Mapping processes and outcomes


Contrary to calls for a ‘being with’ attitude towards community partners, service-learning remains strongly underpinned by task-based and output-orientated action. A focus on output may reflect student/academic project needs, rather than community criteria for participating. An orientation toward action also places greater value on tangible, observable, and measurable outcomes as primary indicators of partner benefit. This activity challenges dominant notions of community partner benefit by exploring the diverse motivations, processes and outcomes, both tangible and intangible, that community partners’ might also value and desire.

The aim is to:

  • Encourage students to think about all the activities, experiences, conversations, dinners and field trips that are integral to the engagement process. These may:
  1. Exist as part of every-day life interactions
  2. Occur within and beyond the scope of the project
  3. Take place during the placement and beyond
  • Manage student expectations and make visible the diverse roles students may play as co-contributors to the community partner organisation (i.e. learner, listener, project collaborator).


30 minutes


The Process

The floating coconut is designed to make visible the diverse range of student and community partner processes and outcomes relevant to the engagement experience. The floating coconut is made up of two parts:

  • One is visible and measurable above the water (tangible);
  • The other is submerged under the water which is not as easy to see, count, and can often be unrecognised and undervalued (intangible).

When students focus on or analyse the project output in isolation they restrict the unit of analysis to a small subset of processes and outcomes for both student and partners produced through the engagement experience. In this activity, students are encouraged to identify processes and outcomes that occur within and beyond the scope and duration of individual project outputs.

  1. Ask students to write down on post-it notes how they think the organisation they will be working with will benefit from their presence
  2. Get students to stick their expectations up on a large print out of the coconut pinned to a wall at the front of the class. Students are to place the tangible outcomes (i.e. project outputs) in the visible part of the coconut and list the intangible process and outcomes that might also result for both them and the community partner in the submerged part of the coconut
  3. Discuss as a group
  4. Introduce partner voices into the discussion by reading out quotes from PACOS staff that highlight additional diverse benefits. These should be added above or below the waterline if not already
  5. Continue to discuss as a group

Key points to discuss:

  • Community partners have multiple reasons for hosting students which may appear to be independent of, or separate to, the student project and its outputs. It is important that students look beyond output-oriented outcomes as partners might also be trying to communicate/ accomplish a range of ‘other’ things important to their objectives which may not be clear to students as a result of being too focused on ‘the research’ or the ‘project’.
  • For the intangible section of the coconut encourage students to think about all the activities, experiences, conversations, social spaces and fieldtrips that are integral to the engagement process that may: 1) exist as part of every-day life interactions; 2) occur within and beyond the project scope (dancing, informal conversations, sharing culture and customs); and 3) take place during the placement as well as over time. Students, for example, can also play a role beyond the duration of their experience in the form of organisational recognition and advocacy, or by maintaining established relationships.
  • Encourage the students to think of themselves as not only co-contributors through their project activities but also through their roles as learners. Learning and being exposed to particular issues are valuable ways in which students can contribute to community partner objectives, especially those organisations dedicated to youth development or education/awareness raising.

Note: This activity links well with the activity “developing relationships” in the module “Work Cultures”. This particular activity highlights the importance of building meaningful relationships with colleagues and community participants and draws on partner voices who provide tips on building positive and respectful relationships that bring added value to the organisation.


Carnegie, M., Rowland, C., Gibson, K., McKinnon, K., Crawford, J., Slatter, C. Monitoring gender and economy in Melanesian communities: Resources for NGOs, government and researchers in Melanesia, University of Western Sydney, Macquarie University and International Women’s Development Agency, November 2012.

Hammersley, L., Bilous, R., James, S., Trau, A., & Suchet-Pearson, S. (2014). Challenging ideals of reciprocity in undergraduate teaching: the unexpected benefits of unpredictable cross-cultural fieldwork. Journal of Geography in Higher Education. DOI: 10.1080/03098265.2014.908350

Hammersley, L.A. (2013). Volunteer tourism: building effective relationships of understanding. Journal of Sustainable Tourism. DOI: 10.1080/09669582.2013.839691

Partner quotes