UBC Community Engagement Concept Paper
Early concepts related to developing a community engagement strategy were shared with and supported by UBC Executive. Subsequent conversations and learning continue to shape these concepts and the approach, and have been incorporated in the most recent version here. Feedback is welcome and will be used to continuously shape UBC’s commitment to Community Engagement. If you have input to offer on what you see here, we welcome your comments on the following pages, or you can connect with us directly.
Download the PDF version here: UBC Community Engagement Concept Paper
UBC’s Strategic Plan, Place and Promise, outlines three core commitments: Student Learning, Research Excellence and Community Engagement (CE); and six priority commitments.
The Vice President, External Relations (VPER) has the lead to develop a CE strategy for UBC’s Strategic Plan. To begin to prepare for this work, staff in the Community Engagement Office have reviewed academic literature, learned from other universities, examined the past attempt at developing a plan, networked with staff, faculty, students and alumni, and connected with colleagues from the Community Engagement Unit at UBC-Okanagan1.
Based on work to date, this document communicates the imperative for CE at UBC and presents a tone, approach and direction for UBC’s CE 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
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;
- Leverage UBC’s strengths and connections to stimulate actions that
further benefit communities locally, nationally, and
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”.
Through engagement we can shift the established framework of higher education to a stronger level of societal relevance that transforms us into a stronger wealthier and more equitable society while advancing institutional goals.
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
 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.
Connecting to UBC’s Strategic Plan
A CE strategic plan will be evidence of UBC’s intention to not only celebrate, share and support CE activities, but also to ingrain CE into the culture, policies, and priorities of the institution. The plan will better reflect that CE is tied to the core commitments, mission and priorities of UBC (Figure 1). Building this culture of CE and realizing opportunities such as those listed above require a long-term vision and deliberate action.
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
 A. Furco, VP Public Engagement, University of Minnesota. Personal communication: January 22, 2014.
Role of VPER
While accountability to develop a CE strategy lies within the mandate of the VPER, ownership of the multitude of CE activities and accountability for a successful strategy is spread across the entire institution. The role of the VPER within a CE strategy is to champion institutional strategic intent supported by central administration, within the authority of the Executive. Although faculty, students and staff own and animate the CE work, UBC’s central administration has a critical role to play in connecting CE across the university and breaking down systemic barriers so CE can thrive. As the VPS has students as her central focus, and VPRI and VPA have research and faculty at their core, the VPER has a role to hold the institution accountable to the strategic direction, vision and principles of a CE strategy.
Figure 2 depicts the elements that give structure to the work of the Community Partnership/Engagement Units (Vancouver and Okanagan respectively). The units, guided by the stated intent (Why), will take on the role of enablers to reduce barriers and increase opportunities so high quality CE can thrive (Role of CE Units). To do so, the units will develop and/or leverage tools including strategic partnerships, awards/recognition, institutional navigation and more (Tools). The units will also develop principles to support excellent CE and redirect harmful or damaging forms of engagement. Tools are further described in Appendix A.
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.
Building a CE Strategy
This is a long-term process. An institutional culture of CE at UBC will be built upon a foundation that is developed over many years. While the principles behind traditional consultation are valuable, developing a CE strategy is not conducive to a series of consultations that result in a final paper. To remain true to the spirit of CE work, a process to develop a strategy requires multi-pronged, on-going engagement. The Community Engagement Office becomes a curator, building and confirming the strategy through input, interaction, and learning over time. The contents of the strategy expand and adjust continuously. In this way the strategy is always current, versus a one-time snapshot that is periodically reviewed. As this work unfolds, elements of the strategy will be firmed up and solidified. For example, “principles” or a “vision” in Figure 3 may be solidified sooner than other parts. The development of other elements leads to some being confirmed over time, with other areas remaining open for change.
Strategic Next Steps
What does this really mean in terms of action? We have identified three priority areas for next steps as we continue to listen, learn, engage, build trust and develop concrete deliverables: Strategic Analysis and Planning, Collaboration and Engagement, and Use of Technology and Digital Engagement.
Strategic Analysis and Planning
Developing a CE strategy requires listening and learning from others, testing ideas and conducting a well-reasoned analysis that articulates clear cause for moving in specific directions. We have begun a review of existing strategic plans, annual reports and web sites to be better informed and understand how many faculties and units do integrate CE into their plans and work. Following up with key contacts in faculties to learn more about current work, and how CE can be supported will be valuable. Other activities include determining options and uses for an “inventory” of what CE is happening at UBC today, exploring/establishing strategic partnerships and developing indicators for CE.
Collaboration and Engagement
In general, the approach to building this strategy will include a range of CE processes, from outreach, to listening and learning, to partnership.
Faculty involvement and support for engagement are essential for furthering the institutionalization of engagement.6
There are several possible next steps in terms of collaboration and engagement. Foremost is planning for internal and external engagement activities, starting with faculty, students and staff. Other key next steps include partnering with champion Faculties or areas – such as the Community Based Research Working Group chaired by the AVP Research – and developing a communications plan. Given the advantage of having a system-wide perspective, we have already been able to connect individuals, groups or initiatives from various faculties or units with common interests.
