Systems of Engagement

This week’s post first appeared on The Association of Commonwealth Universities’ blog and is reposted here with permission.

Most writing on community-campus engagement focuses on individual projects and practices. This makes sense since most practices are employed at the project level, but what about systems of engagement? Individual projects sit within institutional and community systems. Institutions and communities sit within sector or regional/national systems. Where are these systems of engagement?

David PhippsAs I increasingly engage internationally with like-minded knowledge mobilisers/brokers and impact practitioners (we are a diverse lot!), I am impressed with the networks already working at a system level. Here are some examples (there are certainly more) with brief descriptions from their websites:

Community Based Research Canada: Their intent is to build an inclusive and open network, engaging already existing networks, to build support for community-campus partnerships, community-based research and community engagement.

Development Research Uptake for Sub Saharan Africa (DRUSSA): Funding has ended but DRUSSA was a network of 24 universities building capacity for research uptake.

Engagement Australia: The main objective is to lead and facilitate the development of best practice university-community engagement in Australia. This is done through creating inclusive forums for discussion and development of engagement, promoting practice, fostering awareness, building capacity and developing resources.

Global University Network for Innovation: Their mission is to strengthen the role of higher education in society, contributing to the renewal of the visions and policies of higher education across the world, under a vision of public service, relevance and social responsibility.

Knowledge into Practice Learning Network: Founded in 2016, KIPLN Network is an international online learning network dedicated to sharing advice, expertise, and resources to help people get better at using knowledge to inform practice.

Living Knowledge Network: an international network of science shops, which perform science projects responding to civil society’s needs for expertise and knowledge.

National Alliance for Broader Impacts (US): The goal of NABI is to create a community of practice that fosters the development of sustainable and scalable institutional capacity and engagement in broader impacts activity.

National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE): A national (UK) network that helps universities and the public engage with each other.

Research Impact Canada: A network of universities across Canada investing in support for campus-based knowledge mobilisation to maximise the economic, social, health, cultural and environmental impacts of research.

And don’t forget the ACU Engage Community: an international network of university staff and stakeholders from member universities, who are working or involved in university community engagement and outreach, including public engagement staff, industrial liaison officers, research managers and communications officers, and those specialising in distance or open learning.

One conclusion that can be drawn is that engagement is a global phenomenon, with international networks and national networks existing in both industrialised and developing countries.

How can these system-wide networks help your individual practice? Research on networks shows that membership brings benefits of legitimisation and reduced transaction costs. You can phone up folks around the world to find out their practices, attend international conferences to meet people and learn about their work and practices, and join a network and reduce your costs of obtaining this information.

Networks also enhance the scaling up of promising practices. In a recent example, McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario) learned about the ResearchSnapshot clear language research summary method from Research Impact Canada. They adapted this format to their own context and produced research snaps that went on to win a national award from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Award of Excellence for communications. This is a clear example of reduced transaction costs.

An additional, and possibly more important, benefit of membership in any of these systems of community-campus engagement is the membership itself. Join a network of like-minded practitioners and you have found your tribe. Many of us work as solo practitioners (see some literature on this). Finding a tribe helps us feel connected to our work, to other practitioners and ultimately will help us become better practitioners, as the McMaster example shows.

What does this mean for the ACU Engage Community? While the Community is a network of ACU members, these members are likely to belong to other national and international networks. We should work to seek out the benefits members derive from other networks and systems, and use this knowledge to inform the work of the Engage Community.

The national and international networks above are just examples. This list is limited by my own experience. What other networks and systems of community-campus engagement can you add? How do you think these could contribute to the Engage Community?

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