori Kniffin, Kansas State University

Dostilio and McReynolds (2015) call attention to the role of community engagement professionals “in terms of how [they] enrich and shape engagement practices or how [they] become change agents within higher education” (p. 113). This idea was further explored as part of a pre-conference session called the Practitioner-Scholars Forum at the International Association for Research on Service-learning and Civic Engagement (IARSLCE) facilitated by Lina D. Dostilio with support from Brandon W. Kliewer and Kristin Norris.

During this session, practitioner-scholars were asked to explore their identities. There existed a continuum of identities including individuals rooted in practice looking toward scholarship, scholars trying to inform inquiry through practice, individuals who truly identify as practitioner-scholars as a creative balance, and others who were situated in a place on the continuum not sure which direction to face.

A small group of the participants, interested in exploring strategies to integrate scholarship into practice, participated in a process outlined by Ganz (2010) to explore the story of self, the story of us, and the story of now. Each individual shared their narrative of becoming a practitioner-scholar. These stories of self-surfaced several common themes, experiences, and values that were leveraged to create an inquiry stance to identify common scholarly experiences and interests. Lastly, the group discussed strategies, questions, and actions that could advance an inquiry stance around practitioner-orientated scholarship.

My hope in bringing this into the SLCE Future Directions space is to invite others to build on the discussion that occurred today. We invite you to convene your own story circles to build upon the collective meaning-making process. Below are the contributions from the Inquiry to Practice track that was convened on November 16th, 2015 at IARSLCE and hope to see your contributions in our comments, future essays, and conferences.

Common Themes:

  • We have unclear paths to this work. We recognize that we all come from a discipline that informs our lens. However, we don’t always have a “discipline” in where we are situated now.
  • We are generalists that wear many hats.
  • Our experience “doing service” moves us toward our commitment to engagement.
  • Our first identity was as a practitioner, so we are all coming to the scholar side later in our careers.
  • We experience loss with our practitioner-scholar identity, because we find joy in the
    “doing” and moving toward administration or scholarship we spend less time “doing.”
  • We feel pulled to do scholarship, because they know that it is noble and will help our practice. We are hesitant that the more we do scholarship, the less time the get to spend “on the ground.”
  • We believe in what we are doing.


  • Advocating for social justice
  • Following personal passion
  • Producing relevant results and not just good feelings


  • How do we critique the PR/communications need to look at institutional impact? How can practitioner-scholars support that?
  • How can practitioner-scholarship study challenge structures that reinforce the stereotypes that produce injustice?
  • In what ways does a sense of scarcity/competition stifle the potential for co-creation and collaboration between practitioner-scholars?
  • What strategies do practitioner-scholars take to support growth-mindsets and practices?
  • How can practitioner-scholar inquiry begin to measure/evaluate/move orientations of engaging “with” community to engaging “within” communities?
  • What if practitioner-scholars saw their work as creating liminal spaces that highlight how civic renewal is in tension with many structures of higher education?
  • What would it look like to scaffold community engagement to include more focus and depth?


Dostilio, L. D., & McReynolds, M. (2015). Community engagement professionals in the circle of service-learning and the greater civic enterprise. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 22(1), 113-116.

Ganz, M. (2010). Leading change: Leadership, organization, and social movements. In Nilin Nohiria and Rakesh Khurana (Eds.), Handbook of Leadership: Theory and Practice: A Harvard Business School Centennial Colloquium. Boston: Harvard Business Review.


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