Use of Technology and Digital Engagement
Digital engagement is an important part of developing a CE strategy that will help to inform the strategy’s evolution while addressing needs related to CE at UBC. A digital “place” will be developed to support two identified needs, networking and resources, and to support ongoing communication.
We currently envision the digital platform as supporting curated discussions that will inform the building of the CE strategy. Developing both online networking opportunities and resources also responds to needs we have heard expressed to date, thus creating early wins. Figure 4 illustrates early concepts for how digital engagement might provide tools for networking and resources while, via communication forums (both on- and off-line), support the evolution of a CE strategy that grows and changes over time.
The purpose of this document is to provide early concepts, a tone, and approach to developing a CE strategy. This is the beginning of a process and it will take time to articulate anticipated outcomes.
If we do not do anything we can assume that CE at UBC would carry on much like it is. That is to say the vast majority of community engagement will be of high quality and have a great deal of excellence in both scholarly output and benefit to communities. There may, however, be resentment towards the institution, a feeling that CE does not ‘count’ with regards to the academic career, a lack of communication and knowledge shared between practitioners, a neutral or negative impact on some communities and resources not leveraged or supported to their full extent.
If, however, we agree on the imperative for community engagement and that central administration is in a unique position to support CE at an institution-wide level, then a CE Strategy is necessary to make the following differences 5, 10 or 20 years from now. Positive changes will include improved/stronger:
- Awareness of community engagement at UBC and of CE as scholarship;
- Leveraging of knowledge and resources;
- Trust between CE practitioners and the University administration;
- Recognition of UBC as a leader in Community Engagement as well as in Student Learning and Research Excellence; and
- Reciprocal relations with external communities where together, UBC and communities stimulate actions that contribute to a civil and sustainable society.
Appendix A: Tools and Activities
Following are potential tools and activities that the Community Partnership/Engagement Units (Vancouver and Okanagan) could use to support the implementation of the UBC CE Strategy.
|Principles of CE||Support the development of shared principles or values related to CE across UBC, including tools and processes that encourage a critical lens on CE work.|
|Community Feedback||Collate and analyze ongoing feedback from community about engagement experiences with UBC so we know how the university is perceived and what common issues exist.|
|Policy reviews||Identify and review institutional policies that are a barrier to or could enhance CE at UBC.|
|Connections and networks||Facilitate CE-related networking (online and in-person) within and between internal and external communities; support development of communities of practice.|
|Information /resource repository||Support the development, identification and sharing of resources so that those engaged in CE can provide and benefit from resources.|
|Stories, celebration, communication||Work with those engaged in CE and communications staff to celebrate, publicize and share existing CE work across campus.|
|Institutional navigation||Maintain an open door to internal and external communities; develop a digital hub to support both external and internal communities looking to understand the CE work happening across campus; support external communities to navigate UBC.|
|Strategic Partnerships||Identify opportunities for institutional partnership with specific groups that have a strategic link to UBC’s vision/mission.|
|Advocacy||Build campus capacity for engagement; advocate for support for CE initiatives within UBC and beyond.|
|Work with those engaged in CE||Identify those involved in CE work; recognize, elevate and support them in their work and in being ambassadors of CE.|
|Awards and recognition||Recognize investment of time and energy in developing successful CE initiatives, and recognize outstanding CE through awards and/or small grants.|
Appendix B: How CE is Reflected in Existing Mid-Level Plans
|Mid-level Plan||Overall placement of CE|
|Research Strategy||The research strategy identifies that UBC research is increasingly undertaken in partnership with external communities. For research to have its maximum impact, and to become a world leader in knowledge exchange and mobilization, researchers must connect and collaborate with external communities.|
|Community Feedback||Collate and analyze ongoing feedback from community about engagement experiences with UBC so we know how the university is perceived and what common issues exist.|
|Student Learning||The student experience supports the development of CE through enriched student learning experiences and students’ engagement in their communities and internationally.|
|Aboriginal Strategic Plan||The Aboriginal strategic plan embeds significant and thoughtful engagement with internal and external communities, through formal and informal channels. CE is a significant part of the work of Aboriginal Engagement.|
|Alumni Affairs Strategic Plan||Alumni are welcome and valued stakeholders of UBC. Alumni contribute to UBC as volunteers, convey UBC’s contributions to economic and social vitality, and build UBC’s presence in communities locally, nationally and internationally. Alumni engagement builds a culture of engagement at UBC.|
|The Intercultural Promise||Intercultural understanding is a ‘way of being’ that supports community engagement, as evidenced through many CE initiatives that involve intercultural understanding.|
|International Strategy||The International Strategy articulates UBC’s connections with international communities. Part of that work is building on existing relationships and seeking out new partnerships in which the benefits flow both ways.|
|Outstanding Work Environment||The Outstanding Work Environment strategy aims to build a positive workplace experience for staff, including opportunities to participate in community-engaged programs such as the Community Leadership Program and Leave for Change.|
|Sustainability Strategies||Sustainability strategies, through local and global partnerships, enable UBC to act as an agent of change. Sustainability approaches develop the concept of UBC as a ‘living lab’.|