Page 41 - UCT Research Report 2011

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Knowledge Co-op
Left: A student team showcasing their information management system. Right: Barbara Schmid (left) and students
handing over the first student dissertation to the NGO that requested it.
There is a growing commitment at UCT to make
its resources available for public utilisation and
benefit. Its Knowledge Co-op facility is one of
many ways of achieving this. In this case, the
initiative for collaboration comes from outside
the university, as groups approach the co-op with
suggestions to address issues and problems they
are facing.
The co-op then attempts to match these to academic
departments, in order to identify suitable partners; it
then mediates between the community partner and
academics to jointly develop a project. Students – who
will be supervised by academic staff – or academics
themselves may take on the projects to conduct
research or give practical support to community groups.
In this way, the projects provide topics for tasks
students need to complete in order to qualify, such as a
dissertation. In each case, the work that they undertake
will fit the needs of the community partner as well as
those of the university – and aim to deliver a product
to both parties.
Since the start of the pilot project in August 2010, some
85 suggestions for projects have been submitted to the
UCT Knowledge Co-op. They came from 39 groups,
ranging from the City of Cape Town, research-savvy
NGOs, and small community-based groups. A total
of 22 academics and 30 students have been or are
currently involved in co-op projects.
There are twelve projects currently under way and
A student investigating how best to help patients
adhere to HIV treatment;
Students offering computer training and advice to
community groups;
Staff advising a municipal department on changing its
library into a modern electronic knowledge management
centre; and
A student exploring alternative energy sources for
pumping water in a rural municipality.
Seven projects have been completed to date; among them:
Assisting in the development of an electronic database
to manage client and activity data;
Research into a building material and design for a low-
cost pre-school fence that will not be stolen;
Research on exit strategies for sex workers and
documenting support strategies for their self-help
groups; and
Collection of data to advocate for the need for a
footbridge and the risks of an open canal.
As project manager, Barbara Schmid is responsible for
developing relationships with potential partners in the
community, sourcing topics for collaboration from them,
finding matching expertise within UCT to address topics,
and brokering the process of each project up to the final
product. With support from the steering committee, she
oversees strategic aspects of the facility, such as raising
awareness of the co-op, both in the community and
the university, developing guidelines for good practice
in community-university collaborations, and finding
sustainable funding sources.
For more details see