Reinventing the Civic University

Goddard, J. (2009). Reinventing the civic university.

From the summary of this report done for Nesta, a U.K. innovation charity:

In this provocation I argue that all publicly-funded universities in the UK have a civic duty to engage with wider society on the local, national and global scales, and to do so in a manner which links the social to the economic spheres. Engagement has to be an institution wide-commitment, not confined to individual academics or projects. It has to embrace teaching as well as research, students as well as academics, and the full range of support services. All universities need to develop strategies to guide their engagement with wider society, to manage themselves accordingly and to work with external partners to gauge their success….I argue that civic engagement should move beyond being a third or separate strand of activity for universities, with less prestige and fewer resources than teaching or research. It should become a guiding principle for their organisation and practice.

This report was written in 2009 in the throes of the global economic meltdown. What is striking about this report is that even with this backdrop the author, John Goddard, does not retrench to the narrow view of universities as economic drivers producing technologies and talent for companies. He takes the broad view that universities need to engage their research and teaching portfolios with local and global communities to create social and economic benefits for the country.

A key perspective differentiating this report from much of the knowledge mobilization literature: the focus of this report is the institution not the researcher. This report focuses on what institutions should do to support the researchers, students, partners, knowledge brokers, public engagement officers (collectively I refer to this group as “research impact practitioners”).

Seven years ago this report sets up all the arguments for research impact which is the focus of much attention today. The only significant element of this report that seems to have materialized in the UK is the Research Excellence Framework ( that is the basis for allocating £1.6 billion annually.

Even though UK universities are assessed on the impacts of research there is little funding for institutional activities that support the creation of research outside of research commercialization. One exception is the Impact Acceleration Accounts from the Economic and Social Research Council although much of this funding will go to the support the collaborative activities of researchers and partners. There is still the need in the UK – and of course, in Canada – to seed the development of infrastructure to support research impact. In Canada all CIHR and SSHRC grant applications require a knowledge translation or mobilization (respectively) strategy yet there are few institutions investing in institutional supports for those strategies.

The 12 ResearchImpact universities are each supporting knowledge mobilization in different organizational constructs working with partners from the public, private and non-profit sectors. And we are sharing across our institutions so that everyone has the opportunity to adapt promising practices to their own local context. This 2009 report calls for what our network has been working towards since 2006 and continues to share among members today.

Much of this report is timely even seven years later as Canada consults to develop a new innovation policy. The committee reviewing options for the six priority areas for innovation in Canada would do well to remember their 2009 history and consider all 11 recommendations in this report, two of which are:

-This is not solely a matter for universities. Companies, local government, development organisations, NGOs and the public have much to gain from thinking about how to interact more effectively with local universities.

-Universities should be asked to bid for civic status, with access to substantial amounts of money, in exchange for demonstrating their ability to generate worthwhile impact.

Build a knowledge mobilization unit. Support the creation of research impacts. Work well with partners from the public, private and non-profit sectors. Bid for funding (if there was any!). And become a Civic University.

ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche is producing this journal club series as a way to make the evidence and research on knowledge mobilization more accessible to knowledge brokers and to create on line discussion about research on knowledge mobilization. It is designed for knowledge brokers and other knowledge mobilization stakeholders. Read the article. Then come back to this post and join the journal club by posting your comments.

One Response to “Reinventing the Civic University”

written by Matthew S. MacLennan On 6 September 2016 Reply

Off the cuff comment: What about “Global Institutions” and those Universities that have established strong international influence, even at the detriment of local relationships? What is the International Community? Should universities be asking the International Community (IC) for a kind of civic status? Is the IC analogous to a local governmental structure such that it can be asked for money? Does the IC govern?

Perhaps an interesting question could be: For those Universities/Institutions who pride themselves on International Impact and engagement, is there something local they are missing that cannot (at least easily) be found in international dealings?

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