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The Adaptive Cycle As a Lens for Service Learning – Community Engagement Partnerships

Caroline M Berinyuy, Hallie Eilerts, Marguerite McDaniel, Dillon F Chapman, Shirley Pendlebury, Claudia J Ford, Robert J Swap


This paper deploys the adaptive cycle as a construct to understand the dynamics of community engagement and partnership building during an international service-learning project. A multi-disciplinary team of USA-based university students collaborated with a local community in Zambia to build two ventilated improved pit (VIP) latrines. Post-field project reflection challenged the ‘product-first’ view commonly held in service learning projects.  Time was a central point of post-field reflection. Through critical scrutiny, the team came to recognize that contextually sensitive relationship building had been essential in enabling community ownership of the project.  The construct of the adaptive cycle provided a crucial analytical tool for tracing the process through which partners from very different backgrounds achieved a sense of common purpose and opened the way for an understanding of community engagement as weaving a thread through the complex dynamics of partnership. The adaptive cycle may be useful in the preparation and implementation framework for other service learning projects emanating from institutions of higher education.


international service learning; community engagement; adaptive cycles

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Partnerships is sponsored by North Carolina Campus Compact, and hosted by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. ISSN: 1944-1061
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