UBC Community Engagement Concept Paper
Early concepts related to developing a community engagement strategy were shared with and supported by UBC Executive in 2016. Subsequent conversations and learning continue to shape these concepts. This foundational document set the context for how UBC Community Engagement then developed its programming and focus.
Based on work to date, this document communicates the imperative for CE at UBC and presents a tone, approach and direction for a UBC Community Engagement framework or strategy. Concepts presented are supported by UBC Executive.
This Concept Paper does not represent final language; rather it is a tool to test our thinking and a foundation for further discussion and engagement. It is acknowledged that to date, much of the discussion has been among those “internal” to UBC. An approach to CE must and will include perspectives and participation from external communities.
Feedback and discussion about the language used in this document is welcome and will be used to continuously shape the strategies and approach to UBC’s commitment to Community Engagement. Please connect with us.
CE as a Core Commitment
Community engagement describes collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity.
– Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching2
Engaging with external communities is not new at UBC. It has been a part of research, teaching, service and student-led initiatives since the institution was founded. The sidebar reflects a sampling of involved units and Community Engagement (CE) activities happening at UBC.
While CE is not a new concept, ‘why’ and ‘how’ CE is done is interpreted in many different ways across UBC. Although many may agree with the Carnegie Foundation definition of CE, CE is not always embraced as core to UBC’s mission or as a scholarly activity. In contrast, Student Learning and Research Excellence are understood and accepted as core commitments within UBC’s strategic plan.
To be better understood and accepted across the institution, UBC needs a strategy that brings the CE commitment to life. The strategy is the expression of central administration’s strategic intent with respect to UBC’s CE commitment. As such it will:
- Drive recognition of the role of CE in the university so that together with Student Learning and Research Excellence, it is understood as foundational to UBC’s direction and identity;
- Celebrate, support and further enable community-university engagement scholars and champions;
- Make connecting with UBC more accessible to external communities; and
- Leverage UBC’s strengths and connections to stimulate actions that further benefit communities locally, nationally, and internationally.
The Community Engagement Imperative
At the heart of the strategy is knowing why UBC is committed to CE, as proposed here:
- UBC is intrinsically linked to external communities. It is our responsibility to use UBC’s assets to stimulate action that contributes to a civil and sustainable society.
- All communities have expertise and assets that bring value and benefit to engaging with UBC.
- CE is part of excellent scholarship and essential to UBC’s mission. CE activates and motivates Student Learning and Research Excellence; it takes the university’s core functions and externalizes them.
- UBC is made relevant and accountable through its relationships with communities. CE is beneficial to UBC and builds the university’s social capital.
The Need for a UBC CE Strategy
At UBC there are many scholars engaged in community-based work, a significant presence of quality relationships, and numerous faculties and units that have increasingly embraced and defined CE as part of their core work and vision. This is happening in the absence of a CE strategic plan and is a tremendous strength. At the same time, CE at UBC is described by some as:
- Disconnected micro communities doing individual projects that have limited to no knowledge of what others at UBC are doing;
- Sometimes hidden from the institution – which is seen as rule-bound and putting up barriers to CE work;
- Recognized only within a narrow definition of CE, which tends to exclude, limit, or oversimplify some community engagements;
- Defined only as service, rather than being an approach to research, teaching/learning and service;
- Used by units at UBC as part of a public relations exercise without taking a critical, scholarly approach to the work;
- Often dismissed, over simplified and undervalued; and
- Causing members of external communities, particularly the most vulnerable, to feel used; there can be a sense that the university benefits but external communities do not.
The comments above point to aspects of current practice and culture that can be improved. As suggested by some, the CE strategy has the opportunity to:
- Create awareness that CE is scholarly work, and supports the other core commitments of Student Learning and Research Excellence;
- Develop ways to see how the specific CE work of faculty, staff and students fits into a larger, university-wide framework (i.e. connecting self-identity to institutional identity).
- Respect the value of time invested in building relations;
- Build on areas where CE is already seen as ‘part of the DNA’ of a discipline;
- Be more aware of how UBC connects and contributes to society and how society in turn contributes to UBC;
- Build structures and an institutional culture that supports CE work across UBC;
- Leverage existing expertise and resources by creating stronger connections and networks; and
- Shift the overall perception of CE from being the “right thing to do” to being “core to what we do”.
UBC has the opportunity to be a Canadian pioneer in bringing institution-wide recognition of and support for community engagement to a top tier research institution.4
By seeing community engagement as a strategy for advancing institution-wide goals, engagement becomes seen as an integral part of institutional priorities. Engagement units can then begin to see themselves as contributing to the advancement of broader institutional change initiatives.5
 Bruns, K. , H. Fitzgerald, A. Furco, S. Sonka, L. Swanson (2011). Centrality of Engagement in Higher Education. Council on Engagement and Outreach Association of Public and Land Grant Universities. p. 1
 Until recently, smaller universities known for strong attachment to local communities have led the adoption of institution-wide CE. Large, globally connected research universities have relationships with communities across the world, making an institution-wide approach to CE more complex.
 A. Furco, VP Public Engagement, University of Minnesota. Personal communication: January 22, 2014.
Scope of “Community” and “Engagement”
Community, in the context of Community Engagement, refers to external communities. Whoever we reach or is touched by what we do is part of these communities. External communities include but are not limited to non-governmental organizations and other community groups, marginalized communities, governments at all levels, Aboriginal communities, schools and educational institutions, neighbourhoods, campus residents, alumni, local and global companies, and individual community members. UBC also has special relationships with the provincial government, local cities, and with the Aboriginal communities upon whose traditional territories the Vancouver and the Okanagan campuses are located.
While the CE strategy focuses on relationships external to UBC, there is a recognition that these interactions happen with internal communities, which include students, faculty, staff, residents, and others. These are important communities and relationships that will have an impact on the success of a CE strategy; however, the CE strategy primarily focuses on how UBC engages with external communities.
There is a continuum of activities from outreach to partnership that occur in community-university engagement. The scope of engagement and this strategy remains broad to respect many forms of engaging, and recognizes that within and across disciplines there will be differences in defining effective scholarly community engagement. That said, there are also harmful or negative instances of engagement. A commitment to CE holds all of UBC accountable to principles of how we engage, irrespective of intensity or scope of the engagement, with great attention paid to the quality of engagement.
Considerations When Developing the Strategy
Determining the best way to plan and implement a strategy requires an understanding of the current context and other considerations, including:
- Opportunity for a unique role: UBC has an opportunity, as a globally connected institution, to do CE differently and have a positive impact in communities around the world.
- Value academic freedom: Academic freedom is an indispensable quality of research universities. A well-crafted CE strategy will not compromise academic freedom, rather it will support and enable scholars who have been restricted from engaging in CE to expand and enhance their scholarship.
- Respect for different approaches: There are different definitions, methodologies and best practices for CE. One way is not necessarily better or worse than another, however there are also harmful or negative instances of engagement. A CE strategy can guide with principles of how we engage.
- Shared accountability and strategies already in place: Numerous faculties, institutes and units at UBC lead, manage and are accountable for specific aspects of community engagement. Many have developed infrastructures and strategies to support CE; a strong foundation to build upon.
- Strength in the local: While UBC has a global reach, it is a place-based institution embedded within Metro Vancouver, the Okanagan, and the province of British Columbia. There will be strength and concentration in connections with communities in these areas, including Aboriginal communities.
- Indigenous territories: A strategy that engages beyond these campuses has much to learn from protocols, practices, and processes of Indigenous scholars and communities locally, nationally, and internationally. The strategy must also acknowledge and respect that UBC campuses’ are location on the unceded, ancestral and traditional lands of the Musqueam and Okanagan peoples.
- Tenure and promotion: Tenure and promotion is raised in almost every conversation about CE at UBC. Increased understanding and awareness of scholarly CE work can contribute to the tenure and promotion dialogue.
- A focus on CE as scholarly work is not expected of everyone: Not all of UBC needs, wants, or can incorporate CE. UBC will thrive on a strategic division of labour where scholarly specialization spans research and student learning that does and does not include engagement. UBC’s strength lies in the diversity of expertise and passion across the institution.
- Interpersonal relationships are critical: External partners may not see themselves as in partnership with UBC but rather partnering with an individual at UBC. Building a university-wide understanding of CE includes recognizing and building upon the strengths of one-on-one, in-person work.
- Privilege and power: Post-secondary institutions like UBC can be intimidating places of privilege. Connecting with external communities requires working past these real and perceived, historical and current barriers between UBC and outside communities. In addition, varying levels of power exist among relations and partnerships and consideration needs to be given to how principles and practices might unfold differently across relations.
- Understanding impact of CE: Governments and donors are increasingly looking for a measurable return on investment. A good strategy provides the appropriate tools needed to determine success, communicate the collective impact of CE, show accountability and make good decisions.