Monday, October 15, 2012

Community Engagement: highlights from our town hall forum

Close to 50 employees, representing a wide range of faculties and departments, filled the boardroom at Coquitlam Campus on October 12 for a lively discussion about community engagement at Douglas College. Thanks to all those who attended!

The discussion was wonderfully hosted by Associate VP External Relations Hazel Postma, and capably facilitated by Child, Family and Community Studies Associate Dean Gary Tennant.

We also had four excellent presentations that provided inspiring examples of community engagement. I'll tell you more about those presentations in a subsequent blog post.

We asked everyone: What kind of community engagement are you doing, or would you like to do?

And what can the college do to better support you in creating those community connections?

Small group discussions yielded a number of interesting and insightful ideas, observations and questions that were shared into the larger group.

This is a summary of those discussion points as they were received. I invite everyone who attended to add to, amplify or correct this summary, based on your impression of the discussion. And I invite everyone who was unable to attend to read this summary, and then add your own thoughts and observations. Simply leave a comment at the bottom of this blog post. That way, your comment becomes part of the official record of the event.

Community engagement town hall forum — discussion summary


Community engagement is best if it is bi-directional, that is, the community coming to the college, and the college going to the community. Reciprocal trust is valuable!

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Ways that the college can get out to the community include lecturing, offering workshops or even courses in the community; college faculty and staff volunteering in the community, joining professional associations, ideally with support from the college in the form of an employee volunteer program.

By delivering classes in the community, we might help create more awareness of our programs and credentials.

How can we open up access to the expertise that exists in our faculty and staff? For example, make our experts more available to the media? Can we create a list of our experts?

How can we better connect with existing community events? For example, for the Terry Fox Run, we could have a Therapeutic Rec team or a Douglas Students' Union team.

To help us build more linkages into the labour market, and to create more opportunities for research, we should ask the community what it wants.


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We definitely want to create more experiential learning opportunities for students, and encourage student involvement in different forms of outreach and volunteering.

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Could we be doing more to engage with our alumni?

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Many times, very small initiatives grow over time into really valuable projects and programs - the relationships take time.

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We're actually doing a lot already. Our faculties and departments already have many valuable community connections that could be even more valuable if they were shared more widely. The problem is that the initiatives, knowledge and experience mostly exists at a local level. We don't know what we're already doing! How can we keep each other better informed about what is already happening? We need more cross-faculty communication and collaboration. When that happens, we'll be better able to build on and strengthen community connections and create more ideas for getting students involved in outreach.

Another benefit of more cross-college information sharing would be more effective use of resources. It would be less likely for different areas of the college to unknowingly approach the same community partner, looking for practicum opportunities, etc. We'd be in a better position to find the best potential fit with a given community partner, and identify cross-disciplinary opportunities. And we'd be more consistent in our approach and our message, instead of (sometimes) working at cross-purposes.

What tools or processes could help us capture information and share our knowledge about community connections?

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One challenge is that wonderful community engagement initiatives are sometimes created or maintained by one individual. When that individual moves on, often those initiatives fall off. So we could do a better job, and use some help, when it comes to transitioning projects.

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It would be good if the college could clarify the "rules of engagement" when we're out in the community, for example with risk management.

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Stepping back to look at the bigger picture: what exactly do we mean by "community"? We need a broad definition, keeping in mind that we're teaching probably the first generation of truly global citizens.

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If community representatives are looking to establish some kind of connection with the college, it may not be clear where they should go or to whom they should speak. Perhaps the college can establish some kind of community connections space or website so community members can see where to go to connect. This might help us receive requests from the community for research projects.

Final thoughts and next steps

Engagement is a strategic priority for Douglas College, so the discussion around it will continue and include as many perspectives and ideas as possible. Based on that discussion, we'll identify concrete, tangible goals to move us forward.

Community engagement and community connections are already part of what do here. We are, after all, in a very real way, trying to change the world. But community engagement depends on all of us being engaged, which is why in November we'll hold a town hall forum on employee engagement. Watch for details on that coming soon, and please plan to attend.

And of course the reason we exist is to create a highly engaging and stimulating academic environment for students. Despite the fact that today's younger generation is often portrayed as disengaged, I believe the opposite is true. I believe students today want to be engaged. So in November, we’ll also hold a town hall forum on student engagement. Watch for details coming soon and please plan to attend. That event will be preceded and informed by a "dinner with the president" event for students, where we’ll ask students how well we’re doing at supporting their intellectual engagement and at helping them discover and pursue their academic pathway.

Participants at Friday’s community engagement forum suggested that we should ask community members for their thoughts and wishes around engagement with Douglas College. We’re going to do that as well. Events for community members will be held early 2013, one event at each campus.

--Scott

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