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Enacting Research-Practice Partnerships Within Decentralized Organizational Networks: A Case Study of Hive Research Lab and Hive NYC Learning Network

Fri, April 28, 10:35am to 12:05pm, Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, Floor: Meeting Room Level, Room 221 C


As Research-Practice Partnerships involving informal settings such as afterschool programs, museum, and community-based organizations become more prevalent (Allen & Crowley, 2016; Biag, Gerstein, Fehrer, Sanchez & Sipes, 2016; Bevan, Gutwill, Petrich & Wilkinson, 2015), it is important to note how such partnerships may present opportunities and challenges that are distinct from those that exist within schools and school districts. Based on a multi-year case study of our RPP within a decentralized network of informal education providers, we offer insights that may inform effective strategies around cornerstone activities of RPPs, namely negotiation of joint work, maintaining mutuality, and focusing on persistent problems of practice (Coburn, Penuel & Geil, 2013).

Hive Research Lab is an RPP involving researchers from Indiana University and New York University and members of a city-based collective of youth-facing organizations called the Mozilla Hive NYC Learning Network ( While Hive NYC does have “network facilitators” that manage participation structures and support knowledge building and collaboration, members of the Hive—which represent over 80 organizations including museums, public library networks and community-based organizations—are independent entities with diverse organizational structures, resources, target populations and missions. Thus our RPP operates within a decentralized and loosely coupled (Smalls, 2006) context in which few formal protocols or hierarchies dictate how collaboration is “supposed” to unfold, which roles and responsibilities are assigned to whom, how individuals and entities relate to one another, and what norms of participation exist. These qualities define Hive NYC’s network ecology, and in turn, shape the dynamics of collaboration between organizations, practitioners, administrators, and researchers.

We present our results within the context of activities spanning 2013-2015 that centered on engaging Hive members around a common persistent problem of practice—that of supporting youth interest-driven learning pathways over time and across various learning settings (Banks et al., 2007). Data comprising interviews, field observations, analysis of multimodal artifacts, and a survey of Hive members was collected across a variety of network contexts. We demonstrate how negotiation of joint work and the kinds of problems of practice that are attended to played out in distinctive ways in the context of a decentralized network of practitioner-partners. For example, ongoing engagement in the issue of supporting youth pathways required development of common language and understanding around the practice of “brokering future learning opportunities” (Ching, Santo, Hoadley, & Peppler, 2014), as well as regular “re-telling” of prior participatory research activities. These strategies served to inform new members of the work and cultivate their interest, as well as remind existing members of their prior investment and benefit from their continued participation. We also developed a range of communication tactics—blog posts, one-pagers, research briefs, participatory white papers—as well as invitations to joint activities—design charrette meetings, affinity groups, and participatory knowledge building sessions (Santo, Ching, Peppler & Hoadley, 2016) that assisted in achieving RPP goals within such a distributed context. Overall, these insights contribute to the emerging body of knowledge regarding how researchers and practitioners may engage meaningfully within a decentralized network of informal settings.