Finding Community Partners: A Brief Guide
Time and time again, students and educators have shared that the most impactful part of Project Invent is talking to real users. But how do you find great community members to partner with for student invention? Here are some tips for finding community partners to ground your student’s work in real-world connections.
1. Contact Local Senior Homes & Disability/Advocacy Centers.
Invention starts with finding a specific and unique problem to solve. For Project Invent teams, we often start by connecting with community centers who provide services for the community. Blind centers, senior citizen homes, physical therapy offices, homeless shelters, and veterans affairs offices are great places to start. Find different centers in your city, tell them what you are doing in your classroom, and set up times to visit or call. These contacts become valuable connections in the long run because they are the experts and can help connect you to other relevant parties and valuable information.
2. Look for Storytellers.
These centers become your connectors. They know their communities well so they can often connect you with clients or visitors who would be great for working with students. The most important aspect of a community partner is that they are able to share their experiences with students and provide authentic yet kind-hearted feedback. When you are exploring potential candidates, make sure they are storytellers. Look for people who are talkative and open about their past experiences, but also know when to step back and let students guide the conversation. Also, look for people who are open-minded and excited about new ideas, as opposed to people who hope to tell students exactly what to build them.
3. Clarify Expectations (and Benefits) Upfront!
Being a community partner is definitely a time commitment. If you want a strong partnership between the students and the community partner, you need to go beyond the one-time interview and build a longer term relationship. We usually have our community partners commit to working with the students for a few hours a month for a full year. Be upfront about this! The best partners will often be the people who are most excited about investing a few hours a month to meet with high schoolers and facilitate their journeys of invention. Look for people who seem energetic, outgoing, and genuinely interested in working with kids. Don’t be closed-minded either about who you think would enjoy working with high schoolers. You never know until you talk to them!
We hope that these three tips will help you find great community partners to work with so your students can get to solving real world problems. Good luck, and have fun